It’s always important to keep your mind and body healthy through physical activity, but it becomes even more important as we age and health problems are more likely to occur.
Staying healthy as you age is vital in order to preserve your independence and limit the onset of medical conditions that can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle. Most people are aware that you’re at an increased risk of falling and breaking a bone as you age, which can sometimes be fatal.
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, an estimated 44 million people in the United States aged 50 and older experience decreasing bone mineral density that leads to bone disorders like osteoporosis or osteopenia.
Exercise is one way to help keep osteoporosis and osteopenia at bay. As you age, your fitness goals may change, so we’ve provided four in-depth workouts designed to help you get the most out of your golden years.
Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
Although working out is important at any stage of your life, there’s perhaps no time when it is more important than during your senior years. It’s important for senior citizens to stay as active as possible while avoiding overexertion in order to live the longest, healthiest life possible.
Although some people think that exercising will make them more tired, the opposite is actually true. Working out releases endorphins, which promote feelings of well-being, help lower stress levels, provide an energy boost, and promote healthy sleep.
As reported by Harvard Medical School, walking and other forms of exercise can help you stay mobile and independent for longer. Study participants who exercised regularly by walking and doing strength and balance exercises were 28 percent less likely to have become disabled compared to those who did not exercise but instead learned about healthy aging, and they were 18 percent less likely to have any episode of physical disability.
That means that exercising regularly will help you stay independent (and potentially in your own home) for longer than you might otherwise.
As adults age, they are more likely to struggle with balance and experience falls. Regular exercise has been found to reduce fall likelihood by 23 percent, which is significant because the National Council of Aging reports that an older adult is admitted to the emergency room every 11 seconds as a result of a fall, and a senior citizen dies every 19 minutes due to falling.
Better brain function
Not only can regular exercise prevent physical decline, it can also help prevent cognitive decline. Exercise has been found to improve the ability of individuals to focus more clearly on their environment and process information more quickly. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, exercising regularly is so helpful that it can reduce the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease by approximately 50 percent.
Many of the most common health conditions found in older adults can be prevented or diminished by living a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, including depression, heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. People who already have these conditions can experience a reduction in their symptoms with regular exercise, while those who do not may prevent the disease from ever taking hold.
The Best Exercises for Seniors
In addition to the large number of people who experience a decline in bone mineral density, an estimated one out of every three older adults also experiences a significant decrease in muscle. Strength training can help address both issues, and it doesn’t even have to be anything fancy.
Weight-bearing exercises like walking, strength training, and resistance training help encourage the formation of new bone and promote bone growth.
Not sure where exactly to start? Focus on functional exercises performed with bodyweight if you don’t currently have a strength training routine. Practice exercises like “sit to stand,” which involves starting seated in a chair and standing up from the chair without using your hands or any surface for support. Performing this movement (rising from sitting to standing) ten times in a row two to three times per day throughout the day is key to building the muscles in your legs and also can help you maintain independence, as the ability to get up on your own is often a major criteria required to live alone.
Even simple walking exercises can turn into strength training if you add handheld weights.
For example, hold a weight in each hand with your arms down by the sides of your body, palms facing inward. Stand tall and engage your core, then walk forward while carrying the weights. Walk forward for 30 seconds or as long as you can, then turn around and go back. Repeat this activity for several minutes in a row.
Swimming or water aerobics
If you’re worried about keeping your joints comfortable while working out, swimming or water aerobics may be the perfect choice for you.
No matter what your physical limitations, swimming and water aerobics offer a full body exercise option that helps reduce the stress on your joints and improves strength thanks to the natural resistance offered by water.
You can sign up for a water aerobics class at the local gym, swim laps or perform exercises in any pool you have access to. Exercises to do in the pool that are great for elders include aqua jogging (moving your legs underwater in a running motion while wearing a buoyancy belt), flutter kicking while holding onto the wall or a kickboard, leg lifts performed while standing against the wall or in the center of the pool, standing push ups performed in the water with your hands pressed against the pool wall, or arm curls with or without weights.
Whether performed in the traditional manner standing up or performed in a chair, yoga offers many benefits for older adults. Whether you choose to practice traditional yoga or chair yoga will likely depend on your balance, strength, and coordination, but both choices will help you improve strength.
Yoga participants report reduced rates of depression, better quality sleep, and improved muscle strength, balance, mobility, and flexibility.
If you are looking to reduce the stress on your muscles and joints, chair yoga may be the best option for you.
You can perform a simple overhead stretch by bringing your hands behind your head with your elbows sticking out to the sides, then leaning gently towards one side and then the other to stretch out the sides of the body.
A seated twist can be performed by sitting in a chair with your feet facing forward and bringing your hands around to the side of the chair or the back of the chair, bringing your body into a twisting motion. This should be performed on each side for balance.
You can practice seated cat and cow stretches by first rounding your shoulders forward, curving your spine into a crescent shape, and then pressing your shoulders backward, creating a concave spine.
You can also find gentle yoga videos available through online fitness communities like Body FX that will guide you through the movements and stretches while helping to improve your strength.
Working out doesn’t have to feel like a chore. With dancing, it can actually be fun!
Dancing is one of the best exercises for senior citizens because it gets your body moving in all different directions, helping to increase mobility and flexibility, and it has been shown to improve cognitive function.
Additionally, people who dance regularly report lower rates of depression than those who do not, which is especially important for aging seniors, who may find themselves feeling lonely as they age. Dancing can also help improve balance, reduce joint pain and stiffness, and improve cardiovascular fitness, reducing blood pressure levels and cholesterol levels.
While many gyms and community centers offer dance classes, you can also enjoy dance workouts from the comfort of your own home through online fitness communities like Body FX. Online fitness communities provide access to hundreds of dance exercise videos, so you’re sure to find one that you enjoy and that suits your fitness level.
Whether you love to dance, prefer to swim, or like walking around the neighborhood, no matter how you choose to work out, the most important thing for senior citizens is to get moving in a way that you enjoy and that allows you to stay consistent in your workouts. Working out may no longer be motivated by trying to run your fastest or lift the heaviest weight, but providing a better quality of life well into your golden years is a very worthy goal.