Exercise is well established to improve and preserve health. Exercise can keep the heart healthy and improve balance and strength. Significantly, exercise can also improve mood and reduce the risk of dementia. With the American population aging (over 50,000 Americans were over the age of 100 according to the 2010 U.S. Census), it is important to seniors to find ways to stay healthy even when they enter senior living communities.
When engaging in an exercise program, it is often useful to think of the goal of the exercises to ensure that the exercises achieve a variety of objectives. For example, different exercises can be used to improve flexibility, strength, balance, and cardiovascular health. Here are five exercise suggestions for seniors:
Exercise does not necessarily mean high-energy sports like kickboxing or basketball. Walking has a variety of benefits, including improvements to cardiovascular health. While sustained walking for 20 to 30 minutes a few times a week can have significant benefits to cardiovascular health, walking throughout the day over shorter periods also has benefits, making it a great option for everyone. Fitness trackers, pedometers, and cell phone fitness apps can help track the number of steps taken during the day just doing ordinary activities. Walking can also improve the strength and flexibility of the hips, legs, knees, ankles, and feet. Importantly for seniors, as lower body strength and flexibility improve, balance also tends to improve and the risk of falling decreases.
Senior housing often provides ample opportunities to walk in outdoor gardens or on treadmills. Senior housing communities also often have transportation to local community centers or recreation centers with tracks, treadmills, or outdoor paths for walking. To increase the benefits of walking, climbing stairs or an incline can burn more calories and build more strength than walking on a flat surface.
Strength training for seniors does not require pumping iron. Push-ups are good for strengthening the upper body and core muscles in the chest, torso, and back. More importantly, push-ups do not require any special senior housing facilities or equipment. Traditional push-ups done with hands and feet on the floor may be difficult for many seniors. Fortunately, incline push-ups can be done by leaning into and pushing away from a counter or wall.
Leg lifts can improve strength, balance, and flexibility. Leg lifts, like push-ups, do not require any special equipment and can be performed in any independent living facility. For example, you can stand behind a chair for balance and try raising the legs backward, to the sides, and straight up (as if climbing a ladder). Performing stretches and these strength exercises in the leg muscles will also help improve the muscles in the back and stomach. Again, stronger and more flexible leg muscles tend to improve balance and reduce the risk of falling. In some seniors, strength and balance exercises can even reduce or eliminate the need to use canes or walkers.
Squats, when done correctly, strengthen muscles in the legs and back. To avoid straining muscles or falling forward, make sure that the buttocks stick out so that the weight of the body does not shift forward over the toes. For seniors who have difficulty performing traditional squats, there are alternatives that can be performed in any senior independent housing. The first variation includes squatting into a chair, then rising up again. The second variation includes starting from a seated position, rising up a few inches, then sitting down again.
In addition to knowing what exercises to do, seniors should avoid exercises that can cause more problems than they fix. Sit-ups or crunches can strengthen stomach muscles but they can also cause the back to flatten out of its normally arched shape. This can place strain on the back muscles, allow the spine to torque, and even damage spinal discs. All of this extra strain can create back problems or worsen existing back problems. Rather than traditional sit-ups or crunches, one exercise that can be performed in any senior housing facility begins by sitting at the edge of a chair leaning back until the shoulders touch the back of the chair, then sitting upright again.
In sum, there are many exercised that are appropriate for seniors, can be performed in any senior housing regardless of the facilities, and keep seniors healthy. Try out these tips today, whether you live at home or in a senior housing facility.