It’s no secret that a cornerstone of health and wellness is physical activity. Staying active is important for people of all ages, but for seniors, it is vital.
The CDC states that by age 75, one in three men and one in two women do not engage in any physical activity. But, along with a healthy diet, regular physical activity is one of the best things older adults can do for their health.
Exercise can prevent or delay many health problems that often develop with age. It also helps strengthen muscles and improves mobility, allowing seniors to complete daily tasks on their own. This ability ultimately allows older adults to stay independent for longer, which is a goal for most people.
Benefits of Staying Active
Physical activity can help prevent or improve countless conditions and diseases for seniors. Some of these major physical conditions include diabetes, obesity, arthritis, and heart disease, among many others.
Exercise has also been shown to improve mental health as well as physical health. In fact, studies have shown that seniors who engage in physical activity experienced a 30% decrease in depression symptoms.
In addition, research suggests that exercise can even increase the size of the hippocampus in the brain, leading to an improvement in memory. Furthermore, Alzheimer’s Society asserts that physical activity is one of the best lifestyle changes people can make to reduce their risk of dementia.
Clearly, the health benefits of exercise are enormous for seniors.
Best Types of Exercise for Seniors
The most ideal types of exercise for seniors can be split into three categories: flexibility, strength, and aerobic exercise.
The goal of improving joint and muscle flexibility is to increase seniors’ range of motion. Without having a sizable range of motion, seniors are more likely to have mobility issues. Limited mobility often leads to reduced independence, so focusing on flexibility is critical.
Flexibility exercises can be simple and easy. For example, seniors can gently roll their heads, wrists, and ankles in a circular motion to loosen their joints. Also, simple stretches done on a daily basis can drastically improve flexibility over time.
Click here to watch a video with examples of flexibility stretches for seniors to increase their range of motion.
Seniors should also focus on incorporating strength exercises into their fitness routine. Because our bones naturally weaken as we age, strengthening the muscles around the bones is crucial. The more muscles surrounding your bones, the less likely you are to break a bone from a fall.
Having strength is also necessary to accomplish many everyday tasks, like carrying groceries or standing up from a chair.
Seniors can begin building up their strength by doing bodyweight exercises such as lifting up the knees while sitting down, doing bicep curls, or shoulder presses. Eventually, seniors can begin to incorporate resistance bands and light weights into their workout regimen to increase the intensity of the movements.
Click here to watch a video introduction to weight training for seniors.
Aerobic exercise involves raising the heart rate. Many people picture aerobics as doing jumping jacks and running, but these are not the only forms of aerobic exercises. Some other options include walking, jogging, dancing, biking, or swimming to name a few. Be sure to choose a form of aerobic exercise that is safe for your fitness level and abilities.
Click here to watch a video with low-impact aerobic exercises for seniors.
Tips for Seniors to Stay Active
1. Communicate with your doctor
Before seniors make any major lifestyle change, it is important to consult with a doctor first. This applies to starting a regular workout regimen. A doctor who knows your medical history can tell you what exercises would be best for you, and if there are any exercises you should avoid.
2. Incorporate movement into your everyday life
According to the CDC, walking, gardening, and yard work are the most popular physical activities for people 65 and older. Other ways to incorporate fitness into your lifestyle include walking and playing with your dog, taking the stairs, and parking further away in parking lots.
Seniors in Florida especially should take advantage of outdoor opportunities for movement due to the warm, sunny weather year round. Walking on the sand at the beach and taking a stroll down along a waterfront pier are just some ways to add movement to your lifestyle in Florida.
3. Start small
Those who are just beginning to exercise should start small and gradually increase the intensity of their workouts. Going from no movement to vigorous exercise overnight is not usually safe or sustainable for seniors (or anyone). Doing so may lead to burnout, fatigue, and even injuries.
Fitness does not have to be strenuous for seniors to benefit. Rather, it should be consistent, sustainable, and enjoyable. Slowly work up to your desired fitness level to effectively incorporate it into your lifestyle and prevent injuries. And remember, any amount of movement is better than none.
4. Stay hydrated
While drinking enough water is universally important, it is especially necessary when exercising. Make sure to drink water before, during, and after a workout to prevent dehydration. The Reynolds Institute on Aging recommends seniors drink six to eight glasses of fluid – or approximately 1.5 liters – per day.
Staying hydrated is especially important to remember in Florida, where the hot weather and strong sun can lead to dehydration more quickly.
5. Be sure to warm up and cool down
It’s easy to forget to warm up before and cool down after a workout. But, doing so is necessary to prepare your muscles for activity and prevent injuries.
For an easy warm-up, seniors can start with 5 minutes of light cardio such as walking or jogging. Then, seniors should engage in dynamic stretching to prepare the body for the workout. Recommended dynamic stretches include squats, walking lunges, arm circles, shoulder squeezes, and torso rotations. Click here to watch a video of an easy warm-up for seniors, as demonstrated by a senior.
For a cool down, seniors can hold a series of static stretches for triceps, shoulders, quads, hamstrings, hips, and quads. Click here to watch a video of an ideal cooldown for seniors.
6. Enlist a friend
Social support has consistently been associated with maintaining regular physical activity. Find a “workout buddy” who will accompany you to the gym or fitness classes. Or, invite a friend or family member to take a walk outside or play pickleball. Exercising can be a great opportunity for seniors to be social and get in movement at the same time.
How Often Should Seniors Exercise?
It is recommended that seniors engage in at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise per week, or about 30 minutes per day. Or, for vigorous aerobic exercise, seniors are recommended to get 1.5 hours per week.
Experts also suggest that seniors participate in strength training at least twice per week.
It is important to remember that seniors should work up to this level of exercise gradually if they are just beginning their fitness efforts.
Seniors should pay attention to their bodies after exercising. It is normal to have sore muscles after a workout. But, if the discomfort persists, or if seniors experience chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, balance difficulties, or nausea during exercise, they should talk to a doctor.
Resources for Seniors to Stay Active
There are many local and community resources available to help seniors stay active.
For example, most assisted living or independent living communities offer daily fitness programs, which can include strength classes, water aerobics, Zumba, and more.
Many community centers offer group classes specifically for seniors, as well.
SilverSneakers is a fitness program made intentionally for seniors. They offer both online fitness classes to do at home, and in-person classes held at certain gyms. SilverSneakers classes are available at no cost for adults 65 and older through select Medicare plans. Click here to search for a SilverSneakers class near you.
Another easy, no-cost way seniors can access fitness resources is on YouTube. There are thousands of fitness videos available for free on YouTube, targeted toward all different age groups and fitness levels. You can even search for very specific types of workouts specifically for seniors, such as Tai Chi, yoga, mobility, Zumba and many more.
Some YouTube channels that specialize in senior fitness videos include SeniorShape Fitness and Senior Fitness with Meredith.
It is clear that exercising has exponential benefits for everyone, seniors included. Getting older does not mean that exercise is out of the question. Instead, seniors can participate in workouts tailored specifically to their abilities and fitness levels.
If you want more tips on senior health and wellness, visit our website FloridaSeniorConsulting.com.
Looking for a senior living community or in-home care for you or a loved one? Give us a call at (800) 969-7176. Our expert senior advisors will help you find their perfect community and make every step of the process easy from start to finish.
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