As you grow older, an active lifestyle is more important than ever. Regular exercise can help boost energy, maintain your independence, and manage symptoms of illness or pain. Exercise can even reverse some of the symptoms of aging. And not only is exercise good for your body - it’s also good for your mind, mood, and memory. Whether you are generally healthy or are managing an illness, there are plenty of ways to get more active, improve confidence, and boost your fitness.
The Key to Healthy Aging
You’re not alone. Many seniors feel discouraged by fitness barriers, such as chronic health conditions or concerns about injury or falls. If you’ve never exercised before, you may not know where to begin. Or maybe an ongoing health problem or disability is keeping you from getting active. Perhaps you think you’re too old or frail.
The truth is that you can’t afford not to get moving. Exercise is the key to staying strong, energetic, and healthy as you get older.
No matter your age or your current physical condition, you can benefit from exercise. Reaping the rewards of exercise doesn’t require strenuous workouts or trips to the gym. It’s about adding more movement and activity to your life, even in small ways. Whether you are generally healthy or are managing an illness - even if you’re housebound - there are many easy ways to get your body moving and improve your health.
- Get medical clearance from your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have a pre-existing condition. Ask if there are any activities you should avoid.
- Consider health concerns. Keep in mind how your ongoing health problems affect your workouts. For example, diabetics may need to adjust the timing of medication and meal plans when setting an exercise schedule. Above all, if something feels wrong, such as sharp pain or unusual shortness of breath, simply stop. You may need to scale back or try another activity.
- Start slow. If you haven’t been active in a while, it can be harmful to go “all out.” Instead, build up your exercise program little by little. Try spacing workouts in ten-minute increments twice a day. Or try just one class each week. Prevent crash-and-burn fatigue by warming up, cooling down, and keeping water handy.
- Commit to an exercise schedule for at least 3 - 4 weeks so that it becomes habit, and force yourself to stick with it.
- Stay motivated by focusing on short-term goals, such as improving your mood and energy levels and reducing stress.
- Recognize problems. Exercise should never hurt or make you feel lousy. Stop exercising immediately and call your doctor if you feel dizzy or short of breath, develop chest pain or pressure, break out in a cold sweat, or experience pain. Also, stop if a joint is red, swollen, or tender to touch.
Benefits of a Balanced Exercise Plan
Mixing different types of exercise helps both reduce monotony and improve your overall health. Here is an overview of the four steps of senior fitness and how they can help your body.
Step 1: Cardio Endurance Exercise
• Cardio Exercise: Uses large muscle groups in rhythmic motions over a period of time. This type of exercise increases your body’s ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues and to remove waste over sustained periods of time. Cardio workouts get your heart pumping and you may even feel a little short of breath.
• Why it’s Good for Seniors: Helps lessen fatigue and shortness of breath. Promotes independence by improving endurance for daily activities such as walking, house cleaning, and errands. Cardio includes walking, stair climbing, swimming, hiking, cycling, rowing, tennis, and dancing.
Step 2: Strength Training
• Muscle Work: Builds up muscle with repetitive motion using weight or external resistance from body weight, machines, or elastic bands.
• Why it’s Good for Seniors: Helps elderly people prevent loss of bone mass, builds muscle, and improves balance - both important in staying active and preventing risk of falling. Building up strength will help seniors stay independent and make day-to-day activities easier such as opening a jar, getting in and out of a car, and lifting objects.
Step 3: Flexibility
• Flexibility: Challenges the joint’s ability to move freely through a full range of motion. Can be done through static stretches (stationary), and active-isolation stretches. With AI stretching you hold each stretch for just two seconds, then relax, then stretch again.
• Why it’s Good for Seniors: Helps the body stay limber and increases range of movement for ordinary physical activities such as looking behind you while driving, tying shoes, shampooing your hair, and playing with grandchildren.
Step 4: Balance
• Balance: Maintains standing and stability under a variety of conditions including static (stationary) and dynamic (moving) balance.
• Why it’s Good for Seniors: Improves balance, posture, and quality of walking. Also reduces risk of falling and fear of falls. Try yoga, Tai Chi, and posture exercises to gain confidence with balance.
Types of Activities That are Beneficial to Seniors:
- Walking. Walking is a perfect way to start exercising. It requires no special equipment, aside from a pair of comfortable walking shoes, and can be done anywhere.
- Senior Sports or Fitness Classes. Keeps motivation alive while also providing a source of fun, stress relief, and a place to meet friends.
- Water Aerobics and Water Sports. Working out in water is wonderful for seniors because water reduces stress and strain on the body's joints.
- Senior or Gentle Yoga. Combines a series of poses with breathing. Moving through the poses works on strength, flexibility and balance. Yoga can be adapted to any level.
- Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Martial arts-inspired systems of movement that increase balance and strength. Classes for seniors are often available at local senior centered health clubs or community centers.