Seniors & The Benefits of Exercise

Almost all older adults can benefit from additional physical activity according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Regular exercise helps to improve mood, lowers the chances of injuries and reduces the chances of chronic disease.

As we age, the body no longer repairs itself quite so quickly, but moderate physical activity is beneficial no matter what your age or level of ability. Even for the elderly the benefits of exercising regularly far outweigh the risks. Even those people with chronic illnesses can exercise safely. In fact, many medical conditions are improved with exercise, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure and obesity.

Regular exercise improves the following:

• Immune Function.

A healthy, strong body fights off infection and sickness better and more quickly. Recovery from an illness should take less of a toll on your body if you exercise regularly.

• Cardio-Respiratory and Cardiovascular Function.

Regular physical activity helps to lower the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

• Bone Density and Risk of Osteoporosis.

Exercise reduces loss in bone mass. Better bone density reduces the risk of osteoporosis, lowering the risk of falling and breaking bones. Post-menopausal women can lose as much as 2 percent bone mass each year, and men also lose bone mass as they age. Research done at Tufts University shows that strength training can dramatically reduce this loss, help restore bones, and contribute to better balance and less fractures.

• Gastrointestinal Function.

Regular exercise helps boost your metabolism and promotes the efficient elimination of waste and thus improves your digestive health.

• Chronic Conditions and Cancer.

Physical activity lowers risk of serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis and colon cancer, to name a few. It also helps in the management of high cholesterol and arthritis pain.

Exercises For Seniors

Often, more frail seniors are incapable of tolerating aerobic exercise routines on a regular basis because of their lack of endurance. But while age-related changes in the cardiovascular system obviously have significant effects on performance, it has been estimated that 50% of lost endurance can be related to decreased muscle mass.

The ideal senior exercise regimen includes three components:

Stretching and Flexibility Exercises

Stretching is a key part of any exercise program. It helps your muscles warm up and cool down gradually and it improves and maintains flexibility, prevents injury, and reduces muscle pain and stiffness.

Stretching can also function as a time to pay attention to how your body is feeling. Body and muscle awareness are useful skills that can help mobility and other physical activities.

Yoga or Pilates can provide both useful stretches and strength training. They tend to focus on isolating and developing different muscle groups.

A number of exercise programs focus on core training. The ‘core’ is a term which refers to the set of muscles connecting the inner stomach to the lower back and spine. Since the core muscles are the foundation for all movement and strength, having a strong core helps with all movement and encourages better posture and reduces general muscle pain.

Aerobic and Endurance Exercises

Doctors recommend 30 minutes of cardio exercise each day for seniors. This means getting your heart rate up and breathing faster. Walking, cycling and swimming are all examples of cardio/endurance exercises. If you tire easily, especially if you are resuming a routine or just starting to exercise, it is fine to do three 10-minute periods of exercise daily.

Cardiorespiratory endurance exercise improves the body’s ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues and remove waste over sustained periods of time. After exercising consistently for a few weeks, you will likely experience an improvement in your ability to exercise and ability to perform everyday tasks without getting winded or tired.

Strength and Resistance Training

Weights are not essential for strength and resistance training. Seniors can do strength training with resistance bands, nautilus machines or by using walls, the floor and furniture for resistance. Classic exercises such as lunges, sit-ups and leg raises are also convenient options because they do not require any specialized equipment. Two to three strength/resistance training workouts a week should do the trick. You will exercise all your muscle groups by doing 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions at moderate intensity. As your strength builds you can gradually increase the amount of weight used during your workouts.

Strength training reduces the loss of bone mass and helps to improve balance. This should help seniors avoid falls and broken bones.

Some people’s physical abilities are limited by medical conditions or their general physical state. These seniors have to be more careful about exercise more than others. Still with proper instruction and guidance, the elderly can learn activities and exercises that will improve their mobility and strength. Exercise is even more important for these individuals since they are the most prone to falling and breaking bones.

Try activities in a class setting supervised by a trained professional. Perhaps try swimming or other water-related exercising that are low-impact and less jarring to the body. Your local YMCA or YWCA are the right places to start looking for exercise programs that address special needs.