Fitness for older adults
Participating in a balanced fitness program contributes to your well-being at every age — and regular exercise is vital for older adults. Regular exercise can help control your blood pressure, body weight, and cholesterol levels. It reduces your risk of hardened arteries, heart attack, and stroke. It also strengthens your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to help fight osteoporosis and lower your risk of falling or other injury. Keeping your body strong and limber can help you maintain your independence as you age. It allows you to continue the kinds of activities you’ve enjoyed your entire life.
If you haven’t been physically active for a while, start slowly. Gradually build your endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Walking for just five or 10 minutes at a time on several days each week, is a great way to begin. Once you can walk for 30 minutes at a time, you’ve built a solid foundation and are ready to add more challenging activities to your routine. Starting a basic strength routine while you begin your aerobic routine will help you build the strength you need to support your aerobic workouts.
Always talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen. They can help you create a workout plan that suits your specific needs and goals.
Any activity that increases your heart rate helps build aerobic endurance. It doesn’t take long to see significant changes. After just six weeks of consistent exercise, you should feel noticeably more comfortable while working out and going about your day-to-day activities.
The best aerobic activities for older adults to begin with are low-impact exercises, such as walking, cycling, swimming, and water aerobics. Other options include:
- tai chi
- line dancing
- square dancing
- ballroom dancing
If you’re aged 65 or older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week — or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
Even small changes to your overall muscle strength can have a huge impact on your life. Carrying groceries, climbing stairs, and getting up out of a chair all require muscle strength. If you’re 65 or older, the CDC recommends participating in strength-training workouts at least twice a week.
Start by using small weights, such as 1- and 2-pound dumbbells. Try to complete 10 to 15 repetitions of a variety of weightlifting exercises, such as bicep curls, triceps extensions, and chest presses. You can also use your own body weight to provide resistance, while completing activities such as lunges, squats, and modified pushups. Complete a variety of activities to strengthen all of your major muscle groups, including your legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.
For example, try this modified pushup to strengthen your chest, upper back, and shoulders:
- Stand facing a wall, with your toes 12 to 18 inches away from it.
- Lean forward slightly and place your palms flat on the wall at shoulder height.
- Slowly bend your elbows to lower your body toward the wall until your nose nearly touches it, or get as close as you can without straining.
- Then slowly straighten your elbows and push back to your starting position. Repeat this exercise 10 times.
Many community centers have strength classes geared at meeting the needs of older adults.
The CDC reports that every year, 2.5 million older Americans are treated in emergency departments for injuries caused by falls. For older adults, even minor injuries can have serious consequences. Yoga and similar exercises help improve balance as well as flexibility.
Also, doing a few basic exercises to improve your balance may 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 simple exercise to help improve your balance:
- 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 the other hand on your hip.
- Lift your right leg, bending the knee slightly.
- Hold your leg up for a count of 10. Relax for a moment.
- Then do nine more repetitions on that side, before switching legs and repeating on the other side. As your balance improves, you can do the same move without resting your hand on the back of a chair.
Have you 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? Do your muscles often feel tight? You may need to add some stretches to your daily routine. Stretching is something you should do every day to help you maintain your range of motion as you age.
It’s best to warm up for three to five minutes before stretching by walking or simply marching in place. Then slowly move your body into each stretch, holding the pose for at least 10 seconds. Continue breathing throughout the entire stretch. You can also do your stretches after you finish exercising. Remember that stretching should never be painful. If you feel sharp pain while stretching, or soreness the next day, you’re pushing too far.
Try this simple neck stretch while standing or sitting down:
- Slowly turn your head toward the right until you feel a slight stretch.
- Don’t tilt your head backward or forward.
- Hold this pose for 10 to 30 seconds.
- Then slowly turn your head to the left. Hold for another 10 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat three times in each direction.
Good general fitness can be achieved in as little as 30 minutes each day. Exercising daily can help prolong your life and improve the quality of it. It’s important to include aerobic activity, strength training, balance exercises, and stretching in your routine. Start slowly and build your endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility gradually. Ask your doctor for guidance — and don’t be afraid to hire a personal trainer to help you along the way.