While the benefits of exercise for individuals of all ages have been demonstrated many times over, seniors in particular have the potential to dramatically improve their mental and physical health through regular physical activity combined with a well-balanced diet. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that adults older than 65 include at least two and a half hours of moderately intense aerobic activity and two days of strength-training exercises in their week. However, many older adults–particularly those who have not regularly exercised for years or who face chronic limiting conditions such as arthritis–find themselves intimidated when it comes to creating an exercise routine for themselves. Luckily, a wide and varied range of low-impact exercises exist that senior citizens can easily and comfortably adapt to their physical abilities and limitations in order to create a weekly routine with all of the health benefits of regular exercise but without stress or strain on their muscles and joints.
Cardio and Endurance Activities
An important part of any exercise routine, cardiovascular and endurance activities are particularly important for seniors as they improve heart health while boosting metabolism to aid in weight loss. Low-impact cardio exercises that are suitable for older adults abound, allowing seniors to reap the many health benefits of cardio activity without overtaxing themselves.
One of the most effective low-impact exercises for seniors is also the easiest; a simple walking routine requires little equipment, will not stress your joints, and can be done almost anywhere. To begin, the only gear you will need is a comfortable pair of shoes that provide adequate support. Depending on your level of fitness, you can start with short walks to build up your endurance until you can walk for 30 to 60 minutes in a single session. If you find that your walking routine has become easy, you can increase the intensity by quickening your pace, adding hills to your route, or carrying small light weights. (Be careful to avoid ankle weights, however, as they can be taxing on your joints.)
Swimming and Water Aerobics
Often recommended for seniors with joint issues and osteoarthritis, swimming and water aerobics are wonderful for all older adults as the buoyancy of water allows for low-impact exercise that still packs a punch. While often regarded as cardiovascular exercises, swimming and water aerobics also provide added strength training and flexibility benefits. Many seniors also experience improved posture and balance and reduced muscle tension, making swimming and water aerobics excellent, well-rounded activities. As long as you have access to a pool, incorporating a swimming or water aerobics routine into your daily life is simple. Begin with a short 20 minute workout a couple of times a week and aim to work up to four times weekly. Many senior communities offer water aerobics classes, which have the added benefit of providing social interaction with others of your generation as you work out.
The availability of stationary bikes and elliptical machines in most gyms combined with the ability to adjust the equipment to meet your individual fitness level makes indoor cycling an excellent low-impact exercise for seniors. As with other cardio exercise, indoor cycling provides wonderful heart health benefits, including lowering the risk for coronary artery disease and high blood pressure; additionally, as cycling helps build muscles in your glutes, quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings, the strength training provided by cycling contributes to the health of your bones, tendons, and ligaments while improving coordination and balance.
To begin, be certain the stationary bike or elliptical machine you choose is correctly sized for you; poorly-sized equipment can cause injury. Start slowly, increasing the length of your routine as well as the resistance on your machine as you gain in endurance.
For those seniors who prefer social activities over solitary exercises such as walking or indoor cycling, dancing provides the perfect combination of aerobic activity and community fun. Performed at a pace adequate to raise your heart rate, dancing helps increase lung capacity, lower your blood pressure, and reduce your risk for diabetes, while the American Council on Exercise also suggests that aerobic dancing can boost your memory.
One of dancing’s biggest benefits is furnished by the sheer variety of styles available, cutting down on the monotony that comes with many cardio exercise routines. From jazz and tap to ballroom and salsa, any form of dance works as part of your cardio routine as long as it gets your heart rate up. To start, pick your favorite dance style and remember to go slowly and seek out modifications for any move that is too taxing for you. Between group dance classes and at-home DVD programs, aim to incorporate aerobic dance several times into your week.
Strength Training Exercises
While many older adults regard strength training as reserved for those much younger than themselves, numerous studies have found that seniors citizens following a regular strength training routine two to three times a week can reduce their loss of bone density, lower their risk for osteoporosis, and lessen the symptoms of many chronic illnesses such as arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. Furthermore, strength-training exercises provide other less concrete benefits for seniors such as better sleep, reduced depression, and increased vitality. Beginning a new strength-training routine can be intimidating at first, but there are a number of low-impact exercises that seniors can try that provide all of the benefits of strength training without overexerting your body.
Many older adults face weakening knees, impairing their balance and increasing their risk for falls. Knee extensions are an easy way to gently strengthen your knees, helping improve your stability and making walking and climbing stairs easier and more comfortable. Moreover, this exercise can be conveniently performed anywhere.
Simply sit in a solid chair with a straight back and bent knees. Extend one leg until it is straight and hold this position for several seconds before slowly lowering the leg to your starting position; repeat with the opposite leg. Perform 10 repetitions with each leg. Once this exercise comes easily to you, you can make it more challenging by adding light ankle weights.
Overhead Shoulder Press
Strong shoulders help provide support for your arms, making everyday movements such as passing a dish at dinner or lifting and folding laundry easier. Those older adults who experience shoulder pain may also be able to find relief by gently exercising the muscles that are connected to the shoulder. One example of a low-impact exercise that targets the shoulders and can easily be done anywhere is the overhead shoulder press.
To perform an overhead shoulder press, the only equipment you will need is a set of dumbbells. Start off light with dumbbells around two to three pounds and increase the weight as you gain in strength. To begin, sit in a chair while maintaining good posture. With a dumbbell in both hands, your elbows bent to bring the weights level with your shoulders, and your palms facing outward, slowly press up toward the ceiling with both arms simultaneously and then lower down to your starting position with control. Be certain to exhale as you raise the weights and inhale as your lower down. Repeat 10 times.
Adequate core strength is essential for many basic everyday movements such as standing up from a chair or rising out of bed in the morning. While many core exercises can be difficult and taxing on the body, sit-backs are an ideal option for older adults. Sit-backs are similar to crunches in the muscle groups worked but are low-impact and require no equipment to perform.
Start by sitting on the floor; use a rug or a yoga mat if possible for comfort. Bend your legs so that your feet are flat on the floor and cross your arms over your chest. Slowly and with control, lean backwards as far as you can comfortably; this does not need to be far as long as you are engaging your core muscles without rounding your back. If your feet lift off the floor, you can ask someone to hold them down for you. Return to your starting position and repeat the movement 10 times.
As with the knees, weakening ankles have the potential to limit mobility and increase the risk for falls. By focusing on the muscle groups of the ankles and calves, toe stands can help ward off dangerous ankle injuries by improving stability and making everyday movement easier.
While standing behind a solid chair with your feet shoulder-width apart, grip the chair for balance and exhale as you slowly rise onto your tiptoes. Hold this position for one second before inhaling as you lower back down. Repeat the exercise 10 to 15 minutes.
Stretching and Flexibility Exercises
As a compliment to strength building and aerobic activity, stretching and flexibility exercises provide enormous benefit, particularly for seniors. Through normal aging, muscles lose their elasticity, weakening the body and decreasing joint flexibility. A regular stretching routine can help counteract the effects of aging muscles, improving the effectiveness of your overall exercise regime. Moreover, low-impact stretching can help boost blood circulation, reduce the symptoms of many chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, and aid in relaxation.
In recent years, yoga has experienced a huge surge in popularity across age groups, but a yoga routine with emphasis on movements that increase flexibility can offer seniors, in particular, a range of important health benefits. By reducing anxiety, improving mood, and maintaining mental sharpness, yoga can help seniors boost their overall health significantly and improve their balance and flexibility through low-impact movements. The best low-impact yoga poses for stretching and increasing flexibility include bridge pose, downward-facing dog pose, and child’s pose.
- Bridge Pose: Bridge pose helps improve the flexibility in your hips while stretching your lower back, and it is particularly beneficial for older adults who spend a lot of time seated. To perform this movement, lie on your back and place your feet flat on the ground hip-width apart under your knees while holding your arms at your sides. While tightening your stomach muscles, exhale and tilt your pelvis and spine off of the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Downward-Facing Dog: Downward-facing dog pose is one of the best yoga positions for stretching as it targets multiple muscle groups including the hands, shoulders, calves, hamstrings, and arches of the feet. This pose begins on all fours, with your knees on the floor beneath your hips and your hands slightly above your shoulders. As you exhale, lift your knees off the floor and press your tailbone toward the ceiling to straighten (but not lock) your knees. Keep your head in line with your arms and your shoulder blades engaged. Hold for one to three minutes before bending your knees and returning to the floor while exhaling.
- Child’s Pose: One of the most calming yoga positions, child’s pose is also excellent for stretching the muscle groups of the legs including the knees, thighs, hips, and ankles as well as for helping to release neck and back tension. To enter this pose, begin on your hands and knees; open your knees to shoulder width and bring your big toes together until they are touching. Gradually drop your hips until they rest on your heels while bringing your forehead to the floor. You can extend your arms toward the top of your mat or drape them at your sides. While focusing on your breath, remain in this position for one to three minutes.
Located on Maryland’s scenic Eastern Shore, Gull Creek offers a vibrant senior community that provides support for older adults seeking a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Please contact us today to find out more about our senior living community and your options as you enter the next stage in your life.