Each week, I applaud my grandmother for attending a local exercise class. Though the social aspect is the draw, the benefit is a healthier self.
Recently, I was given the chance to observe the class and interview her instructor Al Schmidt, an entertaining man with a passion for staying fit.
What are the main benefits of exercising?
Al Schmidt: There are a lot of benefits to exercising, many of which don’t have anything to do with being fit. It’s about feeling good about yourself and being able to continue doing the things you love. I worked with a sixty-seven year old woman was who forced to give up gardening because she could no longer bend over. After three months of exercising, she was able to return to her favorite pastime. You shouldn’t be forced to give up things if you don’t have to. Exercising and staying fit expands your life, and it’s great for your bones. It’s not just about looking good, and it’s not about the power. Exercising, even if it is a small amount a day, can put you in a better mood and improve your lifestyle.
What kinds of exercises are most beneficial?
AS: Different kinds of exercises depend on the ability of your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. That’s probably the best advice I could give. That being said, here is a basic idea of what your work out should look like:
- Stretch. Always begin by stretching, and remember that breathing is an important factor. Work on elongating your body, and only do what feels right. I always recommend head, shoulder, and hip rolls to my class; they work to relax the body. Walking around a gym is also a great way to prepare for a workout.
- Cardio Structure.
- Weight Training. Get yourself a pair of light hand-weights!
- Arthritis Exercises.
- Cool Down. Engage in slow exercises that allow your body to regain strength and return to normal. Breathing is key.
How long and often should you exercise?
AS: Exercising three days a week for fifty minutes is an ideal time that can keep your body fit. But in reality, the length of your workout depends on what feels right for your body. If you feel comfortable exercising once every two weeks, that’s great. When you work in harmony with your body that is when you begin to feel results.
If someone hasn’t exercised in a while, what’s a good way to get into it?
AS: Exercising comes with a great social aspect. Many people who attend my class arrive an hour early to converse with their friends. If you’re trying to get into an exercise routine, start slow, work out with a friend, make goals for yourself, or workout every week at a certain time. These things can keep you motivated, and before you know it, exercise can be a normal part of your week.
Any additional advice?
AS: As I said before, the most important thing to remember while exercising is to do what feels right. A little discomfort is ok, but you should never be in pain. If you feel sick or overheated, sit down and drink water. You know your body better than anyone else so if you need a rest break, take one. And don’t let anything stop you. Even if you have to workout sitting down, there are exercises you can do that strengthen your body. Lastly, check with your doctor before beginning a workout routine.
Try this lower body workout that can reduce your risk of falls:
- Stand straight, directly behind a table or chair with your feet slightly apart.
- Hold onto the table or chair for balance.
- Lift one leg 6 to 12 inches out to the side while keeping your back and both legs straight.
- Slowly lower your leg and alternate.
- Rest when you are done.
- If you feel comfortable doing so, try balancing with only one finger on a surface or not holding on at all.
Al Schmidt is the Parks and Recreation director at the Elmwood Park Civic Center and runs the senior citizen exercise program.
Research & Community Education