Exercise and overall fitness is a priority, whatever your age, but when you reach your senior years it becomes even more important. If you’ve led an active life in earlier years you will have an easier time carrying on that activity later, but as you get older, physical fitness is critical and it’s never too late to start!
With older adults facing an increased rick of injuries and also typically experiencing slower and harder recoveries, it becomes increasingly important to stay active to ensure independent living, driving, and continuing with daily routines remains possible. Adopting an appropriate and regular exercise program can help immensely, as it works to improve coordination, balance, strength, bone density and lowers the risk of taking a bad fall. The intensity and type of exercise will differ from person to person, depending on fitness level, medical history and injuries (just like with anybody, regardless of age) but don’t be discouraged from finding a plan that fits your needs. Of course, working with a professional is a great idea, if possible, but definitely not necessary.
Here are some safety considerations for seniors before getting started on a fitness program:
Wear stable shoes
To reduce the risk of falls or tripping during exercise, opt for leather soled shoes, if possible. Rubber soled shoes might be more slippery and less stable.
Make sure to stay focused with your eyes open, as closing your eyes during an exercise (particularly one that challenges balance) can be a recipe for injury.
Pay attention to posture
Keep your core muscles engaged, and your posture aligned. This means focusing on keeping your head over your shoulders (not jutted forward or leaning back), your shoulders over your hips, and hips over your feet. This will also greatly improve stability.
Ask for help if you need it
If you are brand new to exercise, unstable on your feet or worried about falling or injuring yourself for any reason, ask for supervision or assistance from a fitness professional, friend or relative.
Don’t forget nutrition
Nutrition is just as important for seniors, as it is key for bone health. Particularly eating foods high in vitamin D and magnesium are helpful, although check with your doctor if you are taking blood thinning medications.
Exercises to incorporate
Walking is a basic movement that is one of the best types of exercise for seniors. If you are still able to walk without assistance, going for daily walks can make a huge difference in staying fit.
While walking makes an excellent cardio option, resistance (weight) training is very important for seniors for different reasons. Strength training can prevent muscle loss associated with aging and improve bone strength. It will also help maintain an upright posture that will help you carry out daily activities with less risk of injury or falling.
Not to mention (and this goes for everybody) that muscle burns more calories at rest, so if weight needs to be taken off, incorporating some sort of resistance training should be prioritized.
Let’s take a look at some specific resistance exercises:
Partial or full squat
For most seniors, a full squat is likely to be difficult, but a partial squat can provide the same benefits. Squatting works to increase hip flexibility, strengthen quadriceps and hip flexors, and is a great exercise for overall joint mobility. It can make daily movements like climbing stairs, walking and sitting much easier. Check out this video for further instruction.
Bicep and tricep curls
These exercises will help with general arm strength, making it easier to pick objects up and carry them without risk of injury. Both can be done seated or standing, and a light dumbbell (5 lbs) is good to start with. Increase the weight if and when necessary to still feel challenged. See tricep dips here, and bicep curls are done in the same seated position, but performing the curl motion.
The basic shoulder press is important for many daily movements, and life will certainly be easier with increased shoulder strength and mobility. Lifting and reaching for objects, passing food across the table and holding your grandchild are all movements that require shoulder strength. Check out this video for further instruction.
Ankle mobility exercises
These can be done while using the wall or a chair for support, or not. You can also vary it by having your toes pointed forward, or slightly pointed out, heels together. These movements are important for ankle strength and stability, which can be a major contributor to falls or stumbles when walking. Check out this video from some different alternatives on how to incorporate important ankle strengthening and mobility exercises into your routine.
Several options exist that fall into this category, so you can switch between different exercises. Working on improving posture is so important for maintaining an upright position, which makes walking easier, as well. If you’ve worked at a computer your whole life, you are likely to have postural issues to begin with, so try this great sequence once per day.
In conclusion, whether you have exercised your entire life or you are new to fitness, incorporating physical movement into your every day life for as long as possible will have huge benefits to quality of life and injury prevention. Seek out professional help if needed, and be sure you pick exercises that do not cause any major pain.
*Before starting any new exercise regime you should check with your doctor to ensure that the exercises are appropriate for your health and fitness level.