Exercise Tips for Seniors
How Often to Exercise
Exercise routines should be done according to a doctor’s plans, keeping the physical and mental health of the patient in mind. All routines recommend at least one hour of daily physical activity for senior adults, though often specific exercise regimens will include rest days where you should remain active but refrain from that particular exercise. These rest days allow the muscles to heal themselves for improved performance over time, and while some highly intensive programs may only require one rest day, other programs may require multiple rest days.
Make sure to follow the regimen that is recommended by your doctor and by the exercise program that you are following.
Making Exercise A Habit
Since daily exercise and activity are essential, making sure you stick with your routine is as important as choosing the right one for you. Studies from many notable sources, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tell us that habits generally take around 21 days to form. The secret is to force the body and fool the mind into exercising for those 21 days until your brain makes the behavior automatic. The body will then begin to enjoy and even look forward to exercise sessions.
Many people may be able to consciously force themselves into a new 21 day pattern, despite feeling unwilling to exercise during certain days of that period. Other people may need some encouragement, distractions, or rewards to build the habit. One of the best ways of guaranteeing a habit sticks is finding friends who are on the same path. Even if you can’t find a traditional friend, there are many online video channels and communities that offer digital friendship and assistance to people who are starting an exercise regimen.
Exercising at Home
Exercising in the home often makes it easier to form the exercise habit. Your home is less expensive and more convenient than a gym, and with a bit of ingenuity, you can even turn common objects into equipment that will bolster your exercise program.
- Chairs – Many exercises, including the chair dips mentioned above, use nothing more than your body weight and a chair to posture your body. Chairs are meant to take pressure off of certain parts of your body, and you can use that feature to isolate other parts, giving you the freedom to exercise and strengthen them. Chair exercises also give elder adults with limited mobility the ability to continue exercising.
- Stairs – Stairs may be used for cardiovascular exercise. Elliptical machines were invented to reproduce the experience of climbing stairs, so why not stick with the original! Stairs are a great way to keep your heart rate up, exercise your lower body, and improve blood flow.
- Walls – You can use any doorway wall in your home as a brace for joint stretches.
- Swimming pool – If you have a swimming pool in your home, you can enjoy exercise while helping your joints. Swimming is also great for people who are overweight because it takes strain off of the skeleton while allowing them to raise their heart rate and strengthen the muscles.
Older adults may also exercise at home without any equipment at all. Body weight exercises such as yoga and simple pushups, situps and leg lifts can provide just as much benefit as exercises at the gym. The secret to a healthier body through exercise is consistency and the right level of intensity, not the kind of equipment you use in your routine.
Physical Activity Vs. Exercise
By the same token, ordinary physical activity can confer some of the same benefits as exercise at the gym. Physical activity is defined as any movement that requires the energy of the skeletal muscles to perform. Physical activity can include exercise, but it also includes movements that occur within the daily routine such as walking to a dog park, getting out of bed, brushing your teeth or your hair, or changing a light bulb.
Naturally, some physical activity is less strenuous than others. Exercise, on the other hand, is physical activity that is structured and repetitive, and has the aim of maintaining or improving physical fitness. Exercise is also often targeted at improving one of the five aspects of physical fitness: body composition, muscular endurance fitness, flexibility fitness, muscular strength fitness and cardio-respiratory fitness. For most seniors, 30 minutes of structured, repetitive exercise a day is essential to physical fitness. This number is derived from the perceived intensity of the average workout and from the fact that most seniors tend to live a less active lifestyle as they get older.
At the same time, physical activity and exercise can both build health in older adults. As a matter of fact, seniors who live an active enough lifestyle may be able to maintain their physical fitness through physical activity alone. However, even seniors who are very active may need to undertake special exercise routines to address particular issues. For instance, a senior whose active lifestyle keeps them in excellent physical shape may still need to go on a regimen to build flexibility and strength in the hip after an implant operation.
The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends both physical activity and exercise for a truly healthy lifestyle. They cite extremely lazy lifestyles as the reason that even daily exercise routines are not as effective as they should be. For instance, a senior who exercises intensely for an hour but then sits down for the majority of the day will have trouble keeping fit.
The bottom line is that it’s good to engage in general physical activity and pursue a daily exercise routine. Stand instead of sit. Take stairs instead of elevators when possible. Take on some household chores such as gardening or mowing the lawn, within reason. Make it a point to watch less TV, or at least perform some easy home exercises during commercial breaks.
Physical activity can even become exercise if approached correctly. In fact, one of the best ways to successfully implement an exercise regimen is to accentuate daily activities.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Adding weights to everyday walking – You can upgrade trips to the mall or to the park from physical activity into an exercise regimen by using light weights. There are many weights made for this purpose specifically that are small, attractive and easy to carry.
- Extending a daily activity into a regimen – Enjoyable daily activities can be extended into an exercise routine. For instance, people who enjoy gardening will probably enjoy yoga. The movements are similar and many yoga classes are held outdoors.
- Physical activity during leisure periods – During TV time, many people will fit in a set of sit-ups or push-ups while watching.
How To Track Your Progress
So—you’ve chosen a program that fits your needs and abilities, and you’ve stuck with it while also boosting your ordinary physical activity. How will you know that you’re making any progress? As it happens, there are many ways to track and measure the benefits of an exercise routine. What tracking measures you use will depend on the types of results you expect from your program — a weight loss program is tracked differently from a muscular strengthening program, for example.
Here are some common ways to track exercise programs for older adults.
- Cardiovascular health – In most cases, lowering the resting heart rate and the body mass index (BMI) are key performance indicators of a heart health program. A lower heart rate signifies the body is working less to pump blood, preserving the heart and arteries for longer periods of time. Having an appropriate body mass index ensures that the body is better able to fight off disease. A good body fat ratio also ensures that the joints are not overtaxed by having to carry extra weight, among many other benefits.
- Muscular strengthening – Muscle strengthening programs measure success by the endurance and strength of the muscles and nerves that are used in heavy lifting. If you’re focused on building muscle strength, keep track of the number of repetitions you can do at a particular rate or keep track of the total weight lifted in each individual exercise.
- Ease of daily routine – A much less formal, but still quite relevant form of tracking is the ease with which an older adult can simply live his or her daily life. Physical fitness is defined as the ability to easily perform day-to-day tasks, and this is all that some people are looking to achieve. If you’re getting through your day with fewer physical challenges, you can probably thank your exercise routine!
Health is essential to enjoying your later years, and exercise, and physical activity in general, are essential for health. It’s never too late to start, and if you take the right approach and consult with your doctor before starting, you can expect to find your days happier, easier, and more full of the joys that make life worth living.
Seniors haven’t reached the end: they’ve reached a new beginning. And Aging.com was set up to help you start this new phase of your life on the right foot. Our mission is to help you and thousands of other older adults who want to live independently, plan your finances, and take charge of your health care.