Exercise is a must, and cold winter weather is no excuse to sit on the couch and lose your muscle tone, cardiovascular health and upbeat mindset. Wintry snow and cold might prevent you from going on your daily walks or bike rides, but you can beat the bad weather by creating a new cold weather exercise plan.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, which amounts to 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. It's a must for you to consult your doctor to assess your health and fitness levels before you begin any fitness regime, so make your appointment before you begin. Your physician will suggest exercise options and may even have information on your health insurance plan's coverage of classes and gym memberships. Television health expert Dr. Oz advises checking with your health insurance plan to see whether you qualify through Medicare or other plans for gym memberships, classes and other fitness opportunities.
Keep in mind that winter weather and cold present health challenges for any exerciser, but older people experience greater health challenges when exerting themselves outdoors in winter. Emergency rooms are filled with seniors who have slipped and fallen on ice, have stayed outside too long and developed hypothermia, or have suffered heart problems or heart attacks caused by overly strenuous activities, such as shoveling snow. So if you do plan to maintain your outdoor walking schedule, be sure that all roadway and sidewalk ice has fully melted, watch out for black ice, and be extra cautious, says the Livestrong Foundation.
In any season, your fitness goals should include aerobic conditioning, muscle strength and endurance, and core fitness, says AARP. So choose several different types of exercise to fulfill each of these goals. Start slowly, don't over-exert, and try different types of exercise to find the ones that you enjoy most.
Here are some suggestions for cold weather exercises:
--While watching television, march in place at an easy to moderate level of exertion, or stand up to march in place during commercials.
--Play with your grandchildren. Even an easy game like rolling a ball back and forth on the floor gets you stretching and moving your arms. If grandkids wish for you to play Wii video games such as bowling, games that get you moving instead of just pressing buttons, start on a beginner or low level of exertion and just take a few turns at first until you build up more endurance for these more challenging, flexibility-requiring games.
--Play with your pets. Dogs need exercise in cold weather as well, and they'll enjoy the attention and activity you give them with some fetch games in which you bend, stretch and walk around the room to move your positioning.
--Work exercise into your meal preparations. While pasta water is heating, do some simple leg lifts or calf raises while holding onto the kitchen counter. Each mealtime can get you 10 good minutes of exercise.
--Wear a pedometer. You'll find inexpensive, clip-on models at sporting supply stores, and wearing one on your pants during your daily activities will show you the number of steps you've taken, which may likely inspire you to walk around more to earn more steps and calories burned.
--Begin each day with stretching and easy flexibility exercises, such as circling your arms or bending at the waist.
--Find indoor places to walk. If you live in an apartment building, take a cellphone with you for safety and walk the hallways of your building. You might climb a few flights of stairs if your fitness level permits, or just step up and down a few times on one stair to raise your heart level a bit. Wear a heart monitor, again from the sporting supply store, to be sure you're in the proper heartbeat exertion range. Indoor malls are excellent places to walk, and some malls' websites provide "mall walker" features showing the distance covered with each lap of each level.
--Turn on music and dance. Dr. Oz suggested on his television show that learning a new dance is a terrific way to get exercise, and the process of learning something new also helps stave off Alzheimer's disease.
--Join a seniors fitness class. YMCAs, gyms, community centers and hospitals conduct specialty aerobics, water aerobics, yoga and dance classes, specifically for seniors and led by trained professionals. Some classes may be free, and some may offer senior discounts. These classes get you moving and socializing, and add variety to your fitness routine during the winter months. As a safety note, it's better to join an expert-led class than to turn on a fitness workout on your cable channel or pop in a DVD of a workout you've never tried before. Fitness pros will correct your form and remind you to breathe, stop to test for pulse rates, and otherwise observe you for your protection.