Exercises for Seniors: How to Stay Fit As You Age
Previously we discussed the importance of maintaining one’s mental fitness, but cognitive health is, of course, only part of the total health equation. So, this month we’ll provide some ideas for staying fit as you begin to age.
Experts recommend seniors engage in light-to-moderate exercise for 2.5 to 3 hours a week and focus on body strength, heart and lung strength, flexibility, and balance. That may sound like a lot to account for, especially at first, but the key is to remember that every little bit of exercise counts, so any time you can get up and get moving is time well spent.
For Body Strength: Weightlifting, Push Ups, & Sit Ups
These basic exercises you learned in gym class are excellent starting places for easing into regular exercise. Not only do you likely already know proper form for sit ups and push ups, but you can get started with these moves today—no specialized equipment or training is needed. You just need a mat or soft area where you’re comfortable laying on the ground. But, if you do need a refresher, there are plenty of videos and articles out there to guide you.
Likewise, lifting 2–10 pound weights a few times a week can help build bicep and arm strength as well as improve your grip, bone density, and finger dexterity. Again, weightlifting is an easy activity to take on; you’ll just need one or two hand-weights, which are available at any sports store or big-box general store.
This activity does require some background knowledge on techniques for avoiding injury, so refer to this article from the Mayo Clinic for more information.
For Heart and Lung Strength: Walking & Cycling
A brisk walk or slow jog is another easy exercise you can do without any equipment or training. As long as you are comfortably mobile, you can use this basic movement to your advantage. If you can, try speed walking or at least walking at a clipped pace in order to get your heart rate up.
Ever heard of the 10,000 steps challenge? While hitting 10,000 steps a day is an excellent goal, you should aim to increase daily movement and decrease sedentary habits. Like this Livestrong article advises: “There's nothing inherently magical about the number 10,000 in and of itself; it's more about what it represents. Namely, getting out of your seat and walking around.”
If you do want to challenge yourself to hit 10,000 steps, consider investing in a pedometer to track them. Pedometers are available on most smartphones as well as clip-on belt attachments or wearable fitness trackers.
Cycling can of course be done on a proper bicycle, but if that’s not an option, an upright or recumbent stationary bike is a great alternative. Nearly any gym or fitness center will have at least one stationary bike, and, much like a workout video, many will have video screens with cycling programs built-in for you to follow along with a digital instructor. If you are in the market for a new bicycle, recumbent posture is a great way to exercise the legs and lungs without putting too much pressure on the back and spine to support the upper body.
For Flexibility: Squats, Leg Bends, & Stretches
Your body’s flexibility may not be the first thing you think of when formulating a workout plan, but it’s a huge factor when it comes to overall health and day-to-day movement. Body flexibility usually means having strong joints, muscles, tendons, and other subcutaneous tissue (AKA the skin and muscle matter beneath your skin). But flexibility can also be a measure of how comfortable you are making regular, everyday movements or performing specifics tasks, like reaching, pulling, or lifting.
Adding in squats (bending your knees as far they will comfortably go), leg bends (lifting your knee to your chest or your leg behind your back), and other general body stretches will go a long way toward your physical health and daily comfort level.
In addition to squats and leg bends, try working your:
- Put one arm behind your head so your elbow faces upward and gently pull your elbow with the other hand to stretch the underarm muscles.
- Put one arm across your chest and gently pull the elbow with the other hand.
- Put your hands on your hips and make “hula-hooping” motions or circular movements with your hips and waist.
- Grasp your wrist with the opposite hand and gently pull it over your head, in order to stretch your sides and abdominal oblique (side) muscles.
- Balance on one leg while holding up the opposite knee to approximately waist level and move the suspended leg in circular motions. This both helps you practice balance and works your thighs and hamstrings.
- Balance on one leg and move suspended ankle in a circular motion. Be sure to switch up the direction a few times for maximum stretch and joint movement.
For Balance: Yoga, Tai Chi, Leg Lifts, & Lunges
Having good balance is imperative not only for measuring physical health but also for completing day-to-day tasks and moving about your day. It’s no secret that yoga and tai chi can do wonders for the mind and soul, but they’re also great choices if you’re seeking a lower-intensity workout to improve your balance.
Most beginners’ classes focus on stretching and body awareness, so yoga and tai chi pair very well with other workouts and fitness programs. There’s a plethora of beginners’ yoga video-based classes online as well as in-person classes in most cities and small towns. (Regency regularly offers tai chi and gentle yoga classes to its residents.)
If you’re looking to work on your balance and stability but don’t want to commit to yoga or another activity, something as simple as doing lunges and/or leg lifts a few times a week can help. Lunges are when you place hands on hips, take a large step with one leg, and move your entire body downward on the down-step. Then, this movement is repeated 10-20 times for each leg, depending on your needs and abilities.
Leg lifts are also a simple movement that can yield big results for your leg strength, overall balance, and even abdominal/core strength. Simply lay on your back on a mat and lift one or both legs in the air, ensuring your back remains flat on the ground. You can also lay on your side and lift and lower the top leg repeatedly—whatever you’re most comfortable with.
In the end, it doesn’t matter which sport, fitness program, or activity you choose; what matters is that you get moving and get your heart rate up as often as possible. Allow yourself to start slow and don’t be afraid to try a new workout or join a new gym or workout class—you’ll never regret the good things you do for your body or your physical health. Every Regency community also offers a fitness center with various equipment and classes to keep active.
At Regency, we strive to support our residents’ in meeting and exceeding their physical fitness goals so they can lead long, healthy lives in our care. We offer the following programs:
- Seated Full Body - Seated workout from head to toe leveraging your own body weight incorporating hand, arm & leg movements. For beginners and those who could use a full body wake-up! (30 minutes)
- Dancing Through The Decades - Seated chair dancing exercises from the roaring 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and beyond. Wear comfortable clothing, you will be movin’ and groovin’! (45 minutes)
- StrongBodies™ Strength Training - Structured, safe, and effective evidence-based strength-training program developed for aging adults. Slow and steady seated, standing and floor mat workout that leverages hand weights and ankle weights. Movements can be altered to accommodate participants level of experience. Brought to you through the UW-Madison Extension. (75 minutes)
- Balance for Beginners - Seated and some standing exercises to help increase muscle strength, balance, stability and reduce falls. (45 minutes)
- Balance - Seated, standing, and short tandem walking exercises to help increase muscle strength, balance, stability and reduce falls. (45-60 minutes)
- Bag Toss - Work on your arm swings with bag toss. Grab a partner and meet us in the gym for a little friendly competition. If you have never played, we’ll teach you how! (60 minutes)
- Cardio Drumming - This seated or standing workout will have you banging on exercise balls with drum-sticks until the music quits! Great for cardio fitness, arm mobility, and gets those neurotransmitters working as you process tempo and rhythm of songs you love and maybe some new ones with lively beats! (30 minutes)
- Gentle Floor Yoga & Chair Yoga - Yoga relieves stress, increases flexibility, strength and balance. Gentle yoga is idea for those dealing with chronic aches and pains, fibromyalgia, arthritis, cancer or post-injury. Specific modifications are given so that students may participate at their comfort level. (30 - 60 minutes)