You get plenty of exercise going up and down stairs, playing with the grandchildren, at the grocery store, or in the garden.
Surely you don’t need any more than that, right?
That all counts as exercise for seniors, doesn't it?
After all, it’s difficult enough to keep up with everything going on in your life. And now you’re expected to save some of your energy for exercise?
Well, not so fast.
Sure. All of those are considered physical activities, and they are very important. Keep doing them!
But they aren't exercise. And to stay your healthiest, you need both.
First, you should know…
Why Should I Exercise?
Well, as you’ll see in this article, the benefits of even just moderate exercise are abundant.
However, you might think that getting older means not being able to be as active. You think it’s inevitable that as you stiffen up and stop resting well, you simply can’t keep up.
The truth, though, is very different. These aren't the results of getting older. These are the results of getting enough exercise.
Even moderate exercise can increase and maintain a person’s mental capacity, decrease rates of hospitalization caused by age and age-related diseases, and decrease the risk of falling.
In as little as just 10 minutes of exercise a day, or walking 5 days a week, you can stay active, and living independently.
So, now that you’re convinced to add 10 minutes of exercise a day, you’re probably wondering what counts as exercise?
The Difference Between Exercise and Physical Activity
To start, physical activities are those things you do every day. Playing with your grandkids. Doing laundry. Walking up and down the stairs. Carrying your groceries.
You know those are important, because they are the things that keep you independent and vibrant.
And some of these simple movements give you huge benefits. Depending on how strenuous your daily schedule is, you might be on the verge of getting a full exercise simply through your physical activities.
However, to be sure, you should always incorporate some exercise into your routine.
Exercise, is a planned, deliberate activity with the goal of improving fitness or overall health. Think about it this way – exercise gives you the ability to keep up with the physical activities you enjoy. Making them not just possible, but easy, and fun.
And these physical activities are what will allow you to stay independent as you grow older. Which, beyond simply being healthy, is why exercise is so important in the first place.
Follow the “4 Pillars” of Exercise
A well-rounded exercise plan for seniors should include 4 components…
- Light cardio,
- And balance
Each piece provides a different health benefit, so each is important for a well-rounded exercise routine.
Light cardio – These are the workouts that get your heart rate and your breathing up, like walking, swimming, or dancing. It’s okay if you feel a little short of breath, but you should always be able to carry on a conversation. Cardio exercise helps build your endurance, strengthen your heart and lungs, and reduce how quickly you tire out. A strong cardio system means you can keep doing what you love to do longer. And you don’t have to start with an hour long aerobics class or try to walk 5 miles. Match your cardio routine to your fitness level. The key is to stick with it. Because even if you just start with a 5-10 minute walk around the block, you’ll get stronger and healthier every day.
Strength-building – Keeping your strength up is key to being able to carry your groceries, lift your grandbaby, or swing a gold club – and even when just standing up from the sofa. Plus, weight training helps fight back against osteoporosis, so your bones stay strong right along with your muscles. Resistance bands or light weights are a great way to start building your muscle strength. And you don’t have to worry about bulking up or getting too big, because that just doesn’t happen accidentally. What I’m talking about is getting lean, strong muscles that keep you walking, dancing, able to open that jar without help, and get around your house without worry.
Flexibility – When talking about exercise for seniors, people often forget about flexibility. There’s a myth out there that says you have to stiffen up as you get older. But it’s just that – a myth. And like with balance, even if you have started getting stiff, it’s never too late to start regaining your range of motion. The more flexible you are, the easier it is to do little things like reach the top shelf, tie your shoes, or pick something up once it’s been dropped. Yoga and tai chi are great for flexibility as well. Or you can just work some gentle stretches into your day.
Balance – As you age, you may become more concerned about falling. That’s where balance exercises for seniors can literally be life-changing. Good balance is what keeps you from slipping when you get in or out of the shower, or the car. Balance keeps you safe, and improves your posture. And it’s never too late to start working on your balance, even if you’ve started to get a little wobbly. Yoga and tai chi can both be modified to work for any fitness level. Many gyms, senior centers, and YMCAs offer specific exercise classes for seniors. But you can start by standing on one foot, hold it for 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side. Hold onto a chair until you’ve built your balance up enough to stand on your own.
Make Your Own Plan
You don’t have to compete with anyone. You have nothing to prove to anyone. Just because you can’t run a mile or do 50 pushups doesn’t mean you shouldn’t even start. The important thing is to do what works for you so you can be your best.
Find time – even just 5-10 minutes – to exercise, not just be active. Talk to your doctor and come up with an exercise routine that will challenge you, but work with your current fitness level, too.
Aim for about 2.5 hours a week of cardio, with 2-3 days of strength, balance, and flexibility exercises for seniors worked in there as well.
Whatever your age, whatever your fitness level, you can start getting healthier today.