How to Amp Up Your Healthy Lifestyle

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When senior fitness guru René Burton was a dancer in New York City in her 20s and 30s, she never wanted to admit her age. Now, she flaunts it. “I’m gonna be 77 and I look great!” she says. Burton developed her popular It’s Never Too Late fitness program after moving to California. “There was a need for classes for over people over age 55, so I used my knowledge of dance and developed a program.”

Exercise Can Keep You Independent Longer
There are direct links between good exercise, nutrition and independence. Burton says, “The reason we’re here in class is because we don’t want to be dependent. We don’t want someone helping us off the toilet.”

Worried about injuring yourself during a fitness class? Check out WebMD’s myths about exercise in older adults. “Exercise is almost always good for people of any age,” Chhanda Dutta, PhD, chief of the Clinical Gerontology Branch at the National Institute on Aging, told WebMD. Exercise not only helps you stay strong, it’s also a natural mood and memory booster. Even if you’re recovering from an injury or have a chronic illness, you should stay active. Burton suggests “making appointments with yourself” to exercise. Look for an instructor who takes an interest in her students and is careful not to push you beyond your ability. Above all, she says, “Listen to your body.”

How to Pick a Fitness Program
If you’re looking for a good senior fitness program, heed Burton’s recommendations:

  • It should address balance, strength and flexibility
  • It should include light aerobics (no “pounding”)
  • It should include plenty of stretching
  • Even if you’re scared to do floor work because you’re worried that you won’t be able to get up, you should pick a program that includes it. If you do regular exercise, you’re less likely to fall—but if you do fall you’ll need to be able to get back up.

Don’t know where to start? Look to your local senior center or aging services program for class listings and walking clubs. Local yoga studios may offer gentle options like chair yoga. And find out if your health plan is partnered with SilverSneakers, a program that covers membership at a gym and offers customized classes and a fitness advisor.

Healthy Diets Can Cure
What you eat is as important as how much you move, and Burton is a living example: she resolved severe colitis with diet and is now medication-free. (She recommends the books “Foods That Heal” and “Juicing for Life.”) The Mediterranean diet, high on fish, whole grains, fruits and veggies, is backed by research in lowering blood sugar and harmful triglycerides.

Even if you’re not about to make an overhaul, small changes—giving up that late night chip habit, or starting the day with fruit and oatmeal rather than a bagel—can make a difference. As a general rule, try reducing your intake of simple carbohydrates (bread, pasta, sweets, processed foods) and eat more fresh vegetables. A nutritionist can give you shopping and meal-planning tips. You can also consult the Administration on Aging, which in 2010 served 145 million meals that meet U.S. dietary guidelines.

Stay Engaged
One of the main risk factors for depression and declining health is isolation. Studies show that spending time online reduces depression and increases cognitive function. If you can keep doing meaningful work (even if it’s volunteer), do it. Get together with friends and family. Read the Senior Planet Guide to Relationships for some ideas on how to connect and reconnect.

Learn More
How to Stay Healthy
How to Be Your Own Healthcare Expert
How to Get What You Want in the End

What’s the main reason you don’t exercise more: It’s boring; it’s exhausting; you don’t have time; you can’t afford a gym and can’t find cheaper options; or something else. Tell us in the comments box below.