Guide to Senior Exercise

senior workouts

Exercise in the Golden Years is just as important as in the earlier stages of life. Seniors who exercise regularly will be healthier, stronger and more energetic. There are many exercises that boast a lot of benefits to seniors. Depending on one's fitness level, exercises can be modified to meet an individual's fitness goals.

Getting Started

Before embarking on any exercise routine, make sure your doctor has cleared you, and get a full picture of what you can or cannot do. With that in mind, set some exercise or fitness goals. If you are not already a member of a gym and want to join one, do some exploring to see what is out there. Many gyms offer discounts for seniors. Some gyms, such as the YMCA, offer financial assistance to those who need it.

Once these first steps are established, you're ready to get started. Keep in mind the key factors of a good workout: increasing and sustaining heart rate for cardiovascular benefit, building strength and stamina in the muscles and bones and improving balance and flexibility in the body to help you move around better.

Build Strength

strong senior

Weight Training

If the weight room is your thing, you'll be working with dumbbells, kettle bells or even plate weights used on bars for exercises like bench presses and leg squats. In a larger gym, there will also be weight machines.

There are numerous exercises to do for each muscle group, and planning to lift two to three times a week will be helpful in building strength. Those who are new to using weights will want to start off with light weights, such as one or two pounds. As you get more comfortable with the weights and your muscles become stronger, gradually increase the weight to feel challenged, but not strained.

Use Your Body Weight

Seniors with good mobility will want to add body weight exercises into a fitness plan. Isometric exercises, such as planks, push ups and sit ups, not only build strength but increase stamina, balance and flexibility.

Resistance Bands

Look to the power of stretchy resistance bands to add strength without using dumbbells. Made from latex or rubber, the bands will build strength in the muscles by performing specific exercises targeting muscle groups. Seniors at any fitness level can try using resistance bands. They can even be effective while sitting.

Get in the Water

Hopping in the pool will provide natural resistance training. The water disperses the body weight, providing a low-impact strength workout. Taking a water exercise class or simply walking some laps in a long pool provides excellent benefits. Those who are trying to lose weight, or who have joint or bone distress, will find the water particularly satisfying and kind to the body.

Get the Heart Going

bike riding seniors

Bicycling

With so many options for getting on a bike, it's a popular exercise for many seniors. Whether it's biking around the neighborhood, on a bike trail or going on a major cycling adventure, bike riding is a great way to get the heart rate up for an extended period of time. Those who are new to cycling, or don't want to be outside, can use an indoor bike or take a cycling class at a gym for a good workout.

Walking/Jogging

All you need is a good pair of shoes to get out and start a walking or jogging program. Seniors who are more active or have been walking for a while may want to step it up and add some jogging into the mix to increase the heart rate. The striking of the foot on the ground is helpful for maintaining or gaining bone density. In poor weather, many walkers and joggers head to local malls to walk or find a good treadmill. Many people find it a great time to be social, meeting up with friends to walk or jog in groups.

Fitness Classes

Working out with a group can be very motivational. Most gyms and senior centers offer group exercise classes. From Zumba to Pilates to Silver Sneakers, there's usually something suitable for seniors of all fitness levels. In a class setting, it's common that the time slips away because you're having so much fun.

Swimming

Swimming laps to increase heart rate is a good way for those who want a low-impact workout to get exercise. Swimming also increases lung strength and capacity, which gradually reduces as we age. For those who are uncomfortable in the water but still want to start swimming or those who want to refine their strokes, many pools offer adult swimming lessons. Props, such as fins and paddles, can help you get a better workout as well.

Group Activities

Getting active is typically more fun with other people. Whether you want to join a tennis league or find some friends to choreograph and execute a synchronized swimming routine, exercising with people helps keep you accountable and less likely to slack off toward your fitness goals. Maybe you want to run or walk a 5k, or even a marathon? Join a training group in your area. Try to find group activities with cardiovascular benefit, such as hiking, cross-country skiing, rowing or dancing. Check in with your local recreation department, senior center, workout facility or community hall to inquire about meeting up with others who want to be active.

Improve Flexibility

senior yoga

Yoga

When people think of yoga, they think flexibility. Not only can yoga aid your flexibility, but yoga can add strength and improve balance. Finding the right yoga class or instructor can be a challenging quest, but with a growing interest in yoga among seniors, there are an increasing number of options for those who don't want to spend their yoga class in a headstand. For seniors new to yoga, a beginning or gentle yoga class is a good place to start. For those with less mobility, many gyms and studios offer chair yoga, where most of the poses are done seated or supported by a chair. Experienced yogis who are finding their bodies changing due to age, may find their yoga practices needing adjustment as well. Trained yoga instructors will help you get on the right path.

Stretching

Incorporating a stretching routine after each workout can help you stay limber and healthy during the Golden Years. Stretching while the muscles are warm helps to get deeper into the stretch but also can help prevent injuries like muscle tearing. Take care to come in and out of stretches slowly while practicing deep breathing, and hold your stretches for several long breaths. People at all fitness levels can stretch, and it is very beneficial to those who are very active to those who are more sedentary.

Dancing

Ever looked at a dancer and noticed how high they can lift their legs, or how they bend seemingly in half with ease and grace? Dancing helps with flexibility, partly because of stretching and partly because of the moves dancing requires. Dancing will help you loosen up tight muscles by encouraging the body to release tension and move in different ways. If you've always wanted to try dancing but never have had the opportunity, now is your time. Many senior centers, community recreation centers and health clubs offer dance classes for partner or single dancing styles from ballet to swing to square dancing. You might want to dance in the privacy of your home, and there are many DVDs out there to help you learn dance moves at home.

Use Good Exercise Principles

Get Warm First

Now that you have a goal and a plan in place, it's time to start moving. With any workout you will want to include a five to ten-minute warm-up. That means working at a low intensity to bring more blood flow to the muscles so they can move easier. Your heart rate will increase and you will begin to feel warmer. For example, if you are walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes and want to walk at a three-mile pace for the main portion of your workout, start with five minutes at a two-minute pace so your body has a chance to get used to moving at a steady pace.

Feel Challenged

Once you are warmed up, you will want to begin the work part of your workout. Depending on your level of activity and fitness level you will want to adjust the intensity of this "work" phase so that it is challenging but not overbearing. Remember, it is OK to sweat, but be careful not to overdo it. You can use a heart rate monitor and heart rate guidelines to stay within the intended intensity of your workout. As your fitness level increases, you can increase the length of this challenging part of your workout.

Cool Down

At the end of your workout, leave five to 10 minutes to cool down. That means lowering your intensity and allow your muscles to relax. If you're jogging, this might mean walking, if you're walking briskly, you might slow down to a leisurely pace. Give the body time to return to its resting heart rate.

Hydration and Nutrition

Be sure to drink plenty of water when you exercise. If you are increasing your activity, drink more than you usually would. Also, eat healthy foods that have protein to help your body recover from exercise.

Get Help to Improve Fitness

Getting active and staying active throughout each stage of life is no easy task. Sometimes we lack motivation, other times we get stuck in a rut. Even the most active people might benefit from outside help to keep them going and give new ideas of how to stay healthy and active.

Talking to a nutritionist or setting up time with a personal trainer can help anyone looking to improve their fitness and lifestyle. A few sessions can be all it takes to take you to the next level. Consult with your doctor about these options.

You're On the Right Path

Maintaining an active lifestyle in the Golden Years does not have to be difficult. With new gyms and active retirement communities sprouting up across the country, it is becoming easier to connect with others and be involved in a healthy way of life.

Not only does exercise help keep us fitter and healthier, it makes us happier, too.

Guide to Senior Exercise