There may be a dearth of fitness information for senior adults. But the basic exercises are the same all over for every age group.
Much of how we imagine our old age to be like has everything to do with how we spend our hours in this very moment.
While literally none of us can be 100% certain we’ll be spared from age-related mobility disorders, there’s virtually 0 doubt that regular exercise helps improve performance and function at any age or fitness level.
Why should seniors exercise?
Quite simple: according to a landmark Harvard and Tufts study in 1994, many functional losses in seniors could be reversed through resistance exercise in a study on 100 senior nursing-home individuals ages 72-98. The group performed weight training exercises thrice a week for 10 weeks. The group that exercised showed that they could walk faster, farther, lift much more weight, and climb more stairs.
A bevy of studies confirmed what we already know exercise can do for all of us. Mainly, that senior citizens can become more physically fit, even if they had literally just started from scratch and did no previous exercise.
Such results have substantiated the claim of exercise being valuable for all populations, including the oldest. It’s simple: if you can move, you should, because it just might help you live a better quality of life, for a longer period of time.
Why you should do it: the benefits
As a senior adult, exercise may help you:
- Keep off or maintain weight. Metabolism slows down with aging, making keeping a healthy weight hard. Exercise increases metabolism and boosts muscle development, allowing you to burn more calories.
- Reduce the likelihood of chronic illness. Individuals who exercise tend to have better immune responses and digestive function, apart from reduced risk of contracting certain cancers, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, among others.
- Improve mobility and balance. Exercise not only improves your strength, but it also helps you improve posture, flexibility, mobility, and coordination.
- Get better sleep. Recovery is vital for overall health as you pile on the years. Exercise helps you sleep faster and deeper, and wake up feeling invigorated.
- Improve mood and reduce stress. Exercise produces stress-fighting endorphins that help you feel happier and more confident, while keeping the blues away.
Here’s how you can begin.
Getting back into the swing of things
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been inactive due to illness or injury, or whether you’ve been a couch potato all your life. A well-formulated exercise program can help you turn things around. Ask your doctor, hospital, health plan, or local health authority for programs for seniors supervised by trained exercise professionals that do physical evaluations.
The first thing you need to do before going on any kind of exercise program is to get a full checkup. If you have medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, arthritis, diabetes, or the like, your doctor’s guidance is crucial for crafting a safe workout program.
If you’re going it alone, draft a program that focuses on cardiovascular health, strength, balance, and flexibility.
Like any muscle, the heart’s performance weakens when a sedentary lifestyle stops making it work as hard as it should. This results in weaker contractions that deliver less blood for every beat. The good news is that cardiovascular underperformance may be reversed through regular physical activity.
Exercises such as walking, biking, and swimming help boost cardiovascular health and reduce the risks of certain cancers, mental health issues, and disorders like diabetes. As little as 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily can help boost fitness and drastically lower health risks.
These exercises not only help increase aerobic performance, but also helps keep your bones strong.
Strength is important at any age – and keeping it is an insurance policy for your independence throughout your senior years. In order to carry out everyday tasks, strength is necessary. That’s why resistance or weight training is an ideal way to achieve just that.
The idea is to lift weights that would challenge you, but not stress you out. Find a weight you can easily manage for about 8 reps and try to keep going until 15 reps. Lift the weight counting 3 seconds, hold it for a second, then carefully lower it in 3 seconds. Breathe in as you lift, and exhale as you lower it. Rest, then do another set. If the weight is too light for you after lifting it 15 times, add weight as necessary. Always remember to also spend some time recovering before targeting the same muscle group, or focus on your upper body one day and your lower body the next.
Increase mobility and flexibility
The impairment of movement and reduction of flexibility can do a toll on the quality of your life. Such loss of flexibility and mobility can affect you doing simple tasks like getting from one place to another, or completing a task you never had a problem with all throughout your life. Stretching helps you improve and regain the flexibility you’ve lost throughout the years, and helps you move better, faster, and longer. They’re great to include as a cooldown routine during your workout days.
Remember, stretching shouldn’t be uncomfortable – the most you should be feeling is a slight pulling and nothing more. The more you stretch, the more flexibility you gain.
Regaining balance and coordination balance
Balance exercises are fantastic if you’ve taken a couple of spills recently or feel a little unsteady standing up and walking around. Balance exercises are an effective, low-impact way to help get you back in the swing of things even at an advanced age – and you can do them as often as you like.
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