We all know that we should exercise regularly and eat responsibly in order to stay healthy. The benefits are clear: you will live longer, you will have fewer doctor visits and lower medical bills, and you will be better able to travel and go about your daily routine.
But sadly, according to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, only about 30% of adults 65-74 are active.
The problem is that most of us aren’t very good at sticking to things we should do. We are more likely to stay committed to things we want to do. The key to establishing and maintaining a successful exercise regimen is to find the right combination of activities you will enjoy and a reason that is compelling enough to motivate you to stick with it.
You’ve worked hard for your retirement – make sure you are healthy enough to enjoy it. Here are 12 steps to help you succeed at becoming healthier.
1. Choose an activity you will enjoy.
There are an almost limitless number of activities you can choose from, such as walking or light jogging, hiking, swimming, water aerobics, bicycling, golf, pickleball, tennis, and dancing, to name only a few. Yoga and tai chi are good choices because they require no impact and offer the additional benefits of improved balance and mental calmness. It really doesn’t matter what you do, just do something. What’s important is that you choose an activity that you enjoy enough that you will continue to do it.
2. Identify what truly motivates you.
The motivation to exercise regularly is just as important as your choice of activity. Perhaps you wish to travel during retirement, and you want to ensure that you’ll be able to haul your luggage and have enough stamina for tours. Maybe you want to fit more comfortably into your clothes or look better in your swimsuit. Perhaps you want to look good for your next high school or college class reunion. Or maybe you want to avoid the illnesses and injuries that come with being overweight, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and back and joint pain. The most compelling incentive is different for each of us, so figure out what will motivate you.
3. Talk to your doctor.
If you have medical conditions, physical limitations, or past injuries, talk with your doctor to learn which activities and what level of exertion you can handle. If you have an ambitious weight loss goal, discuss what combination of diet and exercise is most appropriate for you. The purpose of exercising is to become healthier, not to injure yourself.
4. Schedule your activity.
You make time each day for the things that really matter to you, such as eating meals, walking your dog, watching your favorite TV shows, and social engagements. If you are serious about exercising, schedule time for it into your daily routine. If you wait until there’s a convenient time to exercise, you’ll find that you will rarely get around to it.
5. Find other people to exercise with.
Some activities like golf, tennis, and pickleball require other participants. But even for activities that you could do by yourself, having an accountability partner will keep you on the ball. It will probably be more enjoyable to participate in your activity with other people, and that will provide socialization. Find out if your local community center, YMCA, gym, or parks and recreation department offers exercise classes or group activities.
6. Get equipped.
In most cases, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on workout clothes and expensive gear, but do invest in a good sturdy pair of shoes and clothing that’s comfortable and will wick perspiration away from you.
7. Adjust your attitude.
Try not to think of exercising as a chore or an obligation; think of it as fun. If you don’t feel like joining a gym, you don’t have to – there are many things you can do outside of a gym. If the idea of exercising or working out is a turn-off for you, think of it in terms of simply being more active. If you enjoy listening to music, audio books, or podcasts, then you can think of the time you spend walking, hiking, or biking as time when you get to enjoy your listening.
8. Start small.
If your schedule seems too full or if you have been sedentary for a long time, try to find just 15 minutes to slip in something easy and short, like a walk around the neighborhood. Try to do a little something every day. Once you establish a habit and your small exercise steps seem easy, then you can start increasing your commitment.
9. Look for opportunities to add more activity into your everyday life.
When you go shopping, park farther out in the parking lot rather than trying to find the nearest space. Whenever possible, take the stairs rather than taking an elevator or escalator. If you have or can afford to buy a treadmill or a stationary bicycle, position it so you can use it while you watch TV.
10. Make a plan and set some goals.
Create a plan for what you’re going to do, how often you’re going to do it, and who you’re going to do it with. Try to frame your goals around sticking to the plan, not the results you hope to achieve. For example, it’s better to set a goal to walk for half an hour five days a week than to set a goal of losing two pounds a week. You can control how often your walk, but you can’t as easily control how fast the pounds will fall off.
11. Don’t make excuses.
If it’s raining or cold, you can drive to the nearest indoor shopping mall and walk from one end to the other several times. If you’re tired, at least get in a short amount of exercise.
12. Stick to it.
It takes several weeks of consistent repetition for something to become a habit. Before you know it, exercising will be a regular part of your life, just like eating, sleeping, and bathing. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results right away. The benefits you are gaining in terms of increased stamina and better cardiovascular health may not show up right away on the bathroom scale.
You’ve worked hard for your retirement. You will be able to enjoy a longer, healthier and happier retirement by including more activity in your daily life.
Two men hiking: Ed and Eddie. Some rights reserved.
People practicing Tai Chi: Martha McCollough. Some rights reserved.
People exercising in park: Chanan Greenblatt.
Man swimming: Fort Rucker. Some rights reserved.