Becoming more physically active is one of the best things that you can do for yourself as an older adult. Exercise offers a variety of spectacular benefits for both your physical and mental health. (We’ll explore those later.) It can also be an enjoyable and fun way to spend your time. When it comes to senior citizens, however, the world of fitness is often fraught with questions, concerns, and insecurity.
How much exercise should I do? What exercises are best for me? Aren’t I too old for this kind of stuff? Won’t physical activity tire me out, or even hurt? How can I stay safe while being active? We’ve heard all these questions and more, so we’d like to assure you that any time is a good time to start implementing and benefiting from exercise.
You may feel wary about jumping into an exercise routine due to limited experience, new or prior pain or injuries, concerns about safety, or even discouragement that stems from comparing yourself to younger generations – or even to a younger you! These feelings are natural, but you should not let them stop you from enjoying physical activity and the benefits that come with it.
Often the only thing standing between seniors and the active lifestyle they desire is some information – and we’re here to help with that. We’ll walk you through five of the best exercises for seniors, the benefits of being physically active, and some tips and tricks to help you enjoy a safe and fun workout. And, it’s always a good idea to check with you medical team before beginning a workout regimen.
According to CDC guidelines and Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults that are 65 years and older who have no restricting health conditions should aim for at least 2 ½ hours of moderate aerobic exercise weekly, supplemented with at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities. While it is best to spread your exercising throughout the week (generally the goal is to exercise 3-5 days every week), any activity is better than none.
While some seniors enjoy going to the gym to meet their 2 ½ hours of exercise, there are plenty of ways to meet your fitness goals at home. No need to start up the car and go anywhere – here are five senior exercise ideas that you can do in your neighborhood.
1. Yoga. This gentle and low-impact workout requires no equipment, making it the perfect choice for your at-home fitness routine. Yoga is particularly great for seniors because it involves stretching muscles which help them become flexible and elastic, in turn giving you a greater range of motion to complete your everyday tasks. Bonus benefits? Yoga also helps with stability, muscle strength, blood pressure and breathing, and can also be very relaxing.
As an alternative to standard yoga, chair yoga offers many great exercises for seniors over 75 and places minimal amounts of stress on joints, bones, and muscles so that you can enjoy many of the benefits of yoga without the extra effort.
2. Bodyweight Training. Keeping your muscles strong and healthy can get harder as you get older – that’s why it’s important to include strength training exercises in your fitness routine. Lifting weights at the gym may be too much for some seniors, but bodyweight training is a great alternative to pumping iron. You can do exercises such as chair squats, wall push-ups, stair climbs, leg lifts, and more from home. The best part? No equipment is required!
3. Resistance Band Workouts. Cheap, durable, and easy to find, resistance bands can provide you with a great and inexpensive at-home workout. Like bodyweight training, resistance bands help to strengthen muscles and boost endurance while also improving flexibility and balance. For seniors experiencing osteoporosis or arthritis, resistance band training is a great way to work muscles without straining joints.
4. Walking. One of the simplest ways to increase your physical activity is to walk! With no equipment required beyond a pair of comfortable shoes, walking is a low-hassle, low-cost alternative to going to the gym – yet it offers so many benefits, especially for seniors. Take some time in the morning to do a few laps around the block or take the stairs instead of the elevator. . You can even combine your walks with a bit of strength training by bringing a resistance band along with you for some upper body exercises.
5. Bicycling. Think that cycling is for younger folk? Think again – this is one fitness activity that’s perfect for any age. Whether you do it around the neighborhood or on the trail, cycling is a great aerobic activity for your fitness routine. Harvard Medical School found that cycling and other similar exercises not only provide you with greater energy and endurance, it can also reduce the risk for issues such as diabetes, depression, and some cancers. Seniors over 75 also enjoy benefits such as improved metabolic health and augmented mental performance.
When it comes to exercises to avoid, it’s always important to listen to your doctor and your body – both will let you know if a certain activity is too strenuous or dangerous for your health. Generally, long runs (if you’re unaccustomed to running) can be detrimental to your knees and other joints and should be avoided. Exercises such as leg presses, deadlifts, crunches, weighted squats, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are just a few of the exercises to avoid when you hit your golden years.
Now that you know a few of the exercises you can (and should) be doing, it’s time to focus on the next big question: why bother exercising at all?
Becoming physically active offers a variety of benefits for seniors that they won’t be able to find elsewhere and can help improve your quality of life so that you can enjoy every day to the fullest. So next time you want to hit the snooze and go back to bed rather than lacing up your walking shoes, consider the benefits you’ll be missing if you do.
Preventative and restorative benefits: Exercise not only helps prevent some of the common health problems that accompany aging (e.g. high blood pressure, anxiety and stress, heart disease, diabetes, etc), it also boosts your immune system and metabolism and helps you look and feel younger and healthier.
Build muscles. Weight training and strength exercises contribute to stronger muscles which give you the strength you need to perform your daily activities and remain as independent as possible.
Sleep better. Regular exercise can help you fall asleep faster, enjoy more relaxing sleep, and awake feeling well-rested and rejuvenated.
Make weight management easier. Strong and healthy muscles burn more calories, even at rest, which is just one reason that fitness for senior citizens is so essential. Exercising also boosts metabolism, which naturally slows as we age.
Train your brain. It’s not just for your body, exercise benefits your brain, too! All the mental stimulation you receive while exercising can help prevent cognitive decline, keeping things like dementia and memory loss at bay.
Enhance your quality of life. Quality exercise should enhance your flexibility, balance, mobility, and overall health, but it also does more than that. Physical activity boosts your self-confidence and can put you in a better mood by reducing negative emotions. It helps you realize that your body is still capable of amazing things when you put your mind to it.
When it comes to fitness for seniors, there are a few tips we like to recommend to ensure that you get the most out of your workout.
Haven’t gone walking in a while? Don’t immediately sign up for a marathon. Recovering from an injury or surgery? Leave the weights alone until you’re sure you’re ready. It’s important not to push yourself too hard, especially when you begin a new exercise or activity. Keep your current fitness level in mind and slowly increase the intensity and duration of your workouts until you achieve your goals.
Don’t rush through your workouts, either; be sure to save some time before and after to warm up and cool down. Remember to take some water breaks throughout your routine, too!
Getting medical clearance from a licensed physician will ensure you can enjoy your exercise safely. Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise, especially if you have a pre-existing condition. Be sure to ask:
Set some short and long-term fitness goals for yourself and work hard to stick to them. Make sure that your goals are specific, realistic, and meaningful, otherwise, it will be difficult to stay motivated long enough to achieve them.
The best exercises for seniors are simply the ones you like the most, but sometimes that means we neglect to add enough variety. There are four types of physical activity for seniors – make sure to engage in all of them to enjoy the benefits we’ve discussed above.
1. Endurance/aerobic activities (such as walking, jogging, swimming, and biking) help build endurance, elevate heart rate and breathing, and keep your body strong.
2. Strength activities (such as bodyweight training, weightlifting, and resistance bands) build muscle mass and boost metabolism.
3. Balance activities (such as yoga and biking) help prevent falls and related injuries.
4. Flexibility activities (such as yoga) help muscles retain their elasticity, keeping you flexible enough to perform daily tasks while avoiding injury.
Exercise isn’t just for younger generations – seniors can and should enjoy physical activity, too! There are so many benefits associated with being active, and it’s never too late to get started. Try out one (or more) of our senior exercise ideas and you might be surprised how much you enjoy it.