Exercise is crucial to maintaining health and wellbeing, but it may be even more important in aging and senior adults. While there are concerns surrounding seniors exercising, the health benefits of an active lifestyle far outweigh the risks. It’s true that seniors may take longer to heal and recover from injuries, yet moderate exercise levels are good for people of all ages. Regular exercise and an active lifestyle for seniors provides a variety of health benefits that extend beyond the obvious, including improvements in blood pressure, diabetes, lipid profile, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and neuro-cognitive function.
Why Should Seniors Be Active?
There are many reasons for seniors to have an active lifestyle. Here are five key health areas that benefit when partaking in regular fitness activities and upholding an active lifestyle.
On the macro level, overall health quality is higher when seniors participate in exercise programs. Individuals who exercise have reduced impact of chronic illnesses and diseases and have improved immune and digestive systems.
Body Weight Management
Exercise helps to maintain or lose body weight. As the metabolism naturally slows with age, the importance of exercise is increased. Cardio and strength training increase muscle mass, in turn, increasing metabolism and burning more calories.
Bone Health & Strength
Regular activity builds healthy bones in younger individuals and helps maintain bone strength in seniors. Exercise works on bones much like it works on muscles — by making them stronger. Because bone is a living tissue, it changes in response to the forces placed upon it. When you exercise regularly, your bone adapts by building more cells and becoming denser.
Heart & Cardiovascular Health
Frequent physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. If a senior has hypertension, exercise will help lower blood pressure, in turn resulting in enhanced heart and cardiovascular system health. Underlying heart conditions and hereditary diseases will not go away as a result of exercising, but the ability to maintain a higher level of quality of life may occur.
Living an active lifestyle and exercising frequently leads to a variety of mental benefits. It improves sleep quality, boosts mood, provides a social experience, and can help prevent memory loss, cognitive decline, and dementia. Maintaining activity levels may even help slow the progression of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Ways Seniors Can Stay Active
The ideal senior fitness and activity plan includes three areas of emphasis: aerobic/endurance components, strength and resistance training, and stretching and flexibility exercises.
Experts recommend 30 minutes of aerobic/cardiorespiratory exercise each day. When done at a brisk pace, walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling all contribute towards getting the heart rate up and breathing faster. For seniors that are just getting started with their exercise routine, it’s acceptable to spread the 30 daily minutes out into three 10-minute periods over the course of the day. If injuries or pre-existing conditions make impact activities painful, consider trying low-impact activities instead, such as cycling or swimming. After several weeks of maintaining a daily aerobic/cardio exercise routine, many seniors will see an increase in fitness performance, as well as a greater ability to perform daily tasks without getting as winded or tired.
Strength & Resistance
Strength and resistance training uses and builds muscles with repetitive, often weight-bearing, motion exercises. Strength training routines should be done 2-3 times per week, with exercises focused on all major muscle groups (arms, legs, core) being done in 1-2 sets of 10-15 repetitions at light to medium intensity. If weights and strengthening equipment are too heavy, resistance bands or bodyweight are excellent alternatives to build up strength. Wall sits, sit-ups, and push-ups are all simple and equipment-free ways to build muscle mass.
Stretching & Flexibility
Stretching warms up and cools down muscles before and after cardio activities and strength building. Stretching also improves flexibility, which in turn reduces the likelihood for injuries, improves range of motion, and lessens muscle soreness and stiffness. Gentle stretching, yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi all contribute to overall flexibility and are low impact on joints. Light stretching and flexibility exercises are safe when done daily and overall fitness and activities will benefit from them.
Care should be taken to ease into new routines and accommodate for the current level of fitness, proneness to injuries, and any pre-existing health conditions. Note that when starting a new fitness regimen, participants should always check with their doctor to determine the safest and most effective plan.
Interested in learning more about establishing a senior fitness and activity plan? The experts at NWPC are here to help you safely set and achieve your health and wellness goals.