Exercise for Seniors: Staying Healthy into Your Golden Years

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The positive effects of exercise have been known for hundreds of years. Only recently, however, have the health benefits of exercise for seniors been fully revealed. It is now clear that the key to thriving in your golden years is to adopt a regular exercise program. In this article, we’ll answer 3 key questions regarding exercising as a senior:

Why you should do it?

How you should do it?

What else you should do to optimize your health?

Why Regular Exercise for Seniors is Important

The American Council of Aging has listed 10 biomarkers of health that are impaired as we age. These are:

  1. Muscle Mass
  2. Strength
  3. Bone Density
  4. Bone Composition
  5. Blood Lipids
  6. Hemodynamics
  7. Glucose Control
  8. Aerobic Capacity
  9. Gene Expression
  10. Brain Factors

Regular exercise has been proven to benefit every single one of those biomarkers of health. Let’s just consider a couple of them. 

Strength & Muscle Mass

As we age, we lose muscle mass at the rate of 8-10 percent per decade after the age of 50. That makes us weaker and less able to handle everyday tasks. The number one cause of traumatic death in people over the age of 65 is falling. The majority of those falls are due, not to a lack of balance, but to muscle weakness that prevents a person from producing force suddenly and, therefore, preventing a fall.

Strength training, a key component of a good fitness program, will dramatically improve both strength and muscle mass. In fact, a well-structured strength program can improve strength levels by as much as 300 percent over a period of 12 months.

Blood Flow

Hemodynamics has to do with the flow of blood around the body. Your heart will operate maximally if the volume on the input side equals the volume on the output side. So, the cardiac output out of the left side of your heart is directly proportional to the amount of blood that is delivered to the right side of the heart. In other words, if 500mls of blood comes in, then 500mls will go out. 

All the blood below the level of your heart gets there through muscle contraction and a one-way valve network that pushes the blood back to the heart. As we age, those muscle contractions weaken.  

Strength training causes more intense muscular contractions in the veins, pumping more blood into the heart with each contraction. This also increases the volume of blood that is pumped out of the left side of the heart. This also has the benefit of enhancing the backwash, which floods the coronary arteries and determines coronary artery blood flow. 

We have considered just two examples of how exercise can improve your life as a senior. Yet, they alone should convince you that regular exercise needs to be a vital part of a healthy senior lifestyle. 

The Best Types of Exercise for Seniors

The 6 foundational elements of total fitness are strength, mobility, flexibility, stability, agility, and endurance. Exercise for seniors should include all of them. That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to be working for hours every day. The following holistic workout program takes up around just 3 hours per week, yet it encompasses every aspect of total fitness and works every muscle in your body, including your most important muscle – the heart. 

Warming Up

You must warm-up before every workout. Doing so will raise your body temperature, increase the mobility of your joints, increase blood flow and get you mentally primed

Before every workout, jog on the spot for 2-3 minutes. If you have a jump rope, exercise bike, or rowing machine you can also spend a few minutes on it at a slow pace. If jogging, alternate between high knees and butt kicks for the last 60 seconds.

Strength Training

Strength training should form the foundation of your exercise for seniors program. That’s because it is the most beneficial form of exercise that exists, especially as you get older. 

I recommend following a three-day full-body strength training program. Resistance band workouts are an excellent option as they provide you with an affordable, portable, safe way to work your muscles through their full range of motion. Resistance band workouts allow you to do everything that you can do in a commercial gym right in the comfort of your own home. 

Perform your strength training resistance band workouts three times per week on alternate days. Here is an example of a good resistance band workout for seniors:

Resistance Band Squats  – 3 x 15 reps

Band Chest Press – 3 x 12 reps

Band Lat Pulldown – 3 x 12 reps on each leg

Band Shoulder Press – 2 x 10 reps

Band Curls – 2 x 12 reps

Band Tricep Pushdowns – 2 x 12 reps

Rest for 45 seconds between each set that you perform on your resistance band workouts. 

Mobility Training

Improving your mobility should be something that fits seamlessly into your exercise program. In other words, it doesn’t have to be a separate workout in its own right (though it can be) but, rather, can be included as an extension of your strength training workout.  

Mobility Exercises

  • Cat Cows
  • Standing Hip Circles
  • Leg Swings

 (Hold onto a chair if you find it hard to balance.) 

  • Lying Can Openers
  • Dynamic Crucifix 
  • Fire Hydrants

Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise is designed to improve the efficiency of your heart and lungs. It will also burn calories to help you lose weight, improve your endurance and enhance your balance and agility. Your cardio exercise for seniors plan should involve two parts: walking and doing a recreational activity. 

Plan to take a 20-30 minute walk every day. An ideal time to do so is in the evening, shortly after dinner. Walk in a leisurely manner, take deep breaths and enjoy the experience. Two to three times per week engage in a recreational outdoor activity that you enjoy.  This could be biking, playing pickleball, or going for a jog. Be sure to drink plenty of water and warm up before you begin with dynamic stretching.

What Else Should Seniors do to Optimize Their Health?

In addition to strength training, mobility drills, and cardio, a healthy senior lifestyle involves healthy nutritional practices. I recommend following the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate, which recommends that your plate be made up of . . .

  • Fruits and vegetables: ½ plate
  • Whole grains: ¼ plate
  • Protein: ¼ plate 
  • Healthy plant oils: in moderation
  • Consume 8-10 glasses of water every day

Get Professional Help Staying Healthy Into Your Golden Years

Exercise is the key to staying healthy in your golden years. It addresses all 10 of the biomarkers of health that have been identified by the American Council of Aging. A total fitness exercise for seniors plan should incorporate all 6 areas of fitness. Staying healthy can feel like a daunting task, but if you’re in the Orange County, California area, get help from professionals by calling 949-544-1557 and learn more about gym rooms and become part of the Fort Fitness family!

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