Exercise can help manage the aging process and help you stay physically fit well into advanced age. However, not every workout is suitable for seniors. Below, we discuss the best exercises for seniors and offer some tips for staying active in your golden years.
Best Exercises for Seniors
If you’re a senior wondering how to get started with exercise, then here are eight of our favorite workouts for seniors:
Water Aerobics and Swimming
Getting in the pool is an excellent idea for seniors in particular. The water cushions your joints and makes this one of the most low impact workouts you can do. If you enjoy swimming laps, that is a very straightforward and efficient workout that will get your heart and lungs pumping. If you find swimming laps to be a bit repetitive, or you are not that confident in your swimming form, then water aerobics classes are another fantastic option. These classes use your bodyweight and special foam props to work your body as well as your cardiovascular system. A skilled instructor will lead you through the moves, which are often synced to fun, upbeat music. Often community gyms with pools will offer water aerobics classes specifically tailored to older adults, so see if any of those are offered in your area.
Yoga isn’t just low impact. It also targets flexibility and balance, which are often two areas of trouble for older adults. There are many different styles and classes of yoga, ranging from easy and beginner-friendly to advanced and very difficult. If you are new to yoga, seek out a class oriented towards beginners. The instructor will walk you through all the basics and ensure that you can do the poses without risk of injury. Some yoga studios in gyms also offer yoga classes specifically for older adults, which are a great idea if you have mobility limitations or other things that might keep you from enjoying a traditional yoga class. Once you become confident enough in your yoga skills, you can continue your practice at home with a yoga mat and a selection of props, such as yoga blocks.
Pilates is a low impact form of exercise that incorporates elements of core building, cardio and strength training. It focuses a lot on stamina and balance, as well as strengthening your core. While Pilates can involve a lot of equipment, it can also be done on a mat using only a few props. The pace of the class is often slower and focuses on repeating motions and holding positions in order to work the muscles. If you find other workout classes to be frantic and confusing, then you may enjoy the pace and structure of Pilates. Your muscles will be sore in the best way possible upon leaving the class.
Walking is one of the most accessible forms of exercise out there, not to mention that it’s low impact. This makes it perfect for seniors who are just getting started with exercising. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes, some exercise clothes and somewhere safe to walk. Be sure to keep an eye on the ground so you don’t accidentally trip over something. If you like to have accountability and work out with someone else, walking is the perfect activity to do with a friend or even an entire group. If you go out alone, make sure you always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Keep your cell phone on you so you can always call someone in case of an emergency.
Cycling is another low impact cardio activity that is a good choice for seniors. If you have great balance and vision, and are confident on a bike, then you can ride a regular bicycle outside in your neighborhood or on trails. However, if you would prefer not to ride a bike outside around traffic and pedestrians, then you can take advantage of indoor cycling on stationary bikes. Pretty much all gyms have stationary bikes alongside the elliptical, treadmill and other cardio equipment. Many gyms also offer indoor cycling classes for those who prefer expert instruction and working out in a group setting. Not all gyms offer indoor cycling classes tailored to seniors the same way they do for water aerobics or yoga, but it is still worth checking to see if your local facility offers any classes.
Resistance Band Workouts
Strength training workouts are very important for maintaining bone density and muscle mass as you age. However, working out with dumbbells can be very intimidating for those who have never lifted weights before. They are also very expensive and take up a lot of room, which can be detrimental if you mostly work out at home and don’t have access to the gym. Resistance bands are an excellent alternative that are affordable and take up minimal room. Resistance bands are essentially giant rubber bands that you attach to a door anchor or step on to create resistance as you pull. Resistance bands can be used for many traditional strength training exercises, including squats, back rows and bicep curls. You do need to be careful not to let go of the band too quickly, as it can snap out of control; otherwise, resistance bands are a great solution for seniors looking for resistance training.
Small dumbbells can be used for both strength training and for cardio, depending on the type of workout. If you are new to using weights, you should start off small so you can build your strength and get familiar with the proper form. It’s very important not to choose weights that are too heavy, or else you might drop them or otherwise cause an injury to yourself or someone else! Small weights reduce risk of injury and are also easier to move around and store. Keep in mind that when you were younger you may have been able to work with that 20lb dumbbell but as we get older we do need to be careful. A personal trainer can help you figure out what size weights you should be using and walk you through the proper form for lifting exercises.
Just because you don’t have any equipment, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get your strength training in. Bodyweight exercises such as squats and push-ups involve using your body weight to work your muscles and build strength. These muscles are ideal for people who don’t have the space or the money to store a bunch of weights, or who are intimidated by strength training that requires a lot of equipment. Form is key when doing bodyweight exercises, so if you have never done them before, then consider booking a few sessions with a personal trainer so they can show you how to do the exercises properly and how to modify them for any mobility limitations you might have.
Tips for Exercising as a Senior
Now that you know what kind of workout to look for, here are five more tips to help you exercise safely as a senior:
Choose the right clothes.
Working out in regular clothing isn’t just uncomfortable, the garments can also get snagged on equipment or limit your movement. Choose exercise clothing that is specifically designed for seniors in order to get the best experience. Look for clothing that is easier to take on and off, which will make it easier to get ready for your workout. For example, the men’s elastic waist pants and women’s elastic waist pants are simple to take on and off with one smooth motion, even if you have limited mobility. Make sure that the clothing doesn’t chafe and that you don’t have excess fabric flopping around before you begin your workout. You can test your range of motion in the clothes by doing squats, arm raises, leg lifts and other exercises. Definitely don’t want to accidentally split a seam in the middle of your exercise class!
Select good shoes.
Shoes are incredibly important to having a safe and comfortable workout. Make sure that the shoes fit properly and are not too loose or too tight, which can cause blisters and tripping. If you struggle with laces, look for shoes that have a Velcro closure, or that come in a slip-on style. If your feet swell a lot, either during the day or when you work out, then look specifically for shoes for swollen feet. Pay close attention to the sole while shopping. You want it to provide plenty of traction and to make it easy to stay balanced while moving around.
Avoid very intense workouts.
As you age, you will likely need to scale down your exercise. While you should always defer to your doctor’s instructions, they will warn you away from very intense exercises that pose a lot of risks for falling. Examples include running, high intensity interval training, rock climbing and Olympic style weightlifting. In some limited cases, you might be able to do this exercise if you are already experienced in it. For example, if you have been a dedicated runner your whole life and don’t have any conditions that make it dangerous for you to continue, your doctor will probably give you the all-clear to keep going (though maybe at a slower pace or shorter distance than previously). However, these situations are usually an exception to the rule and for many older adults, the risks of tripping, fractures and other hazards outweigh the benefits of very intense exercise. You will still get a lot of benefits from lower impact exercise, even just a few times per week, so don’t fall into the trap of believing that only very intense exercise is worthwhile!
Always talk to your doctor first.
Even if you are a fitness fanatic and have exercised for years, you should still talk to your doctor before changing your fitness routine when trying a new workout style. As you get older, your body’s abilities change, which means you may need to adapt your workout style to your new abilities. Workouts that you were once able to do with ease may pose a risk to you now, especially if you have certain health concerns such as a heart condition or an injured joint. To stay safe, always clear everything with your doctor before making any major changes to your exercise routine. If you are completely new to exercise, your doctor will likely have recommendations for easy workouts you can get started with that won’t pose a risk to you.
Stay in tune with your body.
Regardless of how old you are, your physical abilities vary from day to day. If you are sick with a cold or nursing a sprained ankle, you won’t be able to do the same exercises as you would if you were in perfect health. This means that you will need to vary your exercise routine based on how you were feeling on a daily basis. If you aren’t feeling up to doing something, then don’t push yourself to do it! It’s always better to do a light workout or take a rest day for one day — or even a couple of days — then to push on and injure yourself or become sick. Constantly check in with your body and stop if any exercises feel wrong or cause an acute pain.
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