When we reach our twilight years, one of the key ingredients to staying healthy, remaining independent, and living longer with a high quality of life is exercise. Exercise is of course important at all stages of life, but uniquely important for seniors due to the negative impact on our bodies that many of the physical effects of the aging process have.
According to research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the most important things older adults can do for their health is get regular exercise. However, many people over the age of 65 are under the impression that a leisurely walk around the block is good enough. And it’s partly correct, that is, after all, still exercise. And while any exercise is good exercise, a short stroll with your dog is not enough.
Lack of regular and sufficient exercise in the elderly can lead to a whole host of otherwise preventable issues, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, cognitive decline, poor mobility, broken bones, and more. So whether you are a senior yourself, a child of one, a caregiver of an older adult, or some combination thereof, deciding on an exercise routine is a smart idea. The problem there, however, is where does one start? The world of fitness is a saturated market, and oftentimes it is very easy to encounter conflicting ideas and opinions with regards to the best or proper way to exercise. But all worthwhile undertakings begin with a plan, and all plans have goals. The National Institute on Aging recommends sorting your goals roughly along four categories.
- Endurance: Exercises that improve the heart, lungs, and circulatory system, thereby improving your capacity to exercise.
- Strength: Exercises that build up the muscles in the arms, legs, back, and hips.
- Balance: Exercises meant to improve coordination and prevent falls, which are one of the leading causes of injury to seniors.
- Flexibility: Exercises that improve range of motion and ability to move freely.
It is important to note that before starting any type of exercise program, it is prudent to have a discussion with your doctor, particularly if you have any kind of physical limitations or medications that may potentially make some forms of exercise harmful. If you have not been engaging in regular exercise already, it is best to start with short-term goals. Don’t set your sights on a marathon before you’ve walked around the block. Building your endurance by starting with 15 minute walks at your normal pace, then gradually increasing to a brisk walk or jog for shorter distances.
Maintaining strength is significant to remaining independent as we age. Starting with light weights will build your muscles up to work with heavier and heavier weights, increasing your strength. Hand weights will strengthen your arms and hands, and exercises like sit ups and planks will increase your core and abdominal strength. Simple exercises like standing on one foot periodically throughout the day will improve balance, as well as senior friendly exercise classes like dance, yoga, or tai chi.