Summer Exercise Tips for Seniors
Summer is almost upon us all and with the warm, sunny season comes the natural and understandable desire to get outside the house and be active. Golfing, gardening, swimming, and more, there’s plenty of excuses one can take to get outside and take in some sun.
For seniors, exercise and activity is an important component to maintaining health and vitality through the later stages of life. The right kind of exercise can help older adults feel stronger, more confident, as well as help to make friends and increase their engagement in their community.
But for all the myriad and well-documented health benefits of regular exercise, there are of course some precautions that must be taken, especially when engaging in physical activity outside. Without preparation and precaution, the risks of exercising in the summer can outweigh the benefits. Older adults in particular can be more sensitive to higher temperatures, as well as having a greater risk of dehydration, heat stroke, or other dangerous conditions.
For adults over the age of 65, heat carries with it a greater risk of heat related illnesses, known collectively as “hyperthermia”. These can include heat stroke, swelling in feet and ankles, dizziness, cramps, and heat exhaustion. For older adults, the increased risk comes from myriad age-related changes, such as thinner skin, poor circulation, and sweat glands decreasing in efficiency, taking multiple medications, chronic conditions that weaken the heart, lungs, kidneys, or body in general, and more. Also a problem can be overcrowded areas, lack of access to air conditioning, and overdressing.
For many, though, the benefits and rewards you reap from staying active as you age outweigh any discomfort. Taking the time to educate yourself and prepare thoroughly can help you get outdoors and get moving even when the heat and humidity are high.
- Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise programs, even if one seems innocuous, easy, or is billed specifically “for seniors”. Your doctor should have a better grasp of your overall condition, as well as be able to warn you about any medications or conditions that might make you more susceptible to heat.
- Know your limits. While much conventional dialogue around exercise talks about “pushing yourself” and “overcoming limits”, it’s far more dangerous to push yourself and end up making yourself sick or injured. There are plenty of days ahead and plenty of time to slowly build your health and stamina.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before starting anything, as well as carrying a bottle with you outside and drinking when you’re on the go and working up a sweat.
- Break exercise into shorter chunks. 30 minutes of exercise is 30 minutes, regardless of if it’s one long walk or three short ones. Avoid spending time outside while the sun is at its strongest as much as possible.
- Use sunscreen regularly. Sunburns are just the beginning of sun damage, and UV rays can cause skin cancer.
- Wear appropriate clothing. Many companies make wide brimmed hats, long sleeved shirts, and long pants out of thin, lightweight material that fits loosely, allowing your body to sweat and breathe and protect you from the sun without making you feel overheated.