There’s lots of research pointing to the importance of exercise to maintain good health at any age. It doesn’t matter at what age you start either. Seniors well into their 80s can gain more energy, improve mood, even prevent or manage conditions like high cholesterol, stroke or arthritis, just to name a few.
What’s important is that you start and keep moving. In fact, sitting has been shown to do more damage than smoking. And increasing daily activity helps improve the quality of life in many ways.
It’s just a matter of finding the activities you’ll stick with (consistency is important) and that are appropriate for your age and current physical condition. So here are some of the best exercise activities and programs for seniors.
This program was developed by a son for his father after he suffered a fall. Trying to find something simple yet effective, he created this series of circular movements for each of the body’s major joints – three circles in each direction for the neck, knees, shoulders and so on. And the worked! Short and easy to do several times a day, you’ll see increased flexibility and range of motion. Here’s a link to the book if you want to buy it or read more about it.
Though the movements are deceptively simple, Tai Chi helps improve flexibility, endurance, strength and balance plus develops mental focus. And it is the slower pace and fluid movements that make it a favorite local course offering for seniors. It does take a while to master the sequences of movements (especially if you’re “movement impaired” like me) but once you have it down, you can do them a few times a week.
You’ll find lots of free videos on You Tube and charts and instructions online if you’re not the group class type plus there are many books and DVDs to purchase. One of my favorite books is Tai Chi in a Chair – great for beginners and only 15 minutes.
Like Tai Chi, ballroom dancing improves many functions like endurance and balance plus it can come in handy at weddings and parties. Most cities have dance lesson studios where you’re paired with a partner if you don’t have one. But you’ll find plenty of free videos and at home instructions online (or to buy) if you’ve got a willing partner who also wants to learn. Another bonus – music makes people happy.
People were meant to walk. Moving in an upright position with good posture, of course, puts weight on the load bearing joints to keep them flexible and helps maintain balance. So whether you make time for outdoor walks, take the stairs, skip driving or walk around your house or office for a while – it’s all good. The recommendation of 10,000 steps a day is a great goal, but research has shown that you’ll get benefits from half that amount.
Get a pedometer or a FitBit to measure the amount of steps you take. And if you use the FitBit, you can use their website or mobile app to log food intake, earn badges and/or take part in the community.
If you can’t get outside easily, consider indoor exercise equipment. Even if you don’t have much room, you can find good options that are reasonably priced. I have the stepper and glider pictured below. The stepper, though small, is sturdy (though the timer died after 3 years…) and I hop on it while I’m watching TV ( 30 minute show is perfect). You can also find other versions with moving arms to also work your upper body. The glider is bigger but it can be folded flat – and there are different versions for various weight levels and features (like if you want to increase tension).
Both of these are easy on the joints and good for increasing range of motion, endurance and flexibility. Worst part is probably putting these together – but once they’re assembled, you’re all set.
Helen Mirren created quite a stir when she revealed the secret of keeping her sixties plus figure – a routine that she has done and still does for years. She follows the Royal Canadian Air Force workout – a 12 minute series of 10 exercises that work all the major muscle groups. (There’s also the 5BX version (for men). No weights needed! The number of repetitions is based on your age. So start at the lowest level per the charts and go slowly if you haven’t done any strength training regularly. And hold onto a chair or modify the exercises (e.g., do knee push-ups instead of the straight leg version) if you need to!