Exercising for Seniors (Part 1 of 4)

As we age, we face physical challenges, which can increase if we are inactive. Increasing physical activity as we become an older adult is essential for maintaining mobility and independence, and is also important in the prevention and avoidance of injuries, and even in maintaining conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes and osteoporosis. However, with an age range varying anywhere between 65 and 90 or more years old, it is difficult to know which exercises you, can, and should do.

The primary variable determining how you should approach exercise is based on how active you’ve been leading up to older adulthood. Three different categories can be assumed: those who have exercised throughout their entire life; those who have over-exercised, and have sustained/are prone to injury; and those who have maintained low activity levels during most of their life, and are now getting into exercise, and wanting to be more active in retirement. We will focus on the latter, as the majority of older adults do not have the knowledge, nor the resources, to know which exercises to focus on. Those who have exercised their entire life are aware enough of their body and its needs to exercise well into their adult life, and those who have over-exercised, and have remaining injuries from sports or exercise earlier in their life should consult a medical professional or personal trainer to overcome their injury and gain exercise knowledge specific to their individual needs.

Generally, the cardio component of physical activity for an older adult is reduced: when performing cardiovascular activity, the older adult should be able to maintain a conversation, and not be out of breath. When transitioning into exercise from an inactive lifestyle, start walking for cardio activity. Work your way up to 30 minutes of walking, three times weekly; start with five minutes, and gradually increase your walking duration. If you are currently already walking more than this duration, work up to 15 minutes, and progressively increase the time.

It is not only cardio activity that you should focus on as an older adult. Light weight training and performing exercises using a rubber band are integral in maintaining healthy joints and muscles. These exercises can be performed at home or at a gym, and do not require gym equipment; exercises can be performed even using soup cans as weights.

It is easy to suggest to begin cardio and light training as a means of becoming physically active as an older adult. However, it is difficult to know which exercises to do; over the next three articles, we will focus on exercises for three different regions: the upper body; the core; and the legs and lower body. These regions represent problematic areas, and areas of particular importance in the older adult’s body. As you work through these future exercises, keep in mind to perform them in a way that’s comfortable yet challenging for your body, and focus on enjoying the accomplishment of physically progressing, even in your retirement years.