Exercise should no longer be a dirty word for seniors. At one time, exercise was judged to be too dangerous, too vigorous for older adults due to frailty and/or fear of being injured by exercise. However, a number of well-conducted studies over the last several years have shown that a variety of exercises are not only safe for older adults but have enormous advantages. In fact, staying active can help you:
Keep and improve your strength so you can stay independent.
Have more energy to do the things you want to do.
Improve your balance.
Prevent or delay some diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Perk up your mood and help reduce depression.
To get all of the benefits of physical activity, try the four types of exercise:
- Endurance: Be sure to get at least 30 minutes of activity that makes you breathe hard on most or all days of the week. That’s called an endurance activity because it builds your energy or “staying power.” You don’t have to be active for 30 minutes all at once. Ten minutes at a time is fine. Just make sure you are active for a total of 30 minutes most days. How hard do you need to push yourself? If you can talk without any trouble at all, you are not working hard enough. If you can’t talk at all, it’s too hard.
- Strength: Strength exercises build muscles. When you have strong muscles, you can get up from a chair by yourself, you can lift your grandchildren, and you can walk through the park. You are less likely to fall when your leg and hip muscles are strong. Strengthening exercises involve providing resistance to your muscles. This can be done with weights or using your body weight, such as push-ups, squats, and sit-ups.
- Balance: Balance training allows us to prevent or delay the use of assistive devices for walking and to prevent falls. Balance activities can be incorporated into your strength exercises. Squats and lunges can be progressed from hanging on to a counter or bar to not hanging on to anything.
- Flexibility: Stretching can help you be more flexible. Moving more freely will make it easier for you to reach down to tie your shoes or look over your shoulder when you back the car out of your driveway. Stretch when your muscles are warmed up. Don’t stretch so far that it hurts.
You are more likely to keep up an exercise program if you are doing activities that you enjoy. So, no more excuses find an activity or activities that interests you and start working them into your schedule! Remember, your physical and occupational therapists are great resources for starting an exercise program.
Almost anyone, at any age, can do some type of physical activity. You can still exercise even if you have a health condition like heart disease or diabetes. In fact, physical activity may help. For most older adults, brisk walking, riding a bike, swimming, weight lifting, and gardening are safe, especially if you build up slowly. But, check with your doctor if you are over 50 and you aren’t used to energetic activity. Other reasons to check with your doctor before you exercise include:
- Any new symptom you haven’t discussed with your doctor
- Dizziness or shortness of breath
- Chest pain or pressure, or the feeling that your heart is skipping, racing, or, fluttering
- Blood clots
- An infection or fever with muscle aches
- Unplanned weight loss
- Foot or ankle sores that won’t heal
- Joint swelling
- Recent hip surgery
Here are some things you can do to make sure you are exercising safely:
- Start slowly, especially if you haven’t been active for a long time. Little by little build up your activities and how hard you work at them.
- Don’t hold your breath during strength exercises. That could cause changes in your blood pressure. You should breathe out as you lift something, and breathe in as you relax.
- Use safety equipment. For example, wear a helmet for bike riding or the right shoes for walking or jogging.
- Unless your doctor has asked you to limit fluids, be sure to drink plenty when you are doing activities. Many older adults don’t feel thirsty even if their body needs fluids.
- Always bend forward from the hips, not the waist.
Exercise should not hurt or make you feel really tired. You might feel some soreness, a little discomfort, or a bit tired, but you should not feel pain. In fact, in many ways, being active will probably make you feel better.
Ways to maintain an exercise program:
- Believe that you will benefit from the exercises.
- Feel that you can do the activities correctly and safely.
- Have access to the activities on a regular basis.
- Able to fit the activities into your daily schedule.
- Do not feel that the activities are a financial or social burden.
- Having few negative consequences from doing the activities.
You are more likely to keep up an exercise program if you are doing activities that you enjoy. No more excuses – find an activity that interests you and start working it into your schedule! Remember, your physical and occupational therapists are great resources for starting an exercise program.
Allison Bakke, OTR/L
Above & Beyond Senior Services