Graying hair, decreasing eyesight, wrinkles, and the likes are usually inevitable as you enter the later years of your life. But you’d be wrong to think that a loss in muscle power, poor balance, and declining strength and flexibility are also a part of the package of growing old.
The experts at the National Institute of Aging explain that when older people feel limited in their ability to move and do things on their own, it’s not because of their age, but mostly because they have adopted a somewhat inactive lifestyle with the passage of time.
Exercise not only helps seniors live more independently, but also prevents them from facing various health issues that are typically common amongst older adults.
Here, we highlight the benefits of exercising along with a list of the best senior workouts that will help you stay fit and live better as you age.
If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of the senior workouts, we got you covered:
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- 1 Why Should Seniors Exercise?
- 2 The Best Exercises for Seniors
- 2.1 Best Cardio Exercises for Seniors
- 2.2 A Little Note About the ‘Best’ Cardio Exercises for Seniors
- 2.3 Best Stretches/ Yoga Poses for Seniors
- 2.4 Best Flexibility Moves for Seniors
- 3 Why Are You Never Too Old For Working Out?
Why Should Seniors Exercise?
Exercising regularly has long been hailed as the number one factor for living a happy and healthy life. But unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who do not fully appreciate the importance of regular exercise.
If you have always found it hard to commit to a fitness regimen or never been a dedicated gym member so far in your life, there’s a high chance that you will have trouble grasping the idea of workouts for seniors.
The first question that is likely to come in your mind when you hear the term senior workouts is, why should seniors exercise?
Well, here’s why:
Helps You Stop the Clock (Or At Least Slow It Down Considerably)
Well, the main reason why it’s crucial for seniors to work out is that it helps you stay ‘young.’ Of course, exercising won’t reverse the aging process per se. But it helps you retain several things that you would otherwise lose quickly as you age. This includes:
Sarcopenia, which is the scientific term used to describe the loss of muscle mass, is an evitable aspect of old age. Aging decreases the quality of tissues that make up your muscles. This, in turn, reduces your ability to do work, especially strenuous tasks such as lifting heavy objects.
Scientists believe that you lose an average of 1% of muscle mass every year once you turn 30.
According to research, falls are the leading cause of injury and death for senior citizens, accounting for more than half a million hospitalizations in the U.S. every year.
Senior workouts help improve your balance so that you can successfully avoid injuries due to falling or slipping.
Stiffness in joints is a result of aging that can easily culminate into more severe problems like arthritis. It can decrease your range of motion, making it highly difficult for you to complete simple everyday tasks. This can include bathing, climbing stairs, eating, or even walking for that matter.
As we mentioned above, your muscles weaken as you age. Since your heart is basically a muscle, aging affects its performance too. This is why heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases are so common amongst senior citizens.
Exercising boosts your heart health and increases aerobic fitness, which is vital for improving your overall wellbeing.
Other Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
- It makes your bones stronger, thereby, reducing the risk of minor accidents leading to fractures or in extreme cases, permanent disability
- Joining a gym or any other fitness center prevents you from feeling lonely or depressed as it gives you a sense of purpose and serves as a fun social event
- Exercising regularly delays, if not prevent altogether, the onset of certain age-related diseases including diabetes
- It regulates your sleep-wake cycle, making you feel more energetic throughout the day
- Weight-bearing exercises like jogging help you achieve better bone density so that you don’t develop problems like osteoporosis
- Since a sedentary lifestyle is identified as one of the primary causes of dementia in older adults, and working out can help you successfully steer clear of this mental health issue
- Exercising makes you more confident in your ability to live a free life and enjoy each passing day despite the old age
The Best Exercises for Seniors
There are three main types of workouts for seniors:
- Cardio workouts – aim to strengthen the heart so that it doesn’t have to work as hard to keep pumping blood all day long
- Stretching (yoga) – a form of exercise that gives you more muscle control by increasing muscle elasticity
- Flexibility exercises – flex certain tendons and muscles that ultimately increase your range of motion by making you more flexible
Let’s take a look at some of the best practices on how to go about each of these senior workouts such that they yield the desired results without any risk of injury.
Best Cardio Exercises for Seniors
If you aren’t in the habit of exercising, walking can be a great way to start. It’s a low-impact activity that doesn’t much too much strain on your joints.
The interesting thing about this mode of ‘exercising’ is that you can adjust the intensity according to your needs and preference. A leisurely stroll in the park is sufficient to keep arthritic people in good shape, whereas walking briskly on hilly terrain is ideal for older adults who are trying to strengthen their leg muscles.
If you still have a good sense of balance and feel in control of your movements, you can even consider going for a jog or running at a medium pace for a few minutes every day.
Cycling helps strengthen your heart, lungs, and bones all at the same time. Plus, it’s the best way to get a breath of fresh air as you get older. However, keep in mind that cycling requires a particular skill set and can be really exhausting for some seniors.
If you are looking for an easy solution to total-body muscle conditioning, consider going for a swim. It lets you work all the different muscles in your body without putting any strain on your joints.
Alternatively, you can also opt for water aerobics. This includes different activities like kickboard paddling that enhance your strength and flexibility.
Start by walking in the water, taking a few calculated steps until you learn how to balance yourself properly. Once you have achieved that, you can progress to more challenging exercises that are performed in the water.
A Little Note About the ‘Best’ Cardio Exercises for Seniors
While walking, cycling, swimming are some of the easiest yet highly effective ways to go about performing cardio exercises for older adults, they sure aren’t the only way to boost heart health.
The ‘best’ cardio workout for you is the one that you can enjoy doing every day. After all, consistency is the key to achieving the benefits of exercising. So, you need to pick something that you can not only commit to wholeheartedly, but also look forward to doing each day.
From pickleball and table tennis to jumping rope, lifting weights, or a mix of high-intensity exercises like squats and planks; there are numerous options for cardio that you can choose from.
The following factors will help you decide which type of strength-training exercise is best suited to your particular case:
Ideally, you should pick an activity that will raise your heart rate to about 65 to 80% of the maximum level.
Your maximum heart rate is the answer you get after subtracting your age from the number 220. So, if you are 60 years old, your heart rate must not exceed 120 bpm no matter what cardio exercise you perform.
You should be able to perform the chosen activity for approximately 20 to 30 minutes in one go. However, if you are a novice exerciser or a senior with highly considerably limited mobility, you can push the duration down to as little as 10 minutes a day.
Best Stretches/ Yoga Poses for Seniors
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
The mountain pose helps with balance and is useful for reversing the effects of slouching.
- Stand tall with your feet together
- Inhale deeply while relaxing your shoulder down and pulling them slightly towards the back
- At the same time, try to develop tension in your leg muscles by pushing down on the ground
- Hold the pose for the length of 8 – 10 deep breaths
Tree Pose (Vriksasana)
The tree pose is perfect for improving balance as well as strength-building in seniors. If done properly, it will make you feel more stable while walking.
- Stand straight while facing a wall
- Choose a point of focus on the wall and try to keep your gaze fixed on the spot throughout this exercise. This facilitates you in keeping your balance while performing the yoga
- Slowly lift your left foot off the floor, opening the knee out to the left side
- Gently flex your knee to let place the left foot on the inner side of your right thigh (caution: do NOT put it directly on the right knee)
- Take a few seconds to stabilize yourself
- Now stretch your hand over the top of your head with fingers pointing up to the sky
- Try to hold the pose for at least 30 seconds or longer if it is possible to do so comfortably
- Slowly return to the starting position (first bring the hand down and then the foot)
- Repeat with the other foot
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
The bridge pose is an effective way to strengthen your lower back, hip, and leg muscles. It also opens up your chest and shoulders and increases the flexibility of your spine.
- Lie on a smooth surface with your knees bent (in other words, your feet should be hip-width apart and placed flat on the floor)
- With your arms on either side, rotate your shoulder blades a little bit so that you can shift your arms under your body
- At this point, your hands should be placed palms-down directly below your knees
- Lifting your back gently, press your shoulders further inwards
- If possible, hold your ankles with your hands, otherwise, let them rest against the floor
- Hold the pose for about 20 – 30 seconds
- You can use yoga blocks for this pose or place a thick roll of a towel under your hip girdle for additional support
Best Flexibility Moves for Seniors
Note: Most of the exercises mentioned in this section require you to sit on a chair or take support from a sturdy object like a wall. For safety purposes, you should never use a revolving chair or lean on relatively lightweight furniture items table a table or shelf for support.
This stretches the muscles in your legs and lower back.
- Place both your hands on a wall (or hold the headrest of a heavy chair from the back)
- Slowly raise yourself up until you are standing on the tips of your toes.
- Hold the pose for 15-20 seconds before lowering yourself down gently
- Repeat at least three times
This improves the flexibility of your knees and relieves discomfort from walking or being stationary for too long.
- Sit on a chair with your back straight
- Place both your hands on your thighs in front of you
- Gently flex the right knee until your right leg is parallel to the ground
- Hold for five seconds before returning to the starting position
- Repeat with the left leg
- Perform at least five sets
Bent Forward Fly
The best forward fly stretches your back in addition to opening up shoulder muscles.
- Sit on a chair with your legs joined together but slightly pushed forward such that your claves are at a 45-degree angle to the ground
- Keeping tension in your back, bend forward about 45 degrees with your arms hanging on either side
- Now, slowly bring your hands up to your shoulder level and then lower them back again (pretty much like flying)
- Perform this exercise for 60 seconds
This provides almost all the benefits of walking with the added advantage of being able to do it just about anywhere within the comfort of your own home.
- Standing straight on level ground, bend forward just about an inch so that more than half of your weight is shifted on the balls of your toes
- With fist closed, let your arms hang loosely on the sides
- Now, bring one knee and the opposing hand upwards so that your thigh is parallel while the forearm is perpendicular to the floor
- Return to the original position while simultaneously bringing the opposing leg and hand upward
- Switch sides at a pace that is comfortable for you. If the exercise seems too exhaustive, you can perform it while sitting on a chair as well. In that case, you can rest your hand on your thighs
Why Are You Never Too Old For Working Out?
‘There’s no point in exercising because I am too old to achieve any significant results.’
If you think along these lines when it comes to senior workouts, know that you are only shooting yourself in the foot.
Expert trainers believe that retired people have the same ability to build muscle mass as a world-class athlete – even if they have never worked out before!
You might not be trying to break the world record for weight lifting, but you get the point.
People who have been exercising for a very long time are not the only ones who can enjoy its benefits in their old age. You can derive the benefits of exercising no matter when you start.
However, as a novice, it’s better to start off slowly.
Begin with a few light stretches every day, and when you feel sufficiently agile, move on to proper workout or perform some of the exercises discussed above.
Do you want to avoid frequent visits to the hospital for one thing or the other?
Do you want to live freely without requiring the help of a caretaker for simple everyday tasks?
Do you want to avoid the risk of heart diseases, obesity, and similar health problems that a majority of older adults suffer from?
If yes, then you must incorporate a senior workout into your daily routine. Be stronger than your strongest excuse, and start exercising today!