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Exercise for Seniors

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When you’re older, and you’re not used to exercising, being told by your doctor to exercise can be daunting. But, says Marcy Houle Co-author, along with Dr. Elizabeth Eckstrom of, The Gift of Caring, when you understand that the IDEAL EXERCISE PROGRAM FOR SENIORS can be fun and, even more, can make you feel so much better and prevent injury as well, you’ll soon start looking forward to it and start a new habit that can add years to your life. One caveat: always be sure to talk with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program to see whether there are any considerations you should be aware of.

The ideal exercise program for seniors is made up of four key components, Dr. Eckstrom calls them the ABC’S of exercise and each one is essential for maintaining and improving health, safety, and quality of life.

  • A: Aerobic exercise
  • B: Balance exercise
  • C: Core and Strength exercise
  • S: Stretching or flexibility exercise

What are some good forms of aerobic exercise for seniors?

There are many: the main thing is to move enough so you get your muscles warmed up and working together to raise your heart rate. Walking, running, biking, swimming are great. Numerous studies have shown that people who walk 1 -2 miles per day live at least 1 year longer.

How hard to you have to work to get the benefits?

An easy way is to determine your “perceived exertion.” On a scale of 1 – 10, if 2 is “this is pretty easy!” and 10 is “I’m going to pass out!”, try to achieve a level between 6-8. In this way, as you get in better shape, your level can move with you, increasing your condition. Dr. Eckstrom advises never exercising past a point where you can carry on a conversation comfortably with a friend.

What about Balance? Does walking count?

Unfortunately, walking doesn’t do it for balance In fact, research shows that people who walk regularly do not have any reduced risk of falling. It is essential, therefore, when you’re older, to complement your aerobic activity with specific exercises for balance to lessen your chance for falling. Tai Chi is a proven benefit for improving balance and reducing fall risk. In fact, studies show it can cut fall risk in half! From a geriatrician’s perspective, tai chi is something that everyone should be doing. Scientists have documented that it lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, reduces pain from arthritis and fibromyalgia, improves sleep, and even improves memory! To reap the most benefit, you should practice it for one hour 3 times a week.

C stands for core and strength. What makes that so important?

As you get older, maintaining your strength is harder and harder. It truly is a function of “use it or lose it.” Eventually, this leads to trouble getting up from a chair without using your arms and difficulty in doing household tasks and gardening. Lifting weights, taking classes in gentle yoga, using resistance bands, can all help improve strength.

Can people safely start doing strength exercises when they’re older and already have lost their muscle tone?

Yes! The good news is if you have already had a decrease in strength, you can build it back up again! Even people in their 90’s who exercise regularly show impressive gains in muscle strength. AND, strength training has the added benefit of helping to preserve memory! Strength and core exercises should be done for a minimum of 30 – 60 minutes, 2 days a week. Dr. Eckstrom advises, though, when doing weights or yoga, if you start feeling too sore or unbalanced, back off a bit.

S is for Stretching. So what are its benefits as we get older?

Flexibility gets harder and harder to maintain as one ages. Yet, doctors know that staying supple is a vital component to preserving your independence! As your joints get older, they stiffen up. Your muscles get less flexible, making it easier to be injured. Before long, it’s hard to turn your head to see behind you when you drive, or to get in and out of the car. When you lose flexibility, getting up in the morning can feel stiff and painful. Stretching is therefore essential, because flexibility is so easily lost as we age.

How often should we do stretching exercises if we want to remain flexible and what are good ways to remain flexible?

Doing yoga is a great way to gain flexibility. So is gentle stretching before and after aerobic exercise. Because it is so vital, Dr. Eckstrom advises we do some stretching every day of the week, even if only for 10 minutes.

For a lot of people, though, it is hard to get motivated and stay motivated. What do you advise people to do?

That was my mom! She hated to exercise! But there are ways we worked to get her motivated and even begin enjoying it! One good way to get yourself going is to try out ONE THING you have done in the past and enjoyed. Another is, if you have a friend who exercises, ask whether you might join her. Another – my mom liked this – plan a lunch date twice a week with a friend that includes a 30 minute walk and a relaxing lunch afterward! Some people take an exercise class with their daughter or granddaughter! The main thing is: don’t give up.

The important thing is to find a class or exercise that is geared to your fitness level and that works for you! The key word here is fitness level, not age level. Some 80 year olds are more fit than many 40 or 50 year olds!