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Exercise for Seniors and Older Adults

Even if you haven't been an "active person" for most of your life, it's never too late to start. Adults aged 65 and up are especially likely to see the benefits of regular movement and exercise, especially when paired with other healthy activities like eating right and getting adequate sleep.

You may indeed experience unique challenges as you age, and you should discuss any new exercise regimen with your healthcare provider. Use these tips as a conversation starter and to put you in a position to achieve your best health as you get older.

Why is it important for older adults to exercise?

Before you learn how to exercise, it helps to know why it's so essential, especially now. While there are numerous studies on the connection between fitness and health, the outcomes for older adults are encouraging.

Physical activity for older adults has been linked to the improvement of the heart, lungs, and circulatory system and the prevention of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. It can help you keep a healthy weight, reduce blood pressure, and reduce the chances of cognitive decline.

This all probably sounds amazing, but what does exercise for elderly adults look like? There's no specific age where you must significantly change how and when you workout, but it's important to know the common limitations for your age group.

Different types of exercise

Getting out and walking is a great first step to improving your physical health, but is it enough? The National Institute on Aging recommends older adults work on four areas of physical fitness: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Each is essential for staying safe and maintaining independence.

1. Endurance activities
These increase your "staying power" and are also known as aerobic exercises. These activities include medium-paced walking or jogging, raking leaves, swimming, dancing, and going up and downstairs.

The NIH recommends 150 minutes of this type of exercise per week to stay healthy. You'll know you're doing endurance activities if you feel your heart rate rise and your breathing becomes a bit harder. Remember to stop if you feel dizzy, weak, or faint, and don't push yourself beyond what you think is safe.

2. Strength exercises
Your muscles are incredibly important, and working them harder during the week can improve their ability to hold your body up and help you remain independent. Strong muscles also make day-to-day tasks more manageable, so you won't feel weak when you push a grocery cart or open doors. This exercise can also improve balance and keep you from falling, which is essential because 1 in 5 falls will cause serious injury and lead to a higher likelihood of falling again.

Strength exercises are also called "strength training" or "resistance training," but you don't need to bench press 200 pounds to get into the action. While you can use lighter weights to improve muscle strength, newcomers can also use resistance bands or no equipment at all until they are strong enough to make progress.

Working all of your major muscle groups at least two days a week can make a big difference. Just be sure to work each area with a day between workouts.

3. Balance exercises
Another way to prevent falls by improving balance. Lower body strength exercises help to build balance and strength, and you can achieve the same with these activities:

  • Heel-to-toe walking in a line
  • Tai-chi
  • Standing on one foot while holding onto a piece of furniture or a wall

You'll also find that simply getting up from a chair over and over will improve balance over time. If you don't feel stable or steady when doing these exercises, be sure to have a walker, cane, or other stability support nearby to help.

It's also recommended to have someone else with you to help out. If you are very unsteady, ask your doctor about the appropriateness of these exercises and the safest way to get them done.

4. Flexibility exercises
How far can you reach up into the air? Are you able to touch your toes? These are examples of flexibility tests, and even those in the best shape may struggle to demonstrate flexibility.

Flexibility is important for many of the daily tasks you do as an older adult, including getting dressed, bathing, and turning your head to check for oncoming traffic while driving. Stretching should cause some resistance but not a lot of pain. If you try typical stretching exercises and feel pinching, sharp or searing pain, talk to your physician before continuing.
Stretching is an important component of the other exercises mentioned above. Stretching before jogging, for example, can reduce the chances of injury and help you get the most out of your workouts.

Tips for exercising when older

While the activities you engage in over 65 may look a little different than you did when younger, the best practices for working out won't change much. Older adults can have as much fun as anyone else, even more so thanks to fewer job and family responsibilities. Pls, you can put those extra hours toward increasing self-care.

Consider these tips while keeping a good mixture of the four types we talked about earlier when exercising.

1. Avoid exercises you don't enjoy
Elderly workouts don't have to be boring. If you love to walk on a treadmill, for example, do it! If you're more inclined to walk outdoors with friends, do that instead. You're more likely to stick with something that brings you happiness, so aim for activities, classes, and sports that help you feel fulfilled while improving your health at the same time.

2. Check out helpful tech tools
Health trackers, fitness apps, pedometers, and sports watches help create new and simple ways for all of us to see how we're doing and even compete with friends. The technology involved in these devices ranges from complicated to simple, so do your research or reach out to someone you know who can set you up for success with these handy tools.

3. Choose your fitness style
Proper walking shoes and loose-fitting clothing that prevent overheating are important pieces to feeling and looking good as you exercise. Consider how exercising may differ in the winter and summer, and use layers when possible to adjust to changes in temperature.

4. Hydrate
You may not feel thirsty, but drinking water is a must for replacing lost fluids when you work out. You don't have to go overboard with fancy, sugary fitness drinks, either. Ask your doctor the best way to replenish your liquids without adding unnecessary calories to your diet.

Summary

So, what exercise should you start with? The best exercise for older people is one that you will continue to do and enjoy, and that doesn't put you in a harmful situation where there's an additional risk of injury. If you're unsure of the safest way to proceed, follow the advice of your doctor or nurse.

The importance of exercise in the elderly population is often understated and not discussed, so seek out these conversations with your family, friends, or healthcare provider. Whether you sign up for a water aerobics class or do light strength training in your living room, there are so many options. Plus, you may be covered by your Medicare Advantage insurance plan.

With KelseyCare Advantage, your plan includes access to SilverSneakers. This incredible program comes with live, full-length virtual classes as well as on-demand workout videos, a helpful mobile app to track your fitness goals, and much more.

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