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The Beginner’s Guide to Senior Fitness

2015_06_04_Senior Fitness

As a senior, you may have abandoned a more active lifestyle as you’ve gotten older. That may have lead to a few more aches and pains or health issues. Starting an exercise program can yield a wide variety of health benefits for anyone at any age.

Exercise is so powerful that it can help prevent and reverse a number of diseases. Arthritis, heart disease, depression, and weight management are all helped by exercise. It can also make you less vulnerable to falls and other injuries. Moderate activity can help you lead a healthier lifestyle that will help you remain independent longer. Even if you have limited mobility and use canes or other mobility aids, you can do some form of activity.

Before you begin

  • Consult with your doctor

Always consult a doctor before starting a new exercise program. You may have specific health concerns that affect what you can safely do and to what extent you can do it.

  • Get the equipment you need

Fortunately, many very beneficial types of exercise require little equipment other than loose-fitting clothing and appropriate shoes. You’ll need a good, comfortable pair of shoes made for the type of activity you’ll be doing. Since the size of your feet may have changed as you’ve gotten older, have your feet measured before you buy new shoes. If you have balance issues, consider canes or other mobility aids.

Getting started

If an activity causes you pain, ease up on what you’re doing or choose another activity. You may start with a lot of enthusiasm, but you’ll want to take care of yourself so you can maintain a fitness program. You don’t want to do too much too soon and suffer an injury.

What to do

Generally, seniors can benefit from an exercise regimen that incorporates the following types of activities: aerobics, muscular fitness, flexibility, and balance.

Aerobics

Aerobic activity is the primary component of an exercise program. It helps your lungs and heart work harder, so they become stronger. Since you’re more likely to develop heart disease or other cardiovascular issues as you age, aerobic activity is an ideal way to help you stay fit. It helps strengthen your heart and keep your weight and blood pressure under control.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  recommend that older adults aim for about 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week. As long as you’re exercising for at least 10 minutes at a time, you can spread your activity out. So if you’re out shopping, you can walk briskly around the parking lot for a few minutes.

If you haven’t exercised in a while, walking is an excellent way to start. You can find a partner and walk through your neighborhood or around a school’s track. Some malls open early to accommodate walkers.

Swimming or water aerobics are also perfect for older adults. It alleviates the pressure and impact on your joints, so it’s ideal if you have arthritis. Many gyms and YMCA locations have water aerobics classes.

  • Muscular Fitness

  • Muscles keep us strong and help us maintain a healthy weight. This becomes more difficult as we age, however, since we lose muscle mass starting at about age 40. Exercises that increase muscular fitness can make daily activities such as housework easier and also improve balance and flexibility.

    Activities to help keep your muscles strong should be done at least two days a week. You don’t have to necessarily lift weights, although that’s certainly a good exercise. You can also work with resistance bands or take a yoga class. Even heavy yard work like shoveling can help build muscles.

  • Flexibility

  • Flexibility can be incorporated into aerobic or muscular fitness programs. Stretching exercises can help you have a greater range of mobility around your joints.

    Stretches should be held for 10 to 20 seconds to be effective, and they’re often performed before or after activities such as yoga or dance.  A few minutes of stretching three times a week is ideal.

  • Balance

  • Balance is particularly important to seniors, since falls are a major cause of hospitalization and injury. Many seniors utilize canes, walkers, and other mobility aids to help them get around.

    Balance exercises are best done at least three times a week, and like flexibility, they can be incorporated into aerobic or muscle-building exercises. Yoga, dance, and fitness balls can all help you increase your balance.

    You can also incorporate balance exercises into your daily activities. Try rising from a seated position without using your hands or canes if you can safely do so.

    The most difficult part of any exercise program is simply getting started. Find an activity that you enjoy, and after visiting your doctor, get moving. You’ll soon find more ways to work exercise into your daily life and will begin to notice benefits such as increased energy.

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