Exercise and Seniors

Exercise and Seniors

Exercise is an important part of nearly everyone’s everyday health. This is true for older adults, too. Experts say seniors should aim to be as active as possible. If you are an older adult, you can reap the many benefits of exercise to live a longer, healthier life.

There are many benefits of exercising when you’re a senior:

  • It improves your strength. This helps you stay independent.
  • It improves your balance. This prevents falls.
  • It gives you more energy.
  • It prevents or delays diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, or osteoporosis.
  • It can improve your mood and fight off depression.
  • It may improve cognitive function (how your brain works).

It is safe for most adults older than 65 years of age to exercise. Even patients who have chronic illnesses can exercise safely. These include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis. In fact, many of these conditions are improved with exercise. If you are not sure if exercise is safe for you or if you are currently inactive, ask your doctor.

Path to improved health

There are 4 types of exercise. It’s important to include all 4 types in your exercise routine.

Endurance – increases your breathing and heart rate. Improves the health of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Builds energy. Includes:

  • walking
  • jogging
  • dancing
  • swimming
  • biking
  • tennis
  • basketball
  • climbing stairs or hills
  • raking or mowing.

Strength – makes your muscles stronger. Includes:

  • lifting weights
  • using a resistance band
  • doing body-weight exercises (push ups, sit ups).

Balance – helps prevent falls. Includes:

  • standing on one foot
  • walking heel-to-toe
  • tai chi or yoga.

Flexibility – stretches your muscles, keeps you limber and more easily able to move. Includes:

  • stretching
  • yoga.

How often should I exercise?

It is recommended that seniors age 65 and older get at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) every week. That averages out to about 30 minutes on most days of the week. Or you should get 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise (such as jogging) each week. You should also do strength training at least 2 days a week. Balance and flexibility can be worked on every day.

In addition, you should incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. Examples of working more activity into your day include:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Parking farther away from your destination.
  • Walking or biking places instead of driving.
  • Walking your dog.
  • Working in the yard.
  • Doing light exercises while watching TV.

Should I warm up or cool down before or after exercise?

Warm up for 5 minutes before each exercise session. Walking slowly and then stretching are good warm-up activities. You should also cool down with more stretching for 5 minutes when you finish exercising. Cool down longer in warmer weather.

Safety tips

  • Check with your doctor if you’re over 50 and aren’t used to exercising before starting an exercise routine. Other reasons to check with your doctor before starting an exercise program include:
    • dizziness or shortness of breath
    • chest pain or pressure
    • blood clots
    • an infection
    • sores that won’t heal
    • any joint swelling
    • recent surgery
    • a hernia.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing and well-fitting, sturdy shoes. Your shoes should have a good arch support, and an elevated and cushioned heel to absorb shock. Make sure the shoes are made for the type of physical activity you’ll be using them for. Shoes are specially designed for walking, running, tennis, or dancing, for example.
  • If you are not already active, begin slowly. Start with exercises that you are already comfortable doing. Starting slowly makes it less likely that you will injure yourself. Starting slowly also helps prevent soreness.
  • Exercise is only good for you if you are feeling well. Wait to exercise until you feel better if you have a cold, the flu or another illness. If you miss exercise for more than 2 weeks, be sure to start slowly again.

Things to consider

If your muscles or joints are sore the day after exercising, you may have done too much. Next time, exercise at a lower intensity. If the pain or discomfort persists, you should talk to your doctor. You should also talk to your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms while exercising:

  • Chest pain or pressure.
  • Trouble breathing or excessive shortness of breath.
  • Light-headedness or dizziness.
  • Difficulty with balance.
  • Nausea.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Is it safe for me to exercise?
  • How do I get started?
  • Are there any exercises or activities I should avoid?
  • Is my preventive care up to date?
  • How does my health condition affect my ability to exercise?
  • Which exercises will help me the most?
  • I watch my diet and am not overweight. Do I need to exercise?

Resources

U.S. National Library of Medicine, Exercise for Seniors

National Institute on Aging, Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide