Looking for the Fountain of Youth? It could be as close as the nearest gym.

There’s growing awareness that one of the best ways to slow the aging process is through regular exercise.

“What exercise does, when you look at it, is modulate the aging process,” says Dr. Glen McClung, an orthopedic surgeon with Beacon 
Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. “It’s the only thing that will modulate, or slow, the process of aging.”

It’s a message that more and more aging Baby Boomers and older senior citizens are embracing.

“I’m seeing more seniors,” says Dr. Jon Divine, a sport medicine physician at UC Health. “One cool group that is more active than I can remember are octogenarians, those in their 80s. I’ve got four or five who are still active runners.”

Divine, medical director for the upcoming Flying Pig Marathon, says, “We have several seniors that complete full and half marathons and do incredibly well with finish times.”

These aren’t novice runners, he points out, but long-time athletes who’ve kept at it even as they age.

But before undertaking any exercise program, experts advise first seeing your physician to make sure you won’t be doing more harm that good.

“If you’ve never done anything and just decide to get off the couch the first place to go is your primary-care physician to make sure you’re healthy enough to undertake an exercise program,” says Dr. Divine. “Your physician will be looking at your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, other muscular-skeletal issues and arthritis. He can steer you in the right direction in terms of what activities to undertake.”

Dr. Michael Chen, sports medicine specialist at Mercy Health, advises, “Find something you enjoy doing. You don’t want to do something that’s tiresome or feels like a job. That may have lead to not exercising in first place.”

He also advises taking it gradually in the beginning to build your fitness level. That’s true for young and old alike.

“I recently had a woman in her 30s who had been running two miles a day, two or three time a week, before she took six months off. When she started running again she came in with an overuse injury. You need to start gently and gradually to build your fitness.”

Dr. McClung echoes that sentiment.

“If you haven’t run in a while probably first build up your cardiovascular fitness,” he says. Start off with less impactful activities such as cycling or swimming.

“What I have a lot of patients do, especially those coming off injuries, is to do the run-walk thing. Start with a one-minute jog and then walk for two minutes. Do that for about 20 minutes and then gradually increasing your jogging and decrease your walking,” he says.

Finding an exercise partner, or partners, can also be important to provide motivation and support.

Dr. Divine says the social aspects of exercise may be more important to seniors.

“For a lot of people, young and old, but especially older it’s a social thing. They typically don’t work out a lot by themselves but with friends. And like anybody else, it makes them feel better about themselves. You get an endorphin rush even into your 80s and 90s. It’s more about just enjoying the participation,” he says.

Dr. McClung says while a lot of the focus on exercise is about its positive impact on cardio-pulmonary health, activities including resistance training also benefit bone density and muscle mass, two things that deteriorate as people age.

He mentions research indicating that patients over the age of 50 and 60, who are active three or four times a week versus those that were not, demonstrated increased muscle mass and improved elasticity of their muscle tendons.

He suggests seniors incorporate four types of activities in any exercise program.

The first is some type of muscle resistance training. That doesn’t mean lifting weights so much as using resistance bands or engaging in exercises like yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates. Resistance training a couple times a week helps maintain and tone muscles.

“You can get a decent set of resistance bands to do strength exercises in your home for $35,” says Dr. Divine. “It one of the least expensive ways to go.”

Secondly, Dr. McClung suggests incorporating some cardiovascular training such as walking, cycling, racquetball or swimming.

Thirdly, he suggests, incorporating flexibility and stretching. There are two types of stretching: dynamic that involves moving while stretching and is typically done before exercising and static stretching that involves holding a stretch position for a period of time and is often done during the cool-down after exercising.

Dr. McClung says sprains and strains can be avoided by doing both dynamic and static stretching when you exercise.

Lastly he says, exercises such as yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates also help improve balance.

“When you integrate those four facets of exercise, then what you do is increase bone density, increase muscle mass and decrease loss of muscle, and increase tendon compliance or elasticity,” he says. That decreases the possibility of fractures, strains and sprains and improves cardiopulmonary health.

Maintaining the strength of core muscles in the abdomen, lower back and pelvis, combined with balance training, is underrated in that age range and is very beneficial, says Dr. Divine. “If you fall and break a hip that can be a death spiral,” he says.

Yoga and Pilates are good core and balance strengthening options for seniors, he says.

“I have a 91-year-old patient who still does yoga every day,” he says. “She is proud of it.’’

Dr. McClung says studies show that when older people exercise more it doesn’t increase their rate of injuries. But he says it’s important to do exercise properly and avoid overdoing it to avoid injuries.

It may take older people longer to recover from muscle stiffness and soreness from exercise, Dr. Divine says. In most cases, he says, that can be resolved with movement. But if it doesn’t go away or localizes in a joint or other area, you should consult your doctor, he says.

Finally, Dr. Divine says it isn’t always necessary to head to the gym to benefit from exercise.

“I see a ton of people who still insist on doing their own yard work or gardening and other chores,” he says. “It keeps you active and becomes real exercise if done for an extended period of time.”