Monday Medical: Make every day a fitness day

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National Senior Health & Fitness Day, an annual event now in its 14th year, will be observed at more than 1,000 sites across the United States Wednesday as part of Older Americans Month and National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. This year's theme, "Make Every Day a Fitness Day" promotes the idea for seniors to be physically active every day.

Not only does exercise help you look and feel good, but studies show that exercise helps prevent many chronic and life-threatening diseases, including heart disease and some cancers. Exercise promotes better balance, a decrease in falls, muscle tone and muscle strength.

The three keys to fitness include stretching, aerobic exercise and strength training. Incorporating these three components into your exercise routine will provide a well-rounded exercise program for you as well as give you plenty of variety in your exercise routine.

Before you start any exercise program, check with your healthcare provider. Keep your exercise program simple but fun and try to make physical activity a part of your daily routine.

Begin slowly and exercise in small doses at first. You can always add additional minutes to your walk, incorporate new stretches or try a group exercise class geared for seniors.

Let your body acclimate to your new level of activity and be sure to rest. Dismiss the old saying of "no pain, no gain." Exercise should not create additional problems or pain. It's a good idea to warm up gradually and to cool down at least five minutes before and after your activity.

If there was one pill that doctors could prescribe to everyone at any age to improve and enhance health, it would be "exercise." With a little thought and determination, you can put more physical activity into your daily routine.

You don't need to join a gym or invest in expensive exercise equipment, especially when starting an exercise program, to improve your fitness. Here are a few simple tips on how you can be more active:

- Plant a garden and stay active while you plant, weed and rake.

- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

- Park your car far from your destination and walk the rest of the way.

- For short trips, try bicycling instead of driving - it's good for you and the environment.

- When taking public transportation, get off a stop or two early and walk.

- Plan fun activities such as hikes, bike rides and outdoor games.

- Take up dancing and practice at home.

- Walk the dog. It's good for both of you.

- Invest in an exercise videotape geared for senior fitness to use when it's too hot or too cold outside.

- Commit to exercise with a buddy; this helps you to stick with it.

- Walk into the bank, coffee shop or restaurant rather than staying in your car and using the drive-up window.

Older adults at all levels of physical fitness are encouraged to exercise on Wednesday, National Senior Health & Fitness Day, as well as to strive to be active every day.

There are 1440 minutes in a day, so scheduling a mere 30 of those for exercise should be possible. Enjoy the health and mental benefits of a regular exercise program. Make exercise fun by choosing activities that you enjoy and take advantage of the many health and fitness programs offered in our community.

Lisa A. Bankard coordinates Yampa Valley Medical Center's wellness and community education programs.

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