Don't Let Health Problems Stop You From Exercising
At any age, physical activity can help you to feel more energetic and independent.

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Don't Let Health Problems Stop You From Exercising

If you have a chronic disease such as heart failure, diabetes or arthritis, you can often still be active. In fact, with your doctor's permission, exercise may help improve your condition. Exercise can help you gain strength and endurance, plus improve your mood and quality of life. Don't let a health problem prevent you from being active.

Activity can:

  • Make you stronger. Increasing your strength can help with daily activities such as carrying your groceries, picking up your grandkids or climbing stairs.
  • Improve your mood. Living with a chronic disease can lead to depression. Physical activity may help fight depression.
  • Improve flexibility and increase endurance. Regular physical activity can help make getting around easier and allow you to participate more fully in life.

Ask your doctor
Before you start or increase your physical activity, check with your doctor. Exercise is good for most people, but it's not safe in some instances. Usually, if your health condition is under control, physical activity is safe. If your condition is unstable or you are feeling poorly, it's best to avoid activity unless directed by your doctor.

Check with your doctor to learn what signs and symptoms to watch for that may mean your condition is getting worse. And find out what to do if you have any of these while you are exercising. Also, ask your doctor how active you should be and if there are any specific activities you should avoid.

Getting started
Physical activity can be a part of your daily life. Walking, gardening, golfing, dancing or even cleaning all count as physical activity.

But start out slowly so you don't injure yourself or get discouraged. Choose an activity you enjoy. You may need to start with exercise only every other day at first and build up. If you can only be active for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, that's fine. Being active 10 minutes, three times a day is just as good as being active for 30 minutes at a time. However you choose to build in activity to your day, it will benefit your health. You'll gradually build endurance over time.

Types of exercise
A combination of aerobic activity, strength training and flexibility exercises is ideal.

Work up to 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week. Note that your doctor may suggest you work out for a shorter amount of time. Aerobic activity increases your oxygen use and helps your heart and lungs work better. Walking, swimming and biking are examples of aerobic activity.

Add strength training, also known as resistance or weight training, a couple of days per week. This may be as simple as lifting light weights or canned foods, or using a resistance tube. Strengthening exercises help improve muscle and bone strength. Remember not to hold your breath and to stop if you feel pain.

Improving flexibility and balance can help prevent falls and improve your range of motion. Try gentle stretches, tai chi or yoga.

Water workouts
If you are overweight or have arthritis, back problems or weak muscles, water workouts may be for you. Call your local gym or recreation center to ask if they offer aquatic exercise classes.

Benefits of aquatic exercise:

  • Water offers resistance, which strengthens your muscles in the same way as weight training.
  • Because of the lack of gravity, it's often easier to do stretching exercises in water than on land.
  • The buoyancy of the water takes strain off your joints, bones and muscles.

Water workouts are good for almost anyone. You should still check with your doctor first to make sure they're OK for you.

By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Contributing Writer
Created on 05/29/2007
Updated on 03/31/2013
  • National Institute on Aging. Exercise & physical activity: Your everyday guide from the National Institute on Aging.
  • American Council on Exercise. Exercising with a health challenge.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do older adults need?
  • Brender E. Fitness for older adults. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2008;300(9):1104.
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