Think exercise is just for the "younger set"? Think again. Exercise is important for seniors, as well -- even if someone has never exercised before.
Before starting an exercise program
Anyone thinking about beginning an exercise program should visit his or her doctor to make sure physical activity is okay, and what if any restrictions need to be in place.
How to get started with exercise for seniors
- Begin at the level of ability
Exercise for seniors isn't really any different than it is for younger people. A good exercise program is going to begin at that person's current level of ability. Visiting an exercise physiologist or therapist at a skilled nursing facility with a good outpatient program can give seniors a good idea of their current levels of fitness.
- Follow a structured, supervised program if necessary
It is also a good idea to consult with professionals before any program is started, and to follow a structured exercise program under the supervision of professionals if there are any cautions, pre-existing conditions, etc., that may mean unsupervised exercise is unsafe.
- Focus on "life skills"
Exercise for seniors isn't so much about developing a marvelous physique – although certainly, that can be a goal, as well. Instead, the real focus should be on developing and maintaining strength so that seniors stay independent and keep up on my skills. A good exercise program can help seniors:
Retain and improve strength levels to maintain independence and to keep energy levels up
Improve balance and prevent falls
Prevent or at least delay diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis
Bolster mood and counteract depression
Develop an exercise program for seniors that incorporates four types of exercise
Exercise for seniors should focus on four specific characteristics:
Even though exercise for seniors should focus on starting at each person's level of ability, the focus should be on making it as challenging as possible without risking injury. Exercising every day to the point of exertion, whereby seniors are breathing deeply (without being short of breath) and working up a sweat for at least 10 and up to 30 minutes at a time builds endurance, which is necessary to have the energy and staying power for a full and active life. Again, it is important to only work to a level of strenuous activity but not to a level of exhaustion. Clients should not be able to talk easily, but with some difficulty. If they can't talk at all, the level of exertion is too great.
Exercises that improve balance are important to prevent falls and other injuries. Exercises for seniors like tai chi are gentle enough that injury isn't a risk, and can be adjusted to almost any level of physical fitness. As fitness improves, the level of difficulty can be adjusted to be more challenging.
Exercise for seniors should include a good strength training program. Starting out with small free weights is one option; resistance bands can also improve muscle strength. Cardiovascular exercises like walking can be combined with strength training by placing small weighted bands on wrists and ankles.
Flexibility is important for mobility and to prevent falls. When seniors are more flexible, they can move more freely, and will have the ability to do the things that they need to do. Everything from daily living skills like tying shoes to having the capacity to look over one's shoulder when backing out of the driveway requires some flexibility.
Exercise for seniors should focus on strength, flexibility, balance and endurance so that they can stay healthy and active -- and retain their independence as long as possible.