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Senior Exercise: The Agelessness of Fitness

The benefits of exercise are undeniable. At every age. And this isn’t something that becomes increasingly more important with age to help with age-related ailments. Active seniors make for healthier seniors. A fact that is not lost on aging baby boomers, who find themselves in worse physical condition than their parents at the same age.

Hurdles to Senior Exercising

One of the prime reasons for senior citizens not joining a fitness facility is “gymtimidation.” Many seniors incorrectly assume that most of the people at the gym will be young and incredibly fit. The fear of looking out of place, not matching the “fitness” of those at the gym or being judged by regular gym goers is one of the primary reasons seniors do not go to gyms.

Add to it the technological advances and bells and whistles that come on new cardio machines, and that makes for an anxiety-ridden experience for seniors looking to get fit.

The inability to commit to regular schedules often means that seniors will not be able to go to the same classes and as such feel alienated or out of place.

Additionally, there are health issues and concerns that can hinder a senior’s ability to exercise—not just the exercise itself, but also the feeling of inadequacy in being able to perform the exercise like those around them.

The fear of getting injured is another major concern for seniors and fitness centers. It is a vicious cycle for seniors who know that going to a gym can help with balance and muscle tone to reduce the likelihood of injury but then being scared to exercise because they might get injured.

Mental health (depression and anxiety) are contributing factors, too. Finding the motivation or energy can be difficult, especially among older exercisers who are dealing with the recent loss of loved ones.

Sometimes it can be something as seemingly small as the choice of music and the volume used in fitness facilities. If it is not enjoyable to listen to, it can be a major turn off.

Tips for Senior Exercise Success

Senior citizen working out with dumbbells in a wheelchair

Nursing and Kinesiology students lead fitness classes for elderly by University of the Fraser Valley cc 2.0

For some seniors, getting started is the hardest part. There are numerous reasons that seniors might feel incapable of heading to a fitness facility or exercising at all.

However, it is vital to their health that some exercise is incorporated into their lives. There are some fairly easy ways to overcome the anxiety and concerns that seniors have about getting into exercising and/or fitness facilities.

Talk To A Medical Professional

Knowing what you are going to be capable of before you start will help to give a better idea of what you should be doing, as well as offering actual outcomes. It can help to lessen frustrations that lead to not exercising at all.

Be Realistic

Aiming too high and missing out on goals can be hugely disappointing. As well as pointing you in the right direction for exercises, your doctor will help to temper your fitness expectations and what you might expect along the way.

Get a Personal Trainer

At first, a personal trainer can set you on the right path, as well as help with correct technique and set up an actionable and repeatable plan. They are also excellent motivators if you are lacking the oompf you might need.

Start Slowly

No need to hard charge it at the beginning. Go slow at first, and as you get more comfortable with and proficient at the exercises or pace, increase the weights or duration over a period of time.

Don’t Overdo It

This is especially true if you have just got back to the gym. You may remember what you used to be able to do, but it probably isn’t what you are capable of now. Start slowly and work up. It’ll keep you fit and in the gym.

Do Something You Enjoy

If you like something, it stands to reason that it will be easier to do. If swimming is your thing, hit the pool or look for some aqua-aerobics. There are enough options to choose from that you can find something that makes you excited to exercise.

Try Something New From Time to Time

A new horizon also brings its own level of excitement, which in turn, can act as motivation to get up and at ‘em! It also keeps exercising from becoming boring or stale.

Buddy Up

Studies show that healthy habits are contagious. Having a friend that wants to exercise with you, can be helpful in keeping you both interested in exercise. Not only will you have someone to share the experience with, you can engage in a little competition.

Treat Yourself

Even hardcore exercisers and athletes have a cheat day. If you have worked out all week, it’s ok to have a reward day. Just don’t do it after every workout!

Same Time, Different Day

Developing a routine will help with creating a habit. Habits are harder to break than routines. Try to set the same portion of each day aside for what you are trying to accomplish.

Senior Fitness Centers

One of the means of getting seniors into fitness facilities is to offer them a space where those concerns about seeming out of place don’t exist. Senior Fitness Centers create a “safe space” for seniors to work out. And they are becoming increasingly en vogue for seniors across the U.S.

These centers will cater to the differing requirements for an aging exerciser. Exercise equipment and machines will be chosen for their senior-friendliness. The machines will be lower impact or even air-powered. Equipment that aids in better balance, such as resistance bands, replace the more traditional equipment that is usually found on gym floors.

And more than just working out, getting into a fitness facility has other benefits for seniors. Being in a healthy space with exercisers of a similar age and sensibility offers a sense of community. Enjoying the company, along with a “vibe” (things like music and environment), is something that will encourage seniors to return.

Additionally, going to a fitness facility provides a sense of freedom and independence.

And thanks to the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), finding an “age-friendly” facility or service has been made even easier. They have created a nifty facility locator that assists in finding a range of fitness facility options for seniors anywhere in the U.S.

Senior Fitness Classes

Senior fitness classes are another great means for seniors to exercise in relative peace. Tailored to seniors, these types of classes address seniors’ particular needs. The pace of the class will be set to accommodate its participants, as will the equipment used. In some instances, the classes can be done while seated.

A new trend is emerging for seniors to take courses to become trainers and instructors. Their experience and understanding of how aging can impact the ability to exercise, as well as its unique requirements, can be tremendously helpful for active seniors and senior fitness centers. And it is something that can soothe concerns or hang-ups for seniors looking to become more active with shared experiences.

Silver Sneakers is another option for senior citizens who are looking to get fit, but might not have the financial means to make it a reality. They offer free gym memberships for eligible older adults to over 14,000 fitness facilities across the country.

Best Types of Classes

As the body begins to age, exercising and health goals shift. The major concerns are no longer about having a beach body. Although building strength and retaining muscle mass remains important, exercise becomes increasingly about flexibility, mobility, and balance. These types of exercises are relatively low intensity and impact. The ACSM has recommended guidelines for trainers who work with senior citizens.

Best Classes for Senior Citizens

Low (or no-impact classes) that aim at increasing movement, muscle tone, flexibility, balance and reducing joint or back pain will all benefit seniors.

Having an instructor who is trained in working with seniors is important to successfully help seniors incorporate the exercises while getting the most out of the class.

Yoga

An ancient Eastern practice, Yoga incorporates a lot of the facets seniors can benefit from. It is low impact, helps to build muscle and core strength, and aids flexibility and balance. Additionally, it relies on being able to bear the body’s weight, which helps to strengthen both muscles and bones. It is also shown to reduce lower back pain in seniors.

Tai Chi

“Moving Meditation” is a firm favorite among seniors in China, with 20-30% engaging in this no-impact, movement-based martial art form. It aims at helping to focus three areas—mind, body and breath—through slow, methodical movements.

It has been shown to improve memory in aging adults, as well as to help lessen the chance of falling (through improving balance) and reduce joint pain like arthritis.

Dance

With or without a partner, dancing is a low-impact means of moving. It is also good for cardio (and enjoyable), and is something that doesn’t feel like exercise. Without actually thinking about it, it also helps sharpen the link between the brain and the muscles. If mobility is an issue, chair dancing is a great alternative. Zumba is a popular choice for seniors in fitness classes.

Water Aerobics

Swimming on its own is a whole-body, low-impact way to get healthy (with benefits that include increased blood flow to the brain, as well as reduction of stress and joint pain and is a great cardio and strength exercise in one.

Water aerobics and the coordinated movements in a fluid medium is great for reducing the impact of the exercise as well as offering enough resistance to make the exerciser work a little harder.

Benefits of Senior Exercise

Improved Quality of Life

Studies in Oklahoma seniors suggest that even one hour’s worth of exercise a week can lead to feelings of increased independence, as well as a higher quality of life.

Stay flexible

As we age, our flexibility naturally diminishes as a result of a change in the components of the cartilage, making it thinner and more susceptible to damage. Exercising and stretching the muscle can help to strengthen the joints as well as improve the range of motion.

Better Balance

As we age, we tend to lose our balance and fall more frequently. Balance training and increased leg and core strength can help to reduce the likelihood of falling, which in turn means less time being sedentary while convalescing.

Better Bones

Walking, jogging or other weight-bearing exercises leads to higher bone density and stronger bones, helping to slow osteoporosis and the likelihood of fractures.

Improved Stamina and Muscle Strength

Exercise, believe it or not, does both of these things!

Lower Medication Dependence

By feeling better, along with healthier bones and muscles as well increased mental facilities, can lead to diminishing reliance on medication.

Combat Depression and Anxiety

Exercise is a natural mood enhancer. By flooding the body with endorphins, exercise helps to diminish the blues and elevate the sense of well being.

Maintains Healthy Bones and Joints

Exercise has been shown to reduce the painful stiffness and swelling in joints, making arthritis less painful.

Reduces risk of Heart Disease

Exercise increases blood flow to the heart, forcing it to work harder. This helps to keep it strong, which in turn will help to reduce heart disease. It also aids in keeping cholesterol in normal ranges, which will also reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Reduces Other Common Senior Ailments

Exercise has been clinically shown to reduce dementia and help to stave off Alzheimer’s. It also improves the blood glucose levels, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes. Exercise can even help to reduce the chance of breast cancer in women.

Senior Citizen Exercise Equipment

Although many forms of senior exercise don’t require exercise equipment, there are machines and equipment that are tailored to older adults.

Companies like HUR tailor their equipment to meet the particular needs of older adults. Using pneumatic resistance, the machines reduce inertia for smoother motions and so reduce the risk of injury.

Seated and low impact help to kill one bird with two stones. It reduces the strain on older joints as well as reducing the likelihood of injury.

Rowing machines

Seated rowing offers a full body workout relying on the upper body, core and lower body to operate. It is great for strength and cardio in one compact machine.

Recumbent bikes

This seated, stationary bike is a nice way to cycle off the pounds while sitting in the same place. A recumbent bike helps to check many of the boxes too:

  • Seated—less chance of falling
  • Positioning—with a back to the seat, it is easier on the back and knees
  • Different resistances—can be set for cardio as well as strength

Ellipticals or Crosstrainers

As popular as treadmills are, the ellipticals and crosstrainers offer almost the same wallop with less impact—and as a bonus, they have upper body conditioning, too.

With the variable resistance, it offers the same cardio and strength benefits of the other low impact exercise machines. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is considered one of the lowest impact machines for seniors.

Many seniors may worry about the motion and the likelihood of falling. Most ellipticals come standard with grips to stabilize the user.

As the user isn’t actually putting their feet down, it lowers stress on lower body joints—which running or walking outside (or on a treadmill) will do.

Weight machines

Weight-bearing exercises become increasingly important as seniors age. They are a vital part of maintaining muscle strength. Studies have shown that adults over 50 can lose a quarter pound of muscle every year through inactivity.

Although free weights are popular, there is an increased risk of injury. Weight machines contain the weights (or resistances if pneumatic) reducing that risk.

Weight machines also limit the risk of poor form. And they limit the likelihood of a fall while they are being used.

Resistance Bands

These come in variable resistances allowing seniors to ratchet up on the amount of work they have to do. They are great for toning and stretching muscles—helping with muscle elasticity and flexibility.

Senior exercising is as important of a facet of health and fitness as exercising at any age. Some might argue even more so. So whatever the impediment, get out to a fitness facility (or stay at home), get some exercise and remember to enjoy it.

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