Get Moving! Benefits and exercise suggestions for older adults

As we age we tend to become more sedentary. There are many reasons for the slowing that tends to come with age, health problems, fear of falling, weight or pain. Studies have shown that exercise can help you stay independent, reduces the risk of falls, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression and dementia. Physical activity can add years to your life, even if you only begin to exercise regularly at a later age. This post will cover the importance of exercising as we age, how to start exercising, creating an exercise programme and suggested exercises.

Why exercise is important for older adults

Exercise is important at any age, but as we age it becomes increasingly important. It is common for us to slow down as we age, and our type of activities is likely to change as our bodies change, but it is critical to keep moving. Exercising regularly will help to improve and maintain our health which will have a positive impact in many aspects of our life. There are both physical and mental benefits to exercising.

Physical benefits of exercise for seniors:

  • Maintain or lose weight

  • Reduce the impact of illness and chronic disease

  • Enhance your mobility, flexibility and balance

Mental benefits of exercise for seniors:

  • Improve how well you sleep

  • Boost your mood and self-confidence

  • Improve brain function

How to start exercising

Exercise also helps to maintain independence, improve mood as well as strengthens memory and the mind. But starting to exercise can be challenging. It's important to not be too hard on yourself. Know your limits and be proud of yourself for just trying! With regular exercise and time it will get easier.

Safety should always be a priority. There are a few things to consider before beginning an exercise routine.

  • Speak to your doctor. Seek medical clearance from your doctor. They will be able to further advise on what activities to avoid and which might be best for you.

  • Listen to your body. Everyone is different and we all have our own limits. Be sure to not push yourself too far. If you feel dizzy, have shortness of breath, develop chest pain or pressure, have cold sweats or experience pain, stop exercising immediately and call your doctor.

  • Start slow and build up. Don’t compare yourself to others. Start at your beginning and slowly build up the programme when you feel comfortable to do so.

  • Be sure to warm up. Warming up will help to reduce discomfort and prevent injury.

  • Set a realistic exercise programme for yourself to follow.

  • Drink plenty of water and have water on hand during your exercise.

Components of an exercise routine

The goal is to keep your workouts interesting, so they don't get bored, and a mix of activities is great for overall health. Try new exercises to find ones that bring the most enjoyment, centre the plan around 4 categories, balance, cardio, strength and power training and finally, flexibility.

  • Balance - yoga, tai chi, and posterior exercises

  • Cardio - walking, stair climbing, dancing, tennis, rowing, cycling, hiking, and swimming

  • Strength and power training - machines, elastic bands, free weights and body weight

  • Flexibility - stationary stretches or stretches done through movement

Activities suitable for older adults

There are a wide range of activities that older adults can take part in. As discussed it is important to speak to your doctor prior to starting a new exercise programme and understand your limitations. As Covid-19 continue to play a role in our lives there are many activities that can be done within the home. As the weather improves and our hopes for a well-controlled Covid-19 grow, below are additional activities that older adults could consider incorporating into their exercise programme when they feel safe.

  • Walking - this is one of the most popular low-impact activities. Adjust the speed to intensify the workout or walk up a hill.

  • Dancing - this is a fun way to move your body and socialise with others.

  • Cycling - this is another great low-impact activity. To ensure safety be sure the bike is the proper size, handlebars and saddle are at the correct height.

  • Swimming - Swimming works out the entire body! Works most of the muscle group and provides an aerobic workout.

  • Tai chi - By promoting mental and physical wellbeing, Tai chi is an ancient Chinese art that uses slow controlled movements.

The NHS provides a great list of easy exercises that can be tried and used to develop an exercise programme that fits the individual needs.

Now is a great time to consider a new exercise programme! The spring weather is getting better and the opportunities to get outside are increasing. It is never too late to start. Starting a routine slowly, even a couple times a week, will have a positive impact on your life, physically and mentally.

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