Written by Josh Horsman
Staying active is essential for healthy aging. Science confirms that exercise doesn’t just keep you in great physical shape, but it also gives you a healthy brain and prevents against cognitive decline.
However, while we all know that we should exercise and many of us know that we could do more, a natural part of getting older is that the body becomes more fragile and less conducive to regular strenuous exercise.
That is not to say though that we should use this as an excuse not to exercise, quite the opposite in fact. It means that it becomes necessary to discover new and interesting ways of working out which put less strain on our joints and muscles. In fact, exercise doesn’t have to be especially intense to provide a range of physical and mental health benefits. A 2013 Harvard Health study, for example, found that just 15 minutes per day of mild-moderate intensity exercise could be worth as many as three extra years of life.
Here’s our guide to simple, effective exercises for seniors:
Stretching is recommended for anybody before a workout, but it can still burn calories and improve flexibility when done on its own. Stretching the upper arms, shoulders, neck, back, legs, ankles, chest and hips regularly is especially beneficial for seniors since we lose flexibility as we age.
Walking is the simplest and most practicable low impact exercise. It’s easier on the joints than jogging, and can be done anywhere with relatively little equipment. All you need is a comfortable pair of walking shoes, preferably boots with an ankle support, that provide plenty of cushioning, and keep your back straight and your shoulders rolled back as you walk. Try to increase the time of your walks gradually by a couple of minutes every day until you can take a 60-minute walk without stopping.
Swimming is more unique as it is a zero-impact exercise. It improves endurance and flexibility, but there is less of a risk of injury thanks to the relief that the water will provide to your joints and bones. It also works every muscle group as you move through the water and the strokes lengthen your body, leading to improved posture.
Although riding a bicycle may seem like hard work and high impact, it is a relatively low-impact sport as well. The body’s joints absorb minimal shock while pedalling, so it can be great for those struggling with arthritis pain. It can also improve cardiovascular health as well as one’s mood. Riding a bicycle can also help improve the environment, so everyone’s a winner!
Many people consider weightlifting to be a strenuous activity for hard-core gym lovers, but it doesn’t have to be an extreme sport. Lifting lighter weights can be a great low-impact exercise that builds muscle and improves one’s overall health. Experts recommend spending 30 minutes working on each muscle group twice a week, and when paired with aerobic exercise, leads to the greatest increase in fitness.
6. Water Aerobics
Water aerobics have become very popular for seniors who want to combine cardiovascular exercise with strength training. Like swimming, performing aerobics in a pool relieves the stress on the joints. Unlike swimming, it can be done in shallow water even by those who can’t swim.
The beauty of yoga is that it can be as strenuous or relaxing as you wish it to be. While yoga can be very intense, it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of senior yoga classes out there that keep things simple while still improving flexibility, strength and balance. If you find that you cannot do the more advanced yoga poses, most yoga instructors will be able to provide you with simpler poses that offer the same benefits. Furthermore, there are many yoga classes out there that are tailored to those with conditions which affect mobility, such as arthritis or osteoporosis.
Many may not consider gardening as exercise, but it is still a light physical activity which engages many parts of the body. Those who cannot imagine themselves joining a gym or going on long walks or bike rides might still be willing to work on a garden or perform light yard work. Gardening is a relaxing and rewarding hobby that will provide you with plenty of exercise and fresh air, as well as a sense of achievement.
9. Tai Chi
Tai Chi is often compared to yoga in that it is a low-impact meditative exercise that provides strength, flexibility and balance. A typical tai chi exercise involves flowing slowly from one pose to the next while focusing on slowly breathing in and out. Gentle movements help to stretch and tone muscles, while the slow breathing helps to reduce stress and improve concentration. Since it’s so easy on the joints and focuses on slow movements, Tai Chi can be ideal for those who are overweight or have joint pain.
Golf is a multifaceted exercise which has many plus points.. It provides time outdoors, it can be played alone or with friends and it provides plenty of low-impact exercise. Swinging a golf club improves physical strength and range of motion, but since a proper golf swing is a smooth, easy movement there isn’t much of a risk of injury. Golf also requires people to walk along the course, which doesn’t feel like a chore since it’s part of the game, and this element of golf improves endurance. If you plan to go golfing, it’s always important to stretch your hips, calves and upper body to prevent injury and improve your game.