Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you don’t need to exercise regularly. Even if you don’t exercise much right now, you can still make a goal of getting fit during your senior years. Make working out something you enjoy and you’ll find that it’s easy to get into shape while having fun.
What Are the Benefits of Exercise for Older Adults?
It’s not uncommon for older adults to feel like slowing down as they advance in age. Sometimes, health problems interfere with activity, making it easy to fall into a sedentary lifestyle. Weight gain and pain are also problems that older adults experience, and it’s also typical for senior citizens to be afraid of falling. The simple truth is that staying active is more important than ever for older adults. Studies show that regular physical activity is an important factor in longevity, even adding years to one’s life. This can be true even for those who don’t begin to exercise until they’re older. Not only can exercise add to your lifespan, but it can also make your senior years more enjoyable. You’ll be able to maintain more independence, have more energy, and even manage unpleasant health issues you may be experiencing. Exercise also helps improve memory and mood.
Physical Health Benefits
- Weight Management: Metabolism tends to slow down as age advances, making it challenging to maintain a healthy weight. Exercise helps increase metabolism and muscle mass, both of which burn more calories.
- Staving Off Disease: Regular exercise helps improve the immune and digestive systems, regulates blood pressure, increases bone density, and lowers the risk of diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and osteoporosis. Exercise can also reduce the risk of some cancers, heart disease, and obesity.
- Mobility and Flexibility: Exercising improves strength, flexibility, and posture. You’ll likely find that you are more coordinated and have better balance, which will help reduce the risk of falls. Strength training also helps with some of the discomforts associated with arthritis.
Mental Health Benefits
- Improves Sleep: Getting regular physical activity every day helps people fall asleep more quickly, sleep more deeply, and wake up feeling refreshed.
- Mood Enhancement: Many people find that exercise helps alleviate stress. Endorphins produced with exercise help reduce anxiety and depression, and you may even feel more self-confidence.
- Brain Function: Exercise helps prevent memory loss and cognitive decline. Regular physical activity can also help slow down brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Overcoming Obstacles to Getting Active as You Age
It can be challenging to start a new exercise routine when you’re older. Health issues may make you feel discouraged as you start to move, and you might be worried about falling. But even if you feel old and frail, there are options for exercising that will probably be a good fit for you. Once you get started with some type of exercise, you may be surprised at how energized and happy you feel. Common symptoms of pain might be alleviated as you move several times each week. Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be excessively strenuous; even moving in small ways can have a big impact.
Six Myths About Activity and Aging
- There’s no point to exercising because I’m still going to get old. Of course, you’ll still get older, but you might be surprised at how physical activity helps you feel and look younger. You’ll also enjoy greater independence, and your risk of common ailments will go down. Everyone enjoys a better mood from exercise, too.
- Exercise increases the risk of falling. Exercise actually makes you stronger and more coordinated, which makes it less likely that you’ll fall. You’ll also enjoy better balance.
- Exercise is too frustrating. While you may notice that your strength and performance aren’t the same as when you were 20, this doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy working toward active goals with exercise. Set goals that are appropriate for your age and condition, and enjoy working to achieve them.
- It’s too late to start exercising. You are literally never too old to begin exercising. Even if you’ve never regularly exercised, you can start to move and enjoy great benefits. Start slowly to avoid overexertion and injury, and work up as you get stronger.
- Disabled people can’t exercise. Those who can’t stand or walk may have special challenges, but this doesn’t mean exercise is impossible. You can lift weights, do chair aerobics or yoga, and perform stretches from a seated position. Swimming might also be a good option.
- Pain and weakness prevent exercise. Exercise helps manage pain and increases strength. Older people can become much stronger with exercise.
What if You Hate Exercise?
Exercise doesn’t need to be an all-out sweat-fest to be effective. Incorporating active pastimes can be a good way to get in some exercise.
- Lift weights while listening to music.
- Walk laps at the mall while window-shopping.
- Play tennis in a foursome.
- Go on a nature hike and take pictures.
- Take a yoga class at a fitness center.
- Walk or jog on a treadmill while watching a movie.
- Take an exercise class with a friend.
- If you play golf, walk instead of taking a golf cart.
- Play outside with your grandkids or pets.
Building a Balanced Exercise Plan
It’s not necessary to get bogged down in science when you want to be active. Just try to mix up different types of activity so you stay interested in exercising and your body is continually challenged. The four building blocks of fitness are:
- Balance: Balance helps you maintain stability when you’re standing still and moving around. Yoga and posture exercises are good for improving balance, which helps to reduce your risk of falling.
- Cardio: Cardio involves using your large muscle groups in repetitive motions, which gets your heart pumping and elevates your breathing rate. Cardio can include walking, swimming, hiking, biking, rowing, stair-climbing, tennis, or dancing. Cardio helps lessen fatigue and builds endurance.
- Strength Training: Strength training builds muscle with weights or resistance. You can use machines, free weights, or elastic bands. Strength training prevents loss of bone mass, builds muscle, and improves balance. This helps you stay independent and makes your daily activities easier.
- Flexibility: Flexibility exercises help your joints move more freely. You can perform stationary stretches or stretches with movements. Stretching increases your range of movement, which helps your body stay limber.
Types of Activities Beneficial to Older Adults
- Walking: Walking is ideal for older adults who need a light activity. You don’t need special equipment to walk, and you can do it virtually anywhere.
- Fitness Classes: Senior fitness classes can keep you motivated and be a great place to meet new friends.
- Water Sports: Exercising in the water helps reduce strain and stress on the joints.
- Yoga: Yoga combines poses with focused breathing. As you move, you’ll be getting stronger and more flexible and improving your balance.
- Tai Chi and Qi Gong : These martial arts-inspired movement programs help improve balance and strength.
Getting Started Safely
Exercise is very beneficial, but it’s important to start safely.
- Speak With Your Doctor: See your doctor before you start exercising, especially if you have health concerns. Find out if you should avoid certain activities.
- Keep Health Conditions in Mind: If you have preexisting medical conditions, choose workouts that won’t cause complications.
- Listen to Your Body: When you exercise, you shouldn’t feel pain or discomfort. If you feel dizzy or short of breath, stop immediately and call your doctor. If you develop chest pain or pressure, experience pain, or break out in a cold sweat, stop and call your doctor. If you notice a swollen joint, you may have an injury that needs to be addressed. If exercise causes pain afterward, lessen your level of exertion.
- Start Slowly: Start a new exercise plan slowly, building up your activity gradually over time. Work out in ten-minute increments two times a day to start. You might also start with chair exercises if you are afraid of falling.
- Prevent Injuries: Warm up and cool down every time. Keep a bottle of water nearby so you can rehydrate as you exercise.
- Commit to a Schedule: Strive to keep up your exercise routine for about a month to make it a new habit.
- Experiment With Mindfulness: Try to focus on what you’re doing as you exercise to get the most out of it. You’ll likely improve your physical condition faster, and you’ll be less likely to injure yourself.
Support Activity Levels With the Right Diet
Diet and exercise together have a big impact on your overall fitness and health. Many seniors don’t eat enough protein, even though they need more protein than younger people to maintain their muscle mass and energy levels. Anyone with diabetes or kidney disease should try to get 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
- Vary your protein sources to include eggs, beans, fish, poultry, and red meat.
- Reduce processed carbohydrates such as chips, cookies, pastries, and cake. Replace these foods with high-quality proteins.
- Eat nuts and seeds for snacks. Try Greek yogurt for dessert. Replace processed pizza with grilled chicken breast and steamed beans.
Tips for Staying Motivated
Discouragement can set in if you get injured or feel sick. And if the weather gets cold, it may be hard to feel like going outside for a walk. Use these tips to stay motivated:
- Set Manageable Goals: Make it a goal to improve your mood and increase your energy level instead of trying to lose weight.
- Reward Yourself: When you meet a short-term goal, reward yourself with something you like to do, such as soaking in the tub or meeting a friend for coffee.
- Keep a Journal: Write down the exercises you do so you can look back on your progress and note your accomplishments.
- Get Support: Try working out with a friend or family member so you can motivate each other.
How to Stay Fit When Your Routine Changes
- On Vacation: Check out your hotel’s fitness center. Pack exercise clothes and equipment so you can work out in your room, too. Plan active activities while you’re vacationing so you can get exercise.
- Caring for a Family Member: Work out to a video while your family member is sleeping. Or ask someone to come over to watch your family member while you go for a walk.
- When Your Exercise Buddy Moves Away: Try to find another friend to exercise with. Take an exercise class so you can find new friends.
- Moving to a New Community: Find fitness centers and community associations where you can meet new friends. Look for activities that fit your abilities and interests.
- Illness Interrupts Your Exercise: Wait until you’ve recovered to start exercising again. Gradually work yourself back into your exercise routine.
- Recovering From Surgery: Talk with your doctor about exercising and your activity level. Start slowly and build up your activity gradually.
With a bit of planning and persistence, almost anyone can enjoy better health by adding exercise into their routine, no matter their age.