Exercise for Seniors

Written by Dana Sullivan Kilroy | Published on September 10, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on September 10, 2014

Fitness for Seniors

Participating in a balanced fitness program contributes to well being at every age, but it’s vital for seniors. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise helps control blood pressure, body weight, and cholesterol levels. It reduces the risks of hardening of the arteries, heart attack, and stroke. What’s more, exercise strengthens muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to help fight osteoporosis. Keeping your body strong and limber reduces the risk of injury and allows you to continue to enjoy the kinds of activities you’ve enjoyed your entire life. Staying healthy will help you maintain your independence.

If you haven’t been active for a while, be sure to take it easy and start slowly. Walking for just five or 10 minutes at a time, several days a week is a great way to begin. Once you can walk for 30 minutes at a time, you have built a solid foundation and are ready to add more challenging activities to your regimen. Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen. They can help create a workout plan that suits your specific needs and goals.

Aerobic Endurance

Any activity that increases your heart rate helps build endurance. And it doesn’t take long to make significant changes. After as few as six weeks of consistent exercise, you should notice that you’re more comfortable during exercise as well as when going about your day-to-day activities.  

The best aerobics for seniors are low impact like walking, swimming, water aerobics, cycling, and dance. Other options include:

  • yoga
  • tai chi
  • line dancing
  • square dancing
  • ballroom dancing

Strength

Even small changes in overall muscle strength can have a huge impact on your daily activities. Carrying groceries, climbing stairs, and even getting up out of a chair all require muscle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend people over the age of 65 participate in strength-training workouts at least twice a week.

Start with small weights like 1- and 2-pound dumbbells. Try to do 10 to 15 repetitions of a variety of exercises such as bicep curls, triceps extensions, and chest presses. You need only your body weight to do some very effective moves, including lunges, squats, and modified push-ups. 

Try this:Stand facing a wall, with your toes 12 to 18 inches from the wall. Lean forward slightly, and place your palms flat on the wall at about shoulder height. Now bend your elbows. Lower your body toward the wall until your nose nearly touches the wall, or get as close as you can without straining. Then push back to the starting position. Do this 10 times. This modified push-up builds chest, upper back, and shoulder strength.  

Balance

The CDC reports that falls are the leading cause of injury-related death and the most common cause of trauma hospital admissions among Americans aged 65 and older. For seniors, even minor injuries can have serious consequences. Doing a few basic exercises to improve balance just might come in handy the next time you step off a curb awkwardly or try to sit down on a moving train or bus.

Try this: Stand directly behind a sturdy chair, such as a dining room chair that won’t tip easily. Rest one hand on the back of the chair, and place the other hand on your hip. Lift your right leg, bending the knee slightly. Hold for a count of 10. Relax, and do nine more repetitions. Switch legs and repeat. As your balance improves, do the same move without resting your hand on the back of the chair.

Flexibility

If you’ve noticed that reaching for objects on high kitchen shelves or doing basic activities, such as getting dressed, aren’t as easy as they used to be, you probably need to add some stretches to your daily routine. Stretching is something you can, and should, do every day. It’s best to warm up for three to five minutes by walking or simply marching in place. Then slowly move into your stretches, holding each for at least 10 seconds. Be sure to breathe during the stretch. Remember that stretching should never be painful. You’re stretching too far if you feel sharp pain or soreness the following day.

Try this: You can do this neck stretch standing or sitting. Slowly turn your head toward the right until you feel a slight stretch. Don’t tilt your head backward or forward. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Now slowly turn your head to the left. Hold. Repeat three times in each direction. 

General good fitness can be achieved in as little as 30 minutes each day, and these 30 minutes could prolong your life and improve the quality of it. Start slowly, be cautious, and don’t be afraid to hire a personal trainer to help you along the way. 

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