Exercise is crucial to maintaining your 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, but 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 neurocognitive function.
WHY SHOULD SENIORS BE ACTIVE?
There are many reasons for seniors to have an active lifestyle that range from preventing physical injuries to improving mental health. Here are 10 key health benefits to seniors participating in regular fitness activities and upholding an active lifestyle.
1. FITNESS IMPROVES SENIOR HEALTH
On the macro level, overall health quality is higher when seniors participate in exercise programs. Individuals who exercise have reduced risks of chronic illnesses and diseases, and have improved immune and digestive systems.
2. EXERCISE HELPS WITH MANAGING BODY WEIGHT
Exercise helps people of all ages maintain or lose body weight. However, our metabolism naturally slows with age, so the importance of exercise increases. Adding cardio and strength training workouts develops muscle mass, and in turn, increases metabolism and burns more calories to promote positive weight loss.
3. WORKING OUT INCREASES BONE HEALTH & STRENGTH
Regular activity builds healthy bones and helps maintain bone strength in seniors. Exercise works on bones much like it works on muscles — by making them stronger. Because bone is living tissue, it changes in response to the forces placed upon it. When you exercise regularly, your bone adapts by building more cells and becomes denser.
4. STAYING ACTIVE PROMOTES HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
Frequent physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease and enhances your cardiovascular health. Adding a mix of cardio and strength training will give you an added boost of energy that will improve your heart health overall. However, underlying heart conditions and hereditary diseases will not go away as a result of exercising, but staying active can help you maintain a higher quality of life.
5. EXERCISE BUILDS POSITIVE MENTAL HEALTH
Living an active lifestyle and exercising frequently leads to a variety of mental health benefits. Exercise is shown to help fight depression when muscle generated mood boosters become active and is shown to reduce stress. Maintaining activity levels may even help slow the progression of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
6. BUILDING STRENGTH PREVENTS FALLS
Falls are serious at any age, but seniors are particularly at risk of injury if bone strength and density are low. Having an active lifestyle will help you stay balanced and prevent falls by building muscle strength and improving bone health later through simple low impact exercises. It’s also recommended that you test your bone density to know your risks of osteoporosis.
7. STAYING ACTIVE PROMOTES SLEEP
Sedentary individuals tend to have more trouble getting quality rest, but an active lifestyle could help you fall asleep. Adding regular aerobic exercise during the day promotes deeper sleep by raising your core body temperature and encouraging rest when you start to cool down. Working out 2-3 hours before bed will help you stay asleep and leave you waking up refreshed.
8. AEROBIC EXERCISE REDUCES HYPERTENSION
If you’re a senior with hypertension, exercise is medically proven to help lower blood pressure. Adding 30-minutes or more of moderate aerobic exercise, five times a week will measurably reduce blood pressure, lower stress and decrease the risk of some cardiovascular problems.
9. EXERCISE IMPROVES SOCIAL WELLNESS
For many seniors, having an active social life can be difficult. Some aging adults are increasing their social wellness by making exercise a fun group outing with others in their communities. Whether it’s through joining a walking group or participating in an aerobics class, socializing while working out keeps people young at heart and mentally sharp.
10. WORKING OUT KEEPS YOU FOCUSED AND GIVES YOU MORE ENERGY
Exercise is linked to improved cognitive function and better motor skills. Physical activity is also associated with lowering the risk of vascular dementia in seniors. Maintaining a regular fitness routine can help seniors stay focused and allow them to lead a higher-quality life with more energy.
WAYS SENIORS CAN STAY ACTIVE
Getting older doesn’t have to mean abandoning an active lifestyle, but it does mean adjusting your workout routine to your body. We recommend talking with a physical therapist to help you find a fitness plan that suits your body to prevent injuries. 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 your 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 FOR SENIORS
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 your muscles before and after cardio activities and strength building. Stretching also improves flexibility, which reduces the likelihood of injuries, improves your 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 exercises on joints. Light stretching and flexibility exercises are safe when done daily and overall fitness and activities will benefit from them.
STAY SAFE AND CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR
Care should be taken to ease into new routines and accommodate the current level of fitness, proneness to injuries, and any pre-existing health conditions. Again, when starting a new fitness regimen, participants should always check with their doctor to determine the safest and most effective plan. Active and aging adults should also let their physician know if they are experiencing:
- Dizziness or shortness of breath
- Chest pain or pressure
- Blood clots
- Sores that won’t heal
- Joint swelling
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.