As seniors get older, they may think it wise to stop exercising so as not to put too much stress on their aging bodies. However, it has been proven that a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy for anyone, especially those over 50. Since metabolism slows with age, the risk of obesity increases. Not living an active lifestyle can cause seniors to lose the ability to do things on their own, and many times results in more doctor visits and medications. Exercise not only improves physical function, but also mental; it can prevent memory loss and slow the progression of brain disorders.
When combined with a healthy diet, exercise is an effective way for seniors to lose or maintain body weight. Not only does exercise help fight obesity, it also has multiple health benefits that combat illness and injury in seniors. By participating in regular physical activity, seniors will lower their risks for Alzheimer’s and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure. Exercise improves sleep, relieves stress and boosts mood. By bettering balance and coordination, it also lowers the risk of falls in seniors.
It is important for seniors to remember that an exercise regimen can – and in many cases, should – be implemented slowly. Exercise does not have to be high-intensity or complicated to achieve results. Many of the best exercises for seniors can be done at home without much equipment. Seniors can forget about the old saying “no pain, no gain.” The opposite is true in this case. Soreness or pain after a workout for a senior means they did too much. Seniors should listen to their bodies and rest often, remembering not to push too hard.
A good exercise regimen for seniors contains elements of four categories: endurance, strength, flexibility and balance.
To build endurance, seniors should do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. One of the best low-impact cardio exercises is walking. It is especially beneficial to seniors because it is easy enough on joints that they can walk well into their later years. Adding walking to daily activities and hobbies is a simple way to build endurance. Those who like to golf can choose to walk the course instead of driving to get a good cardio workout in.
Swimming is another good endurance exercise for seniors because it has a low risk for injury and works the entire body. It also relieves pressure on joints, which is beneficial for those with arthritis. Cycling is another exercise that relieves arthritis pain while also reducing high blood pressure. A study by the Government of Western Australia found that cycling reduces the risk of heart attack for those over 60. Recumbent bicycles are good for seniors because they allow the rider to sit back and avoid the pain of hunching over. With all endurance exercises, it is best for seniors to start with small distances and slowly increase until they reach 30 to 60 minute intervals.
Strength training, also called resistance training, helps build muscle and burn fat. Strength training does not have to consist of heavy weightlifting to be effective. Seniors who want to try weight training can use light hand weights or no weights at all, using their bodyweight for resistance. One can modify exercises to make them easier; a push-up can be done against the wall instead of on the ground, or a squat can be done with the help of a chair. Water aerobics is a popular workout among seniors that combines cardio and strength because of the resistance the water provides for muscles. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends strength training twice a week for those over 65. A good rule to remember is to work each muscle group separately, and to rest that muscle group at least one day before working it again. For example, if a senior focuses on the upper body on Monday, the next workout should be dedicated to the lower body to allow the upper body to recover at least until Wednesday.
Flexibility and Balance
Flexibility exercises keep seniors limber, which allows them freedom of movement for everyday activities. Yoga is a great exercise that not only improves flexibility, but builds strength as well. With maintained flexibility, a senior can more easily bend over, look over the shoulder while driving, make the bed and get dressed. Balance can be improved through yoga and other strength exercises as well. Tai chi is a practice that improves the ability to maintain a body position. Balance exercises like tai chi will reduce the risk of falls in seniors, as well as help them walk up and down the stairs or stand on tip toe to reach something.
It’s Never Too Late
No age is too old for a senior to begin exercising. Even those who are disabled or in a wheelchair can still lift weights for upper body strength, stretch and practice modified yoga and aerobics. Not only will exercising improve overall health and reduce the risks of illness and injury in seniors, it will also benefit them in their everyday lives. Added flexibility and balance will make it easier to bend down while gardening or cleaning the house. Stronger muscles will enable them to carry their grandchildren around. Increased speed will make it easier to cross the street. Regular exercise can help seniors maintain independent lifestyles, and will allow them to live a longer, healthier and happier lives.
Written by Taylor French, Amada contributor.