Everyone can benefit from exercise, but as you age, it becomes even more important to stay active and get in your exercise. And certain exercises for seniors are extra important when it comes to maintaining the health and strength needed for everyday living.
Although your area of focus in terms of training may change, staying healthy and supple as you get older will become all the more important.
6 Key Exercises for Seniors
When it comes to activities and workouts, you’ll want to focus on several main areas. These include exercises that assist with functional movement and that will help make your daily life easier. These activities include flexibility and range of motion; improving your balance so you can be steady and avoid falls; building muscles to strengthen your body and bone strength; cardiovascular fitness for health and fat burning; and core strength for overall fitness, strength, and vitality.
1. Flexibility and Range of Motion
What is flexibility, and why is it important? Flexibility is defined as the ability of a muscle to stretch and be pliable when a force is placed on it. In other words, you want to be able to bend and not break. Flexibility includes not only your muscle bellies themselves but also extends to joints, tendons, and ligaments.
Being flexible can help improve your circulation, allow for a better range of movement (and less injuries), ease the stress and tension that tend to accumulate in your muscles, and even help to reduce pain. Try these three exercises for seniors to get a good stretch:
- Child’s Pose—this is a popular yoga stretch that really helps gently increase your flexibility. Start on your hands and knees and float your hips back toward your ankles as you allow your arms to stretch out straight in front of you. Keep your head in line with your arms. Feel a good stretch through your back, arms, shoulders, chest, hips, and thighs while holding the stretch for a count of five. Return to the sitting position.
- Downward Dog—this stretch is another great one derived from the practice of yoga that can help improve your circulation, strength, and flexibility. Starting on your hands and knees with your arms shoulder-width apart, straighten your legs and arms until your body forms an inverted V shape with your hips at the top of the V. Press your heels toward the ground while feeling a good stretch through your shoulders, back, legs, and calves. Hold for a count of five and return to your hands and knees.
- Seated Spinal Twist—this is a great stretch to help relieve the stress you hold in your back. Sit on the ground with your legs out straight. Bend your right leg and bring your heel over your left leg and onto the ground outside your left knee. You can also bend your left knee if it makes the stretch more comfortable. Now, twist your upper body to the right and place your arm in front of your right leg. Breathe and hold this stretch for a count of five and then repeat on the opposite side.
Why is maintaining balance a big deal as you age? Working on your balance is important because your bones can become more brittle with age, meaning a fall could have a significant impact on your ability to function. Additionally, muscles and joints tend to get stiffer over time, and this could lead to muscular imbalances which could throw off your balance as well. Improved balance can help prevent falls from occurring in the first place, and that means it’s something you’re going to want to work on, especially as you get older.
Try this exercise to help with balance:
- Single Leg Stands—begin by standing with both feet on the floor, about hip-width apart with your arms out to the side (to aid with balance). Next, shift your weight onto your left leg as you bend your right knee slightly and lift your right foot a few inches off the floor and hold it there for a count of five. Make sure to keep your back straight, head up, and your core tight. Slowly lower back down to the start and repeat on the opposite side. Do a total of five on each side.
3. Muscle building
You’re most likely familiar with strength training, but did you know it becomes even more important as you age? Every year, our bodies lose muscle mass. Muscle is metabolically active and keeps us strong and mobile as well. So, maintaining and building muscle exercises for seniors are extremely important for lifelong health and longevity.
How do you build muscle? By doing what’s known as resistance training. There are many ways to train with resistance, but here are a few:
- Bodyweight exercises—this is a wonderful way to get in your exercise because it only requires your body and no other apparatus. You can find bodyweight training programs online or at your local fitness facility, and they will mostly involve exercises like body squats, pushups, pull ups, triceps dips, planks, and lunges.
- Resistance Band Workouts—similar to the bodyweight exercises, you can find these programs online or at a gym, but they will mostly use a series of bands (different strengths) to help facilitate a resistance training workout. Again, there is a small investment and you don’t necessarily need to leave home to perform your routine.
- Weight-Training Routines—these will usually require a gym or fitness facility and, normally, a membership. You can work out with or without a trainer who will guide you in strengthening all the main body parts: back, chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, abdominals, legs, and calves.
4. Bone strength
Aging can also mean our bones get more brittle over time. With the increased risk of falls, focusing on bone strength exercises for seniors becomes even more important. While there are a number of things you can do to strengthen your bones through diet and supplementation, you can also strengthen them by doing weight-bearing exercises which include the weightlifting exercises mentioned above.
5. Core Strength
Core strength is important because virtually everything you do involves some use of your core. From bending to sitting and standing to twisting and reaching, your core is the powerhouse that helps you perform these everyday movements. A strong core is vital to good health throughout life.
Try this mainstay exercise to strengthen your core:
- Plank—popular across the board and a staple in most exercise programs, the plank is famous for building and strengthening your core. Start on your hands and knees with your forearms on the ground, palms down, directly in line with your shoulders. Straighten your legs by walking your feet back until your legs are completely straight and you’re on your toes. Your body will form a straight line from your heels to your head. Hold this position for 30 seconds and release, returning to your knees.
6. Cardiovascular Fitness and Fat Burning
Lastly, keeping your body-fat levels in check as you get older is very important, especially if you tend to collect fat around your belly. Having too much body fat anywhere is obviously not healthy, but scientists say abdominal fat can be particularly dangerous to your health, increasing your odds of developing health issues like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and more.
With your health at stake and a possible slowdown in metabolism over time, it’s important to burn off any extra calories on a regular basis. Make sure to get at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity every day to maintain good health and to burn off excess calories.
Try walking, biking, gentle jogging, group classes, swimming, tennis, or any other activity you find enjoyable that gets your heart rate up and leaves you slightly out of breath.
By focusing on these six areas of exercises for seniors, you can keep your body strong, supple, and flexible for years into the future so you not only age gracefully but may even slow the hands of time.