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Staying fit is important at every age, but it’s especially important for seniors, who tend to lose muscle and bone mass with age. Unfortunately, it gets harder to stay in shape over age 55, since hormonal changes and sometimes disabilities get in the way of high-impact exercise. The challenge for many older adults is to find workout methods that not only fit into their active lifestyles but also keep the risks of strenuous activity low and encourage them to maintain regular exercise habits for overall health and well-being.
This article looks into the benefits of exercise for seniors. It includes tips for safe and fun exercise and gives an overview of various workouts. Bear in mind that nothing in this article is medical advice, as every senior’s health is unique, and you should always consult with your doctor before changing your activity level.
Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
Your doctor might encourage you to take up or modify an exercise routine for a lot of reasons, since there’s a lot to be gained. Some of these benefits are physical, while others affect your mood, mental health and possibly help prevent age-related disorders.
Seniors get many of the same benefits of exercise as younger adults do, plus some extras unique to their age. As a rule, regular exercise helps you keep a healthy weight, improve your fitness and resistance to disease, tone your body and improve your balance and coordination. It can also be a good approach to managing chronic conditions, such as osteoporosis or diabetes, which become more common as people age.
Exercise also brings mental health benefits, especially for older adults. Those who get regular exercise report improved cognitive function, better sleep and having a stronger sense of well-being. Exercise can also help fight depression, elevate mood and give you a fun activity to share with friends.
Types of Exercise for Seniors
As with younger adults, seniors should strike a balance between different types of exercise to get the most out of their workouts. Ideally, your workout program should include aerobics, strength and flexibility training as well as balance and stability exercises.
Walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling and many other activities fit into the aerobics category. Seniors who want to avoid some of the more strenuous aerobic activities can benefit from low-impact exercises such as step classes or water aerobics. Many senior centers even support these activities.
Strength training can be done with free weights, exercise machines or impromptu lifting outside of the gym. This is extra helpful for conserving muscle mass and bone density, which both tend to decline with age.
People get stiffer with age, and a lack of flexibility can contribute to serious injuries in the event of a fall. Flexibility exercises, such as yoga, Pilates and simple stretching, go a long way toward keeping tendons and joints loose and flexible, increasing resilience and improving comfort.
Balance and Stability
Reduce the risk of falls by incorporating some balance and stability exercises into your workouts. Try laying down some mats, getting a spotter who can assist you and then training on a balance ball or a wobble board. Another simple way to practice balance is standing on one leg using the wall or chair for support.
Tips for Safe Exercise for Seniors
After a certain age, which varies from person to person, it gets progressively more difficult to lift, twist and run without risking injuries, and those injuries generally take longer to heal than they did decades ago. If you’re just starting a new fitness routine, or if you’re modifying your current exercise program, keep these safety tips in mind.
Talk With Your Doctor
People of all ages, but especially seniors, can get hurt doing unfamiliar physical exercises, so talking about what’s safe with a doctor beforehand is invaluable. It’s also a good idea to invest in at least a few sessions with a qualified personal trainer when you start, so you know you’re doing the exercises correctly. If you live in an assisted living community, there might be a certified person on staff who can work with you in the gym.
Start Slowly and Gradually Increase Intensity
Nobody runs a marathon their first day, and even very young adults have to train up to perform at their peak. As a senior, you’re probably going to have a gentle curve to your increasing abilities, so don’t fight that. Start slow and gradually work up to a point where you’re comfortable.
Use the Proper Equipment and Techniques
The best athletes in the world can get hurt if they lift wrong, or if they jog in bad shoes. Take the time to learn the ins and outs of all the equipment you’re using, and ask an expert how to operate it correctly.
Listen to Your Body
As a senior, understanding your body’s warning signs before injury is key. Respect these signals and avoid overly strenuous exercises when you’re feeling unusual discomfort or pain. This way, you can safely progress toward your goals without injury. Remember, flexibility can vary daily, which is completely normal. Don’t get discouraged.
Sample Exercise Routine for Seniors
It’s important to warm up before you work out, and it’s harder to do when you get older. Budget at least 15 minutes for warm-up exercises, and give yourself more time if you have arthritis or a heart condition. Go slow at first and gradually increase your endurance for these exercises:
Squats: Stand straight, feet hip-width apart. Bend knees, lowering hips as if sitting on a chair. Rise back up and repeat.
Walking Lunge: Stand straight. Step forward with one foot, bending both knees into a lunge. Push off with your front foot, stand up, and repeat with the other foot.
Arm Circles: Stand tall, extend arms out to the sides. Slowly make small circles with your arms, first forward, then backward.
Torso Rotation: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Keep hips steady, gently rotate upper body left, then right.
Aerobic exercise aims to boost your heart rate and promote healthy blood circulation throughout your body. Various methods can achieve this, and your choice depends on your preferences and the level of intensity you can sustain comfortably for half an hour. Here are some popular aerobic exercises that are suitable for seniors:
Strength Training Exercises
Strength training builds muscle and helps to maintain bone density and mass. These exercises usually involve weightlifting. However, it’s crucial to learn each exercise from a professional before attempting it, and never lift more than you’re comfortable with. Common strength exercises include:
Lifting free weights
Squats with or without weights
As people age, flexibility, crucial for preventing falls, typically improves with daily practice. The choice of stretching exercises for enhancing flexibility depends on personal preference, desired outcomes, and safe training options. Stretching disciplines include:
Cooling down post-workout is as crucial as the initial warm-up because it helps regulate heart rate, reduce muscle soreness, prevent dizziness and enhance recovery and relaxation. Typically, this involves 5-10 minutes of lower intensity exercise or active recovery. For instance, slow down from a run to a jog, or from a jog to a walk.
The Bottom Line
Exercise is important for everybody who cares about their health, and it’s especially important for seniors who want to stay active. If you’re starting a new workout routine, remember to be safe, explore exercises that align with your preferences and don’t forget to have fun.
Daniel Cobb began his career as a freelance writer over 10 years ago writing for websites such as TheSimpleDollar.com and Reviews.com. Since then, he has specialized in writing, editing, and managing the content team for Caring.com and other senior living websites. Over the last five years, he’s developed a deep understanding of the senior living industry and has enjoyed creating exceptional content that reaches millions of visitors every month. He can be reached at email@example.com.