Many seniors don’t realize the positive impact exercise can have not only on their physical health, but also on their quality of life.
Exercise increases physical and mental health while helping seniors stay independent and more able to enjoy regular activities. Physical activity can also reduce the risk of developing some ailments in an aging body. Because of exercise’s mental benefits, it leads to an overall happier and healthier lifestyle for all individuals.
According to the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism1, aging is associated with noticeable impairments in brain transmission, which might contribute to increased vulnerability to developing depression in later life. Practicing regular exercise can have many of the same effects of antidepressant treatment. This positive effect on the mental health of a senior can help to maintain a higher quality of life.
A healthy heart is a vital part of physical health. According to Consumer Health News2, the more exercise a senior does, the lower their long-term risk for heart failure. The exercise required to achieve these effects is typical and achievable behavior for elders, such as taking short walks several times per week. Other leisure-type activities which require physical activity can also help to decrease risk of heart failure.
While there are a wide range of physical and mental benefits from exercise, the World Health Organization3 has summarized these benefits. The following are listed as immediate benefits of physical activity:
- Helps regulate blood glucose levels
- Both adrenaline and noradrenaline levels are stimulated
- Enhances sleep quality and quantity
The following are listed as long-term benefits of physical activity:
- Substantial improvements in cardiovascular function
- Increased independence
- Preserve and restore flexibility
- Prevent and/or postpone declines in balance and coordination
Including a variety of activities in the workout routine keeps it enjoyable and reduces risk of injury while strengthening the entire body. Consistently repeating the same activities can cause overexertion of the muscles used while other muscles are not being exercised enough. In order to have a well rounded routine, seniors should try to include activities from each of the four types of exercises.
If long workouts are not an option or are just not of interest, workouts can be spread out into short sessions throughout the week, or even throughout the day, lasting only as long as suits the individual senior. Every ability level is different and what works for one person may not suit another.
Before adding exercise to daily life, check with the senior’s doctor about types and amounts of physical activity, especially for those with specific health conditions. There may be certain types of exercises these individuals should avoid or some that they should practice regularly to help reduce the symptoms of their ailment.
No matter what type of physical activity is being practiced, it is important to always stay hydrated. Seniors should be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. Depending on the type of exercise, safety gear may be necessary. Some of this gear includes a helmet when biking, well-fitting shoes for walking or dancing, or a flotation device for swimming.
A spotter should be present for balance exercises as well as being present during swimming or other pool activities. Seniors should always start at a low level of intensity and work their way up to keep risk of injury low. They may also want to start with a short workout and work their way up to a longer one.
Types of Exercises
Balance – Balance exercises should be practiced in order to prevent falls. When doing balance exercises, seniors should have something sturdy nearby to hold onto and another person present in case of a fall. Some balance exercises are backward walking, heel to toe walking, repeated standing from a sitting position, and balancing on one foot while holding chair.
Aerobic – Aerobic exercises increase breathing and heart rate and improve the overall health of the body. Some aerobic activities include walking, dancing, swimming and biking, but any activity that increases the heart rate also counts. Safety precautions should be taken when participating in these activities.
Muscle-Strengthening – A set of weighted resistance bands can allow for progress in muscle-strengthening activities. These sets contain several different weights of band allowing seniors to start with an easy band and work their way up. Sets generally also include an instruction booklet explaining possible exercises. Individual or group yoga can also help to increase muscle strength.
Flexibility – Flexibility exercises should be practiced in order to increase freedom of movement for everyday activities such as bending over and reaching. When doing flexibility exercises, seniors should always warm up their muscles by starting with a short walk. Flexibility exercise includes stretching all parts of the body. Yoga can also help to increase flexibility.
Classes – Ask your senior’s doctor’s office or local gym about fitness classes offered for elderly individuals, as this is a good way to keep fit and social. Classes may be offered for any of the four types of exercises and can be a great addition to a senior’s routine.
Warning Signs of Overexertion
- Shortness of Breath
- Uncomfortably fast heartbeat
- Sharp or stabbing pain in chest, arms, legs, or back
- Joint pain
If a senior experiences any of these warning signs, they should be sure to stop exercising and rehydrate along with consulting their doctor before continuing. This may be a sign their exercise session was too long or strenuous for their body’s current condition. This is not an exhaustive list of warning signs and other displays of discomfort should also be taken as a sign.
Including exercise in a senior’s life can not only increase their physical health, but can also have a positive impact on their quality of life. Always consult with a doctor before starting or changing an exercise routine and follow safety practices to ensure a safe and beneficial workout.
1Melancon, M., Lorrain, D., & Dionne, I. (2014) Changes in markers of brain serotonin activity in response to chronic exercise in senior men. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 39(11), 1250-1256.
2Mozes, A. (2012, November 15). Regular exercise may help seniors stave off heart failure; study found reduced levels of certain indicators for heart injury with moderate physical activity. Consumer Health News.
3Durrett, A. (1999). Benefits of exercise for seniors. IDEA Health & Fitness Source, 15.