The Healthy Exercise Pyramid by Sam Lefaive
As Fitness Centers and gyms have opened back up after closing from the Pandemic, it’s a good time to restart our exercise routines and habits. There are many components to meet the healthy recommendation for exercise in older adults such as cardio, strength or endurance training, balance, and flexibility. To break it down, I decided to use the same model as the food pyramid and create an exercise version of that pyramid. Over the years the food pyramid has been used to simplify what quantities to eat of what food groups. Larger quantities shown in the bottom of the pyramid and the least quantities at the top. In this model the same concept applies. All components of exercise are necessary for a healthy exercise lifestyle but the exercise components on the bottom should be done more than the quantities at the top.
Cardio can be done almost every day. It is the base foundation of a healthy exercise lifestyle. It should be done about 5 days a week for at least 30 minutes (or 150 minutes/week). It helps strengthen one of the most important organs of the body: the heart. Luckily, it can be done simply through walking, biking or using cardio machines in your local Fitness Center.
Either strength training or endurance should be done at least twice a week on nonconsecutive days and includes exercises for each large muscle group of upper and lower body. Not as often as cardio but still a firm foundation to the body and upkeeping muscle strength to perform ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) like cooking, cleaning, getting around the house or other buildings and activities that make life more enjoyable like hobbies or recreational activities.
Balance and Flexibility are recommended about 2-3 times a week for maybe 10-15 minutes. This becomes important the older we get as every day injuries become more apparent due to falling and low flexibility. It is also important for seniors because as the risk of falling increases and the chances of getting severe injuries from falls increases.
The top category is Rest Days. Everyone’s rest time looks different but is important to everyone’s body. Rest can include proper sleep, rest from exercise or rest from an injury. With rest from sleep, it helps us function better during the day, being more aware of our surroundings to help reduce falls and giving us energy to exercise. Rest from exercise helps prevent an injury from over training. There is a reason strength training isn’t recommended every day. To repair the muscles from training they need to rest to recover and build back up. Rest from injury is another important element to a healthy active life. By not allowing injuries to properly recover decreases the benefits from future exercise as you aren’t able to do it 100% and it may cause more injury due to overcompensation.
There’s no one category of exercise that can help fulfill the benefits of all the different categories combined throughout the week. When residents come to ask what specific exercise, they can do to better their life, is like asking what food they can eat to decrease weight quickly. It must all be combined to reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. There are a lot of elements to a healthy lifestyle but broken down into a week, picking just one or two a day will help fulfill a weeks’ worth of exercise recommendation. Just like we need to eat and supply our bodies with energy every day we need to utilize the energy created in the most optimal way to better our life for the next day, week or month.