No matter your age, exercise is vital for maintaining a healthy heart and bone mass. Experts recommend that all adults exercise at least 2.5 hours a week, but 5 hours a week for maximum health benefits. If you’re suffering an injury, consult a professional before beginning an exercise program and always, only exercise to the extent that your condition or physical state allows. Remember not to overexert yourself at the beginning – it will only cause injuries and delay progress.
As you age, external and internal challenges may prevent you from engaging in certain exercises – discomfort, disability, fear of injury or fatigue may come into play. Overcome these anxieties by knowing that exercise and strength training need not be intense and will actually help increase your balance and bone strength which in turn protects you from injuries and boosts energy levels. It’s one of life’s rare win-win-wins.
For maximum health benefits, it is optimal to engage in moderate exercise throughout your life, not just when you age, but of course it is never too late to start. Doctors note that bone loss and loss of flexibility begin as early as your 30s; therefore, it’s never too early to think about how exercise will aid you as you age. This guide reviews the major components of an elderly exercise plan: cardiovascular exercise, strength training, balance and flexibility work, and rest.
- Cardiovascular Exercise: With heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States, cardiovascular exercise undoubtedly holds extreme importance. Depending on your current endurance level, incorporate a goal of 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day. You can start with 5 or 10 minute sessions and work your way up to 30 minutes; it’s more important that you get in the habit of working out your heart and exercise at a level appropriate for your condition rather than hit 30 minute work outs.
- Brisk Walking: low impact, can be done anywhere! Ask a spouse, family member, friend or neighbor to join you in your endurance exercises – it creates accountability for you to continue with the program
- Swimming: even more low impact than walking! Join a gym and try out a water aerobics class or simply grab some flippers and create your own swimming workout..
- Stationary Bike: takes the weight off the knees! Stationary bikes give a great alternative for those with weak knees who also want back support. You don’t have to worry about balancing on a stationary bike; therefore, they are a safer idea for the elder exercising
- Dancing: fun and a good heart work out! Many elders enjoy dancing and it’s an excellent form of exercise as well as a social outlet.
- Strength Training: Often overlooked as an important part to an exercise program for older adults, strength training is beneficial to an adult exerciser. Sick of wearing your back braces? Strength training helps combat osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, obesity and back pain, among other ailments. With falls as the leading cause of injury related death in adults over 65, strength training helps develop the muscles to balance and avoid potentially fatal falls.
- Squats: Use a stable chair for this exercise. Begin seated, with your hands on your hips. Push with your legs as you rise to stand from the chair. Repeat 10 – 12 times. You can modify this for additional balance stabilization or support by placing the chair in front of a counter, or other stable and strong surface, and using the counter to balance as you hoist yourself upright. This works the legs, hip flexors and balance.
- Bicep Curls: In a seated or upright standing position, hold a weight in both extended hands with your palms facing up. Curl in your arms toward your chest. Squeeze as you curl your arms in and hold for 5 seconds. Slowly release and uncurl. Repeat 10 – 12 times. This works your arms.
- Shoulder Shrugs: Stand upright and hold a light weight in each of your hands (try a can of soup to start). Shrug your shoulders to your ears, and then lower to normal. You can modify by adding more weight. Repeat 10 – 12 times. Shoulder shrugs work your back, shoulders and balance.
- Toe Raises: Stand upright in front of a counter or chair (to use for balance). Slowly raise up on your toes, off your heels. Stand on the balls of your feet for 5 seconds, then lower. Repeat 10 – 12 times. It can be modified if you’re using an ankle brace or other support braces. This works ankles and balance
- Wall Pushups: Face a wall, standing about an arm’s length away. Have your feet planted shoulder-width apart and firmly on the ground. Lean forward as you place your palms on the wall and bend your elbows, completing the push up. Pause in the push up position for a few seconds, and then extend your arms. Repeat 10-12 times. These work your arms, back and balance.
- Modified V Ups: Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Slowly and carefully raise your knees and swing your arms around your shins to “hug” them in. Next, (provided your ability) drop both knees slowly to the right. Raise them back to the middle and switch, dropping them to the left. Work to 10-12 repetitions. This works your abdomen, back and hip flexors.
- Balance and Flexibility: Working on balance and flexibility develops the muscles and strength to prevent dangerous falls in the elderly.
- Flamingo Stands: Stand in front of a stable support, like a doorway or counter. Shift all your weight to your right foot and on your right foot alone. Alternate legs.
- Heel-Toe Walk: Walk slowly and carefully, placing the heel of one foot on the ground directly in front of the toes of another foot. For increased modification, walk heel-toe backwards.
- Knee Marching: Stand by a counter to use for support if you get wobbly during the knee marches. Raise one knee as high as you comfortably can and tap it with the alternating hand. Lower that knee and then alternate knees.
- Rest and Recover: Listening to your body and taking time to rest is important at any age, but especially when exercising as an older adult. Don’t overexert yourself, but recognize that exercise is vital to keeping you healthy and strong as you age..
- If you are feeling mild pain or inflammation in your joints, try a cold therapy system. Cold therapy helps alleviate swelling and mild pain, but avoid cold therapy if you have stiff joints or arthritis. For arthritis sufferers, use a moist heat pad to provide temporary pain relief.
- For sore and aching muscles, rest and elevate your limbs. Remember that a mild amount of soreness is normal when first resuming an exercise regimen; however, also ensure you pay attention to your body’s warning signs.
- If you have weak knees or back, talk to a doctor or physician about getting medical support braces or back braces to use when exercising.
It’s never too late to begin an exercise program, so jump in and get closer to a stronger, more balanced and healthier life!
About the Author: MMAR Medical Group Inc. is one of North America's premiere medical orthopedic brace distributors, carrying a large selection of carpal tunnel braces and complimentary rehabilitative cold therapy units. Based in Houston Texas, MMAR also carries a back brace and unloader knee brace selection.