Fitness for Seniors: Easy Exercises for a Total-Body Workout
Whether your doctor has recently recommended you start getting in more activity or you’re looking for some new moves to add to your existing routine, trying out easy exercises for seniors can help you get fitter and create healthy new habits. And there are some great reasons why you’ll want to do so — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that, if you’re an older adult, "regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health [because] it can prevent many of the health problems that seem to come with age." Staying active is even a great way to maintain independence well into the future.
While it may be tempting to relax and ease up on your fitness goals after retirement, creating a whole-body exercise routine can actually end up increasing your ability to enjoy your golden years. Here, we've broken down some of the best fitness training routines for seniors that will help you get a good idea of where to get started.
Try Balance Exercises for a Better Foundation
Balance exercises may not be the first thing that come to mind when you think of exercise, but they’re vital for all of us as we age. They’re not necessarily strenuous, and you might not break a sweat, but balance exercises help strengthen the muscles you need to live independently and can reduce fall-related injuries. They can also help your body develop the support it needs to perform other potentially more difficult exercises.
A recent study published by a journal called Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that balance and coordination exercises can have not only physical but also mental health benefits, including memory and spatial-cognition gains. But how do you get started? The Mayo Clinic notes that walking is an ideal balance exercise, as is anything that has you on your feet and moving. But being intentional about developing better balance helps, too. Take a look at this list to get started with easy, balance-boosting moves like weight shifts, leg raises and "flamingo stands."
If you're looking for something more challenging, you might even find a local yoga or tai chi class. Both styles of exercise are gentle and can help you develop and maintain balance, flexibility and strength.
Get Walking for Immediate Benefits
The importance of walking for seniors cannot be overstated. Not only can it increase energy and stamina and provide a good cardio workout, but it can also help decrease the risk of developing diseases like diabetes.
Whether you choose to go for a walk around the block or take a few laps around the mall, making walking a regular part of your routine can go a long way in increasing your mobility. Rest assured that there's no need to set out to complete a marathon your first day. If five minutes is what feels most comfortable to you, that's a great start. If you use a cane or walker to get around, be sure to bring it along.
The important thing is to do what you can in the beginning and try to work your way up, even by a minute or so each day. If you find yourself looking to shake things up, consider adding the "farmer's walk" to your routine. By carrying small weights in each hand while you walk, you can strengthen your abs, back and arms.
Learn Bodyweight Workouts You Can Do Anywhere
No gym? No problem! According to the Mayo Clinic, bodyweight resistance training can be just as effective a form of fitness for seniors as machine-based exercises can. With these workouts, you use the weight of your own body — instead of weighted machines like you see at the gym — to provide resistance for your movements. Challenging your muscle groups with bodyweight exercises can help you build strength, flexibility and balance. Common bodyweight exercises include squats, lunges, sit-ups and push-ups.
The best part about these exercises is that they're very easy to modify to fit your unique mobility needs. If you find squats difficult, try sitting down in a chair and getting up a number of times instead. Wall push-ups are a great way to get the same benefits as regular push-ups without having to get down onto or up off of the floor. Silver Sneakers has a great list of bodyweight exercises for seniors to help get you started.
Use Chair Exercises for More Support
If you often use a wheelchair to get around or don’t find it comfortable to stand for longer periods of time, there’s a large number of exercises you can do while you’re seated. To make the most of these workout routines, order yourself a pair of small dumbbells. Even small dumbells that weigh just a few pounds can go a long way towards helping you build strength. Then check out this great collection of chair exercises that also provides instructions and visual aids.
As an aside, keep in mind that it’s important to talk to your doctor or physical therapist before beginning your workout routine, especially if you’re using a wheelchair due to a recent injury or surgery. They’ll be able to help you focus on the specific at-home exercises that are right for your health situation.
Go With the Flow Doing Water Aerobics or Swimming
If you live with arthritis or joint pain, water-based exercises may be the perfect answer for helping you get active. Exercises like water aerobics can not only help get you in shape but also help relieve joint pain. That’s because the water’s buoyancy supports your body and puts less pressure and stress on your joints while you move. At the same time, water creates resistance to activate your muscle groups and engage them more.
Senior Lifestyle has a great list of water fitness exercises for seniors that you can try out the next time you visit the pool. You might even ask your local health club or gym if they offer water aerobics classes. These can be a great way to stay fit and meet new people — keep in mind that staying social is essential for your mental and physical health as you age, too.
If you're not into aerobics just yet, traditional laps provide a great workout as well. Experiment with different kinds of movements, such as backstroke and sidestroke, to find out which ones you’re comfortable with.
Tips and Tricks for Long-Term Senior Fitness Training
If you want to make exercise a part of your weekly routine, there are several things you can do to ensure your success. For starters, it can help to schedule your exercise sessions on your calendar, particularly if you sign up for classes. They become real appointments, and this ensures you have time carved out for them. You might find it easier to create a new routine if you get your exercise done in the morning and have the rest of the day free.
One of the biggest favors you can do yourself in the long run is to find a style of exercise that you sincerely enjoy. This increases the likelihood that you’ll stick with it — and continue to reap its numerous benefits.
Aren’t sure where to start? Ask yourself what kind of activities you enjoyed in years past or always wanted to try but never got around to pursuing. Maybe you always wanted to learn ballroom dancing but didn’t have time for classes before. If you boxed when you were younger, maybe you'd enjoy taking up martial arts. Need a little inspiration? Country music superstar Willie Nelson earned his fifth-degree black belt in the Korean martial art called Gongkwon Yusul when he was 81 years old.
Whether it’s karate or something paced a bit slower, like yoga, swimming or an exercise class designed for seniors, picking an activity you love will go a long way towards helping you create and stick with a movement habit. The important thing is to keep going so that you can stay as active as possible well into the future.