Getting regular exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle at any age. However, our reasons to exercise change as we age, and are especially significant for seniors who want to lead an active, joyful life.
In fact, during the COVID-19 lockdown, seniors were reported as being among the most active of all the age groups! This could be because seniors understood the enormous health benefits of leading an active lifestyle.
- Why should older adults exercise?
Although medical experts extol the virtues or regular exercise for everyone, they especially encourage seniors to stay physically active for as long as possible because the health perks are much more notable, including:
- Increases mobility and independence: Regular exercise helps promote an older adult’s ability to walk, bathe, dress, and perform other tasks independently and without assistance from others
- Increases energy levels: Exercise promotes the release of endorphins, which help to mitigate pain, allow for better sleep, and raising your energy levels
- Improves imbalance: Falling is a major hazard in older adults, and although the reasons behind falling are complex, regular exercise has shown to reduce the likelihood of falling by 23%
- Disease prevention: Adopting an active lifestyle can help prevent the onset of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and other deadly diseases
- Boosts brain function: Research has suggested that staying active can keep your brain healthy, and cut your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia by almost 50%
7 great at-home exercise routines for seniors
As beneficial as exercise is to older adults, research has shown that people experience a decline in aerobic capacity by approximately 15% each decade between the ages of 50 and 75. This means that seniors need to avoid activities that are strenuous on their heart. They also need to be careful with exercises that can cause pain or damage to their joints or bones.
Here are 7 great exercise to keep older adults active – and they can all be done at home*!
- Walking: One of simplest, most accessible ways to get exercise is walking, especially outdoors if the weather permits. Many health experts recommend walking 10,000 steps per day to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions. However, seniors who have difficulty walking or have joint pain may prefer a smaller number of steps. To make the walks more stimulating, listen to audiobooks or music while walking, or find an easy-to-moderately difficult trail through a park. Even better, when restrictions lift, walk with a family member or close friend so you can catch up while getting fresh air.
- Chair yoga: Yoga is a popular, low-impact exercise routine that focuses on many different areas of your health, including strength, mobility, balance, and flexibility. Many yoga moves are done standing, which can cause stress on muscles, joints, and bones. Fortunately, there’s a solution: include a chair to the movements! Chair yoga offers the same health benefits as conventional yoga, but without the discomfort many seniors may experience in the standing position. You’ll also reap many mental health benefits, sleep better, and improve your general sense of well-being.
- Water aerobics: Another activity that’s popular among seniors is water aerobics. Working out in the water is beneficial to folks living with arthritis, rheumatism, and other forms of joint pain due to the buoyancy of water which reduces stress on your joints. Also, the water provides natural resistance, helping to improve your strength, flexibility, and balance without the need for weights. Try these water aerobics that are not only good for you, but also lots of fun!
- Resistance band workouts: If you’re looking for a user-friendly way to start weight training, resistance bands offer the perfect solution. These stretchy strips of rubber can be used in many of the same ways as dumbbells or exercise machines, helping to improve posture, mobility, and balance while building and maintaining muscle mass. Resistance bands are inexpensive, easy to store, and are portable enough to be used anywhere, perfect for seniors looking for a fun exercise routine at home or while away.
- Pilates: Pilates offers low-impact movements that can improve balance, develop core strength and increase flexibility without the joint stress of other exercises. The routines emphasize breathing, body alignment, core strength, and concentration, using mats, specialized Pilates balls, and other accessories. Pilates has also been shown to improve mindfulness and overall well-being in older adults. Get started with Pilates using these three impactful moves!
- Dumbbell weight training: Working out with dumbbells is a classic way of building muscle and increasing strength. When performed with the proper precautions, seniors can also reap the benefits of dumbbell training, including higher metabolism and enhanced glucose control, as well as better weight management, a reduced risk of diabetes, and an overall sense of good health. Older adults will also be able to improve balance and flexibility when working out with dumbbells.
- Body weight exercises: This type of workout doesn’t use bands, free weights, or machines to provide resistance, but rather relies on your own body weight for the workout. Body weight exercise requires no equipment (except possibly a mat to minimize impact with the floor) and can be done anywhere. Benefits include counteracting natural muscle loss that occurs with age, a condition that can lead to hormone problems, decreased ability to metabolize protein, and other issues. Here are some great body weight workouts to get you started.
Which exercises should older adults avoid? It’s true – age is just a number! However, it’s also an important factor in determining which exercises are safe for different age groups, especially older adults. Workouts that include burpees, running, and jump squats may be too high-impact for seniors, as they can exacerbate joint pain, stiff or atrophied muscles, and balance issues, or cause stress on their cardiovascular system.
People over 65 should try and avoid these exercises:
- Deadlifts: This movement involves many muscles of the upper and lower body under the resistance of weight, which can worsen lower back pain
- Weighted squats: Involving a wide range of muscles including the quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, glutes, and abdominals, weighted squats should not be performed by someone with poor balance
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT): HIIT exercises involve jumping, lunging, and rapid movements, which can be hazardous to someone with heart or lung issues
- Power yoga: This type of yoga requires bending and twisting while balancing, which can cause compression fractures in seniors, especially in women who have osteoporosis
- Sit-ups: Sit-ups can be tough on the spine and lower back discomfort, and should be avoided by seniors who have a history of back problems
- Pull-ups: This movement involves pulling one’s body up toward a raised horizontal bar, which can be very dangerous for seniors whose bodies are more vulnerable to injuries if they don’t have the strength to lower themselves safely
- Stair climbing: The fall risks and possible cardiovascular strain make stair climbing an exercise that seniors should avoid
How to keep motivated to stay active
When people start an exercise routine, they often want to do it all in one day. This will only lead to frustration when you realize that your body has limits. We’re not 21 anymore!
You might also get discouraged if you get tired faster than you wanted to, or don’t reach your fitness or weight loss goals fast enough. Keep yourself motivated by focusing on short-term goals, such as improving your mood, reducing stress, or simply feeling better overall. You can also keep a log or use an app that tracks your progress, so you can look back on your accomplishments.
Perhaps the most effective motivation is to reward yourself with a favourite coffee or sweet treat once you hit a new fitness milestone. Remember though, moderation is key with both exercise and treats!
If you have any questions about safe exercises for older adults, or are interested in our professional elder care support services, please reach out to our team anytime. *Always consult with your physician before starting any new physical fitness routine, and discuss which exercises are right for your fitness level