Exercise is good for us, and that’s especially true as we age. Unfortunately, some seniors bypass exercise as too difficult, too time-consuming, and no fun! That’s a shame, and may lead to problems in the future.
Forget the “no pain, no gain” mantra. It just isn’t true. Actually, fitness experts recommend low impact exercise for seniors, meaning less strain on joints. And experts say if an activity consistently hurts, don’t do it. Only 150 minutes a week of activity that boosts your heart rate will keep you fit. That’s just 20 minutes or so a day. Very doable!
This article will give you some ideas for low impact activities you can try. Some you can do at home or on your own without equipment, and others might require that you go to a fitness facility. Try whatever sounds interesting to you and see what you think. (If you have any health conditions or concerns, check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen.)
Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
As you get older, your body changes – joints may stiffen and you may suffer from arthritis or osteoporosis. You may be less physically active without kids around and a job to go to. Adding exercise to your routine brings a lot of benefits. Like:
- More independence – Seniors who exercise regularly are less likely to depend on others. That’s because they’re able to walk, bathe, cook, eat, dress, and use the restroom.
- Improved balance – Falls are common among seniors and are a significant cause of injury and death. Regular exercise reduces the likelihood of falling.
- More energy – It may seem counterintuitive, but being active boosts your energy. Exercise releases endorphins that reduce stress hormones, allow for healthy sleep, and help you feel more energetic. Conversely, being a couch potato saps your vitality.
- Preventing/counteracting illnesses – High blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, depression and diabetes are common among seniors. Getting more active can help prevent these diseases or reduce the symptoms.
- Better brain function – The mind and body are closely linked. According to the National Institute on Aging, exercise increases the size of brain structures important to memory and learning.
Low Impact Exercise for Seniors
Low impact exercises are designed to be easy on the body. They can be performed by just about anyone, no matter their fitness level. However, exercise that’s low impact isn’t necessarily low intensity. You need to reach your target heart rate (60-75% of maximum heart rate) to get the full aerobic benefit. Choose exercises you enjoy so you look forward to your daily workout and are more likely to stick with it.
Some great low impact exercises for seniors include:
Water aerobics and swimming
These are virtually “no-impact” workouts due to the buoyancy of the water. For anyone with back problems or joint pain, these are great ways to tone up.
This aerobic exercise is gentle on the back and good for overall body conditioning. All you need is a supportive pair of shoes to walk your neighborhood sidewalks, explore hiking trails, walk around a shopping mall, or put in your steps on a treadmill. Two to three miles is a good distance to shoot for.
Riding a bike can be a heart-pumping, calorie-burning workout. You’re off your feet, so it limits the stress on your joints. A recumbent bike may be the way to go. You can use your own bike outside (wear a helmet, please). Or use a stationary bike in a fitness center, gym, or workout room. You might want to take an indoor cycling class.
If walking puts too much stress on your legs, you may like the elliptical. An elliptical machine glides back and forth, so it minimizes the impact on the lower extremities and back. There are standing elliptical machines and recumbent ones. If your facility has both, see which best suits your needs.
This exercise system focuses on stretching, flexibility, strength and balance. It works on your core muscles which are vital to your stability. Yoga’s flow of postures and breathing exercises can boost physical fitness as well as your mood.
Pilates is sometimes confused with yoga, but it’s different. Both pilates and yoga incorporate body alignment, gentle movement, and breathing—all of which help older joints. Pilates has an even stronger emphasis on building up core strength.
Tai chi is a slow, gentle form of exercise. It improves strength, flexibility, and coordination, and can be very effective for improving balance. It’s generally safe and adaptable for people of all fitness levels, including those with chronic conditions.
If your mobility or balance issues make standing exercise difficult or dangerous, seated or chair exercises are the low impact option for building muscle, increasing blood flow, and keeping joints working.
Did you know that one of the best ways to strengthen bones is strength training? Plus, strength training can lessen symptoms of diabetes, osteoporosis, back pain, and depression. You don’t need to work out like a body-builder, though. Using weights, resistance bands, soup cans or water bottles during a workout is a low impact way to increase your overall strength.
Where seniors can exercise
Depending on your goals, needs, and preferences you have choices for where you exercise.
- At home – If you have exercise equipment there, use it! YouTube has a wealth of fitness videos to focus your efforts. Look for routines and presenters you like. There are also fitness apps and pc software programs you can try. A simple Google search will provide you with ideas.
- Your community – If you live in a retirement community, there’s probably a fitness center/workout room. Check out the equipment to see if it meets your needs. Is there a swimming pool you can use? Also, your retirement community might offer fitness classes.
- Local senior center, community center, YMCA/YWCA – Are there classes? Exercise equipment? A pool? Call, visit, get a schedule.
- Gym or fitness center – These usually have an assortment of equipment and have trainers on staff. They may also offer classes and have a pool. Many offer specific programming for people age 60 and older.
Livewell by Blakeford Helps You Age-In-Place
Aging-in-place offers seniors independence and dignity, but it isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Your home, community, and individual needs and abilities come into play. LiveWell by Blakeford helps you plan ahead and anticipate your needs.
LiveWell members (healthy, independent adults, 60 and older) enjoy access to a range of services and receive the personal attention they need to retain their cherished autonomy. Services include those not covered by Medicare, like meal preparation, personal care, and light housekeeping, and transportation to medical appointments.
An important part of a LiveWell membership is your fitness evaluation and personalized fitness plan. This plan takes into account your abilities and goals, as well as the fitness resources available to you. The plan is reevaluated and adjusted as needed.
LiveWell offers a range of plans at different cost and coverage levels to best meet a senior’s future and budget. All plans include an essential package of services to make it possible for someone to be as healthy and independent as possible, at home, for a lifetime. Most plans include services at home and if necessary, in an assisted living or nursing care facility. Contact Livewell by Blakeford for more information.