Exercising is a critical component of maintaining proper health as our bodies age. The things we can get away with when we are younger – or even the things we take for granted – change as we age. That includes the definition of “exercise,” which we'll explain in a second. But the bottom line is simply that it's never more critical to get enough exercise than when we are seniors and get older.
Before we go further, let's lay a few qualifiers out, though.
- First and foremost, this is by no means intended to be medical advice. Everyone's situation will be different, and ultimately starting to exercise after not doing so is something that should be done slowly and gradually – but also something that should be cleared by a doctor first. Make sure your loved one is healthy enough to handle a new or increased workload, no matter how small it might be.
- Next is that “exercise” can really mean something different for different people. For 90-year-olds with bad hips and knees that have trouble getting around even with the help of a walker and/or person, exercise can be as simple as standing up, walking around the house once or twice, and resting on an hourly basis to make sure their muscles stay active and don't stiffen or, worse, atrophy.
- That's why we want you to take these recommendations carefully, and definitely clear a routine for your loved one with a doctor or physical therapist before getting started – and know that for some, these exercises might be too much, and for others it won't be enough.
- Be sure that your loved one stretches both before exercise and after it. Doing so can prevent common injuries caused by exercising that are more of a nuisance than anything else, but can also hamper your efforts to exercise. Also, remember that the goal here is preventative measures for health, so while some simple exercises might cause a lot of exertion as is, the goal is for your loved one to not push themselves to exhaustion.
- One important rule to follow when exercising for any age is to be conscious of your loved one's heart and what it can handle. A general rule of thumb is to subtract one's age from 220, and then keep your heart below the difference. So for example, a 70-year-old's heart rate shouldn't exceed 150 beats per minute (bpm) as 220 – 70 = 150. Of course, this number can vary because of other health reasons, so once again: talk to a doctor before exercise.
- Finally, if you or your senior loved one feels like they can't actually safely completely an exercise, then don't push it. There's something to be said for pushing yourself when exercising, but it's mainly at a younger age and still doesn't constitute taking major risks if you don't honestly believe you can do something. The goal here is to prevent injury and health decline, not inflict it.
That said, what are some safe exercises for seniors? Well, there are two types of exercise: aerobic, and anaerobic. Aerobic focuses on the cardiovascular system (typically called “cardio”) while anaerobic is exercises not intended to strengthen the efficiency of the cardiovascular system (typically, this refers to some type of strength and resistance training, but not always).
For cardio activities, things like going for walks (outside, at the local indoor mall, on a very slow treadmill with supervision, or even around the house), aquatics classes for seniors, light sports activity in games like tennis, or dancing (especially in classes designed for seniors) are good things to look into.
For strength and resistance training, these are things that can be done both at home or at a local gym. Many gyms offer cheap memberships as low as $10 per month, and even have trainers that will help you – and sometimes, if you're lucky, at no or very little extra cost. All of these exercises can be done with regular household items and without weight as well (though adding weight resistance, even in small amounts, will be more effective). Here are a few suggestions:
Of course, there are even more exercises and variations that can be done without weights and modified.
Helping a senior move around and get this light exercise is something that our caregivers at Senior Helpers can administer and help with. For more information on signing up for caregiver services and what we have to offer, contact us today.