If you’re of a certain age this holiday season and thinking about a New Year’s resolution, an aging expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center recommends resolving to begin or increase your physical activity level in some way.
“Physical activity is the only thing we know for sure that works to help preserve function with age,” said Barbara Nicklas, Ph.D., professor of geriatrics and gerontology at Wake Forest Baptist, who specializes in and conducts research on aging and related aspects such as fitness, physical activity, obesity and nutrition.
Nicklas said older adults may experience more frequent setbacks and barriers, but being able to set manageable and realistic resolutions and separating these into short-term (daily) and long-term (monthly) goals is most effective for achieving consistent habits.
“It is never too late to change one’s habits in order to improve health and quality of life,” she adds. “Older adults can benefit from resolving to make small changes in one or two lifestyle behaviors that are known to enhance well-being.”
Examples of realistic resolutions Nicklas recommends for older adults include:
- Join an exercise class that is geared specifically for older adults. Class participation leads to better accountability and increases social contact.
- Find opportunities for increasing movement throughout daily life. For example, resolve to walk up and down at least one flight of stairs daily, or to carry a grocery basket instead of pushing a cart when possible; or to stand up whenever talking on the telephone.
- Begin a walking program to gain back or maintain walking endurance. Start by walking as long as you feel comfortable and pain-free, and then add 30 seconds or a minute the next day, and every day thereafter. If you miss a day, or even a week or longer, start again at the level of walking you are comfortable with.