Older adults generally need to be more mindful of the amount of exercise they get, as well as making sure that they are committing themselves to the right kinds of exercises. Exercise helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and also reduces the risk of major diseases. Exercise strengthens the body, keeps it limber, which in turn, decreases the risk of falling. The overall result of a good exercise program is remaining as independent as you can, while continuing to partake in the activities that you love.
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Endurance exercises, also called aerobic exercises, increase breathing and heart rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people 65 and older, should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. Low impact activities such as walking, swimming, dancing, tai chi, and biking are best suited to seniors beginning an exercise program. People who have not been physically active should begin their exercise program with five- to ten-minute sessions, several times a week.
Choose activities according to interest and personality. Some may prefer walking, over other activities, like swimming. Exercising with a friend or a small group, may make exercise more enjoyable. The goal should be to participate in at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, several times a week. Some people like to do a daily routine, which includes one day off that can be taken any day of the week.
Strength training, along with aerobic exercise, will help build up endurance for longer and allow you to take part in more challenging aerobic sessions. The CDC recommends that people who are 65 or older, should engage in strength training exercises at least twice a week. These exercises help to maintain the ability to climb stairs, get in and out of cars, use public transportation, and carry groceries.
Begin strength training with one- and two-pound dumbbells, or other weights, and aim for 10 to 15 repetitions that exercise arm, leg, hip, back, abdominal, and chest muscles. Body weight can also provide resistance in exercises, such as squats, lunges, and pushups.
This modified pushup works to strengthen upper back, chest, and shoulders:
- Stand with toes 12 inches from the wall
- Place your hands flat on the wall, shoulder height, leaning forward slightly
- Lower your body toward the wall until your nose comes as close as possible without straining your body
- Slowly push back to starting position by straightening elbows
- Repeat ten times.
Each year, 2.5 million older Americans sustain injuries from falls that are cause for serious concern. Exercises that give better balance and improve flexibility, help reduce falls. Yoga is famous for building better balance and flexibility, but you do not need a yoga mat and an instructor to achieve these benefits. This simple exercise is quite effective:
- Stand behind a chair that will not tip over easily
- Put one hand on the chair back and the other on your hip
- Lift one leg and bend your knee a little
- Hold the leg up while you count to ten slowly, then put your foot flat on the floor
- Repeat ten times
- Exercise the other leg in the same way.
Over a period of days or weeks, you will be able to perform the exercise without the chair -- but keep it up!
Flexibility is maintained and improved by stretching your muscles. Flexibility exercises are crucial if you find basic activities, such as getting dressed and reaching for objects, more difficult. Doctors call it "range of motion," but it is basically how far you can stretch your basic muscle groups as you go about your day. You should be stretching your muscles every day. When older adults become less active, intentional exercise may be necessary to maintain independence. Key to stretching exercises is that they should not hurt. Start by doing what you can without pain or next-day soreness. Warm up by walking for three to five minutes, then start stretching. Here is a good neck stretch that you can do standing or sitting:
- Hold your head straight without tilting
- Turn your head to the right slowly until you feel it
- Hold still for 15 to 30 seconds
- Do the same by turning to the left and holding
- Repeat three times to the right and three times to the left.
All exercises should be approved by your healthcare provider who may have additional suggestions. Some people prefer to work with a personal trainer, but this is not required. Start slowly to improve endurance, balance, flexibility, and strength knowing that regular exercise has been proven to enhance the quality of life and also prolong it -- in as little as 30 minutes a day.