Exercise and nutrition are essential parts of a healthy lifestyle throughout one’s life, and as we age, our requirements are ever changing. A growing body of research illustrates how regular exercise is especially important for seniors, and how more seniors are opting for an active lifestyle instead of a sedentary one. This article will show you the benefits of exercise for older adults, the seven best forms of exercise for seniors, and a few exercises that may be hazardous to seniors’ health.
The Health Benefits of Exercise in Older Adults
Our biology changes as we get older, causing seniors to have different reasons for staying in shape than younger generations. Though physical fitness provides benefits at any age, the health perks physically fit seniors enjoy are more notable. Physicians and researchers say seniors should remain as active as possible, without overexerting one’s self. In older adults, exercise helps you live a longer, healthier, and more joyous life.
Some of the benefits of exercising later in life include:
More exercise means more independence for seniors:
Seniors that exercise regularly are less likely to depend on others. According to Harvard Medical School, regular exercise promotes an older adults ability to walk, bathe, cook, eat, dress, and use the restroom. If self-reliance is a priority, exercise is one of the best ways to maintain independence for older adults.
Exercise improves balance for older adults:
Falling down is a much bigger deal for older adults than younger ones. Every 11 seconds, an older adult is admitted to an emergency room for a fall-related injury, and every 19 minutes, a senior dies from a fall, according to the National Council of Aging. Though no two falls are alike, and preventing falls is very complex, regular exercise reduces the likelihood of falling by 23%.
Regular exercise means more energy:
Though it seems counter-intuitive, being inactive makes you tired and being active gives you more energy. Any amount of exercise promotes the release of endorphins, which are essential neurotransmitters linked to pain mitigation and a sense of well-being. Endorphins combat stress hormones, promote healthy sleep, and make you feel more lively and energetic, overall.
Exercise helps prevent and counteract disease:
Heart disease, osteoporosis, depression and diabetes are common diseases among older adults, and are often deadly. Fortunately, adopting a more active lifestyle can contribute to the prevention of these diseases, or reduce the unpleasant symptoms of these diseases if you already have them. If you are at-risk for disease, exercise may be the key to warding off an unpleasant condition.
Regular exercise improves brain function:
One of the most remarkable developments in health science is the revelation that the mind and the body are much more closely linked. A healthy body likely means a healthy mind, and seniors that exercise on a regular basis have improved cognitive health, according to research from NCBI. More recently, a study from the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, regular exercise has been shown to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia by nearly 50%.
The Best Exercises for Seniors
Exercise is crucial for older adults, but it can be hard to know where to begin. If you haven’t worked out for a while, re-entry into the active world can be daunting. There’s also a good chance the exercises you were once accustomed to aren’t ideal for older adults.
Before you launch into an exercise regimen, it’s important to check with a physician to ensure you’re healthy enough for exercise, and to see which exercises are ideal for your current fitness level.
1. Water aerobics
In the past years, water aerobics have become an extremely popular form of exercise among all ages, but in particular to seniors. Exercising in the water is ideal for those living with arthritis and other forms of joint pain, as the buoyancy of the water puts less stress on your joints. Additionally, water brings natural resistance, which eliminates the need for weights in strength training. Water aerobics exercises improve your strength, flexibility, and balance with minimal stress on your body.
- Aqua jogging
- Flutter kicking
- Leg lifts
- Standing water push-ups
- Arm curls
2. Chair yoga
Like water aerobics, chair yoga is a low-impact form of exercise that improves muscle strength, mobility, balance and flexibility, all of which are crucial health aspects for seniors. Chair yoga is an accessible form of yoga that provides less stress on muscles, joints, and bones than more conventional forms of yoga.
As an added bonus, chair yoga has been shown to improve mental health in older adults. Regular chair yoga participants have better quality sleep, lower instances of depression, and report a general sense of well-being.
Great chair yoga exercises for seniors include:
- Overhead stretch
- Seated cow stretch
- Seated cat stretch
- Seated mountain pose
- Seated twist
3. Resistance band workouts
Resistance bands are stretchy strips of rubber that add resistance to workouts with reduced stress on your body. Resistance band workouts are user-friendly, and accessible for beginners. This form of exercise is growing more popular among seniors because of the relatively cheap up-front costs of materials, which makes resistance band workouts ideal for at-home exercise. Additionally, these exercises are ideal for strengthening your core, which improves posture, mobility, and balance.
Resistance band workouts for seniors include:
- Leg press
- Triceps press
- Lateral raise
- Bicep curl
- Band pull apart
Pilates is a popular low-impact form of exercise that was developed a century ago. In pilates exercises, breathing, alignment, concentration and core strength are emphasized, and typically involves mats, pilates balls, and other inflated accessories to help build strength without the stress of higher-impact exercises. Pilates has been shown to improve balance, develop core strength and increase flexibility in older adults.
Some great pilates exercises for older adults include:
- Mermaid movement
- Side circles
- Food slides
- Step ups
- Leg circle
One of the least stressful and accessible forms of exercise is walking. For some seniors, walking is a bigger challenge than others, so distance and step goals differ from person to person. For the general population, 10,000 steps per day is advised for a healthy lifestyle, but those with difficulty walking or joint pain may settle for a smaller number as a goal. A PLOS One study found that walking 10,000 steps lowered the ten-year outlook for mortality by 46%. Walking promotes a healthy lifestyle, while strengthening muscles, lowering your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and colon cancer.
Ideas for walking exercises for seniors:
- Find a moderate trail through a park
- Find a walk-friendly race to train for
- Walk the perimeter of a familiar building
- Find an audiobook or a playlist for stimulation during your walk
6. Body weight workouts
Muscle loss can be devastating and debilitating for older adults. Around a third of seniors live with severe muscle loss, which can lead to hormone problems, a decrease in the ability to metabolize protein, and other problems. Body weight workouts are one of the best ways to counteract the effects of muscle atrophy in older adults. One of the key benefits of body weight workouts is the affordability. The materials required for body weight workouts are minimal; most body weight workouts require workout clothes and a mat to soften impact with the floor.
Some great body weight workouts for seniors include:
- Squats to chair
- Bird dog
- Lying hip bridges
- Side lying circles
7. Dumbbell strength training
Strength training has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of diabetes, osteoporosis, back pain, and depression, while helping you manage your weight. Strength training also contributes to a higher metabolism and enhanced glucose control. Dumbbell exercises are some of the best ways for seniors to strength train, if they are performed with the proper precautions. Dumbbells allow seniors to isolate muscle groups to strengthen, while improving balance and flexibility.
Some ideal dumbbell workouts for seniors include:
- Bent-over row
- Tricep extension
- Bicep curl
- Overhead press
- Front raise
Exercises Seniors Should Avoid
A good percentage of popular mainstream workouts are not ideal for older adults. These popular workouts are well-suited for younger adults looking to bulk up or shed weight in a hurry, but they may put an unhealthy strain on older adults with joint pain, atrophied muscles, posture problems or issues with balance.
The following exercises should probably be avoided if you’re over the age of 65:
- Squats with dumbbells or weights
- Bench press
- Leg press
- Long-distance running
- Abdominal crunches
- Upright row
- High-intensity interval training
- Rock climbing
- Power clean