As you age, being physically active can help you stay strong and healthy enough to continue doing the things you enjoy. Often, inactivity is more to blame than age when older people lose the ability to do things on their own. That’s why experts say older adults should engage in physical activities throughout the week to maintain their health. Regular physical activities can improve your mood, reduce depression, reduce stress, increase energy and improve sleep. Regular exercise and physical activity can also reduce the risk of developing some diseases and disabilities such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, balance problems and difficulty walking. Regardless of health and physical abilities, older adults can gain a lot by staying physically active.
Many physical activities can be done for free and do not require any special equipment. A brisk walk, basic stretches or yard work can all be beneficial when done regularly. You could also try a workout video on YouTube or try contacting your local senior center, or parks and recreation department about facilities and programs in your area.
According to Harvard Medical School the 4 most important types of exercise are aerobics, stretching, strengthening, and balance exercises. Each type of exercise has different benefits and the variety helps reduce boredom and risk of injury.
Aerobic exercise or “cardio” is a type of workout where your heart rate and breathing increase, but not so much that you feel like you need to stop and rest. These activities help keep you healthy, improve overall fitness, and help you perform the tasks you need to do every day. Aerobic exercises improve the health of your heart, lungs and circulatory system. Some examples include brisk walking, yard work, dancing, jogging, swimming, biking, hiking, tennis and basketball.
Stretching will improve your flexibility. Moving more freely will make it easier for you to reach down to tie your shoes or look over your shoulder when you back up your car. Improved flexibility will also reduce your risk of injury while participating in other exercises or everyday physical activities. Most stretches can be done without any equipment and with minimal space. Perform each stretch for about 10 to 30 seconds and repeat three times. As you stretch, breathe deeply, and go slowly. Never force a movement that causes pain. It’s okay if you can’t bend very far initially, use good form and with regular stretching, your flexibility will improve.
Strength training is one of the best ways to keep muscles healthy and strong. Regular strength training builds bone and muscle and helps to reduce weakness and frailty that can come with age. Your muscular strength can make a big difference for tasks such as getting up from a chair by yourself, lifting your grandchildren, and walking through a park. Keeping your muscles strong can also help with your balance and prevent falls. You are less likely to fall when your leg and hip muscles are strong. Body weight exercises are often the best exercises to start with to ensure proper form and safety. Weights or resistance bands can be added to any routine for more advanced users.
Balance exercises help prevent falls, a common problem in older adults that can have serious consequences. Many factors that aid us in maintaining balance such as vision, sensory organs in the inner ear, leg muscles and joints can deteriorate as we age however, balance exercises can counteract these issues. Many senior centers and gyms offer balance-focused exercise classes, such as tai chi or yoga. Balance exercises are especially important if you've had a fall. Typical balance exercises include standing on one foot or walking heel to toe. Working on joint flexibility and strengthening leg muscles will aid considerably with balance as well.
Always be sure to get the proper training before attempting any of these exercises at home and remember to consult your doctor before embarking on any exercise regimen.
Ty Strahl is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) based in Spokane Washington. Her job is to help navigate the many aspects of aging and to help seniors who are in transition to find the right solutions for their individual needs.