Improvements in physical and psychological health can lead to some significant benefits in other areas of an older person’s life, especially by prolonging their ability to live independently. In turn, this greater independence helps to maintain physical and mental health. In short, the effects of exercise are more holistic than even some doctors realize, and remembering this can keep you motivated as you begin your exercise routine.
Once you’re clear about what you’re after and what you should avoid, it’s time choose an exercise routine. Here are some aspects to consider:
Timing — Health experts recommend that older adults exercise on a daily basis. No matter the intensity of the routine, it should be accessible and able to be performed daily.
Lifestyle — It helps to choose exercises that fit naturally into your daily life. For instance, if you already take a daily walk in the park, you might simply add weights to the routine for a heightened effect. It helps, too, if you can make exercise part of a social activity. Tennis, swimming or other group exercises can improve your lifestyle overall and help you maintain your mental health. Working with a professional trainer may also make you feel more engaged.
Budget — Depending on their cost, daily exercise programs can become a strain on a limited budget. Regimented exercise programs or gymnasiums may have a monthly fee or an expense for professional training. If that’s the case, you may want to engage in less formal activities in order to pay less.
Motivation — Do you feel particularly motivated to engage in the type of exercise you’re considering? Just because a program is formal or regimented does not mean that it has to be uncomfortable or unenjoyable, and it may help to choose exercises that are particularly appealing to you.
Schedule — You’re going to have more going on in you your day than exercise, so make sure that the program you choose fits into your schedule.
Endurance, Balance, Strength & Flexibility
As you choose your exercise routine, it’s also useful to remember that good health involves more than big muscles or cardiovascular fitness. In fact, there are four aspects of physical health that an effective exercise program should address: endurance, balance, strength, and flexibility. You need to address all of these elements to maintain a healthy balance in your workout regimen, and certain exercises are better for certain elements. Here are some of the best examples of exercises for each element, examples you can work into your exercise routine or make a habit of doing even when you’re not officially exercising.
Endurance means the ability to engage in strenuous activity over a period of time, and it’s closely related to cardiovascular health. Brisk walks are one of the easiest and most effective ways build and maintain endurance: When you walk, choose a pace that can be continued for 30 to 45 minutes and a time of day that is not too hot, and wear comfortable clothing.
Tennis is another great way to build endurance. The running and movement involved is great exercise, and fun as well. Tennis also requires having at least one other person present, ensuring a group fitness environment that can improve the intensity of the workout.
Swimming is an excellent choice to build endurance in elder adults with joint or obesity problems. The water takes the pressure off of joints and reduces the pain of weight issues while creating a consistent intensity that can help in weight loss or cardiovascular exercise.
Maintaining balance is essential for mobility and independent living. Yoga and tai chi are popular balance regimens for elder adults. The movements are slow and calculated, taking some of the intensity out of the workout. While yoga can be quite difficult to master, and while the yoga you can do may be subject to your physical limitations, it’s known to help with older adults who tend to fall.
Eye tracking exercises improve hand-eye coordination, boost agility, and can help adults at risk of falls. Targeting the vision balances the rest of the body, most importantly the vestibular system (the balance system located in your inner ear).
Another advantage of eye tracking exercises is that they are static, reducing the pressure on the body for adults with mobility issues.
One simple exercise for improving balance is known as the balancing wand exercise. Simply hold a walking cane out in front of your body, behind your body, and to each side for 10 seconds in each position. The exercise can be done with an ordinary cane or any mobility device, or with a stick.
Strength is sometimes underemphasized as a goal for seniors, but it’s indispensable to everyday living. If you want to build strength, a great way to start is with arm curls, which help to strengthen the muscles in your upper arms. You can perform this exercise with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding an adequate amount of weight in your palms with your arms down. Face your palms forward. Exhale as you bend your elbows and raise the weight to your chest without moving your elbows. Hold for one second, and breathe in as you lower your arms.
Chair dips are an especially convenient exercise for people with mobility problems. You can perform chair dips by sitting in a chair with armrests and putting your feet flat on the floor. When you’re ready, lean forward slightly, grab the chair arms and place your hands next to you. Push your body off of the chair slowly. Hold this position for one second and return to the original position.
Knee curls are a great lower body exercise. Stand behind your chair and hold it for balance. Lift one of your legs straight back with no bend in the knee. Breathe out as you bring your heel up to your gluteus muscle. Do not move your hips. Hold for one second, and breathe in as you return to the original position.
The more flexible you are, the less you’re likely to injure yourself through ordinary physical activity, so include stretches in your routine. The neck stretch, for example, can be done while sitting in a chair. Put your feet flat on the floor and slowly turn your head to the left and right until a slight stretch is felt. Do not tilt the head forward; hold it comfortably erect. Hold each position for up to 30 seconds.
Some back stretch exercises offer a great daily routine for elder adults with back problems. Here’s a back stretch that can be performed in a sitting position: sit straight up, lean forward comfortably, and then simply twist the body from the hips while turning your head in the same direction. Hold your position by lifting the hand to the side that you are turning and holding the arm of the chair. Hold each stretch for up to 30 seconds.
Ankle stretches are very important for holistic lower body mobility. This exercise can also be done in a seated position, reducing the risk of injury. Sit in an armless chair, stretching your legs out in front of you. Take your heels to the floor and bend the ankles while pointing the toes toward the body. Hold each position for up to 30 seconds before returning to the original position.
Seniors haven’t reached the end: they’ve reached a new beginning. And Aging.com was set up to help you start this new phase of your life on the right foot. Our mission is to help you and thousands of other older adults who want to live independently, plan your finances, and take charge of your health care.