Health Benefits of Exercise for Older Adults

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John F. Kennedy said it best: “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”

Physicians and researchers agree and the reasons are well documented.  Since staying physically active is particularly important for older adults currently, we’ve broken down a few of the most noticeable benefits and listed some of the best exercises to help seniors live a longer, healthier, and more joyous life.

1. More exercise means more independence for seniors:

According to Harvard Medical School, regular exercise promotes an older adults ability to walk, bathe, cook, eat, dress, and use the restroom. If self-reliance is a priority, exercise is one of the best ways to maintain independence for older adults.

2. Exercise improves balance for older adults:

More than 1 out of 4 older adults fall every year. But falls are preventable and are not an inevitable part of ageing. Though no two falls are alike, and preventing falls is complex, regular exercise reduces the likelihood of falling by 23%.

3. Exercise helps prevent and counteract disease:

Exercise has benefits for every body system. Meaning that it not only reduces how quickly the body ages, but it also helps prevent disease such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer. For those already living with chronic health conditions, adopting a more active lifestyle can reduce the unpleasant symptoms of these diseases.

4. Exercise helps seniors build bone density:

Aging, along with certain diseases and medications, can cause bones to become weak and fragile over time — a condition called osteoporosis. Exercise works on bones much like it works on muscles — it makes them stronger. When you exercise regularly, your bone adapts by building more bone and becoming denser.

5. Exercise helps seniors build muscle mass:

Similarly, when you don’t activate your muscles, the loss of muscle mass and their associated functions accelerates. Since there is an intimate relationship between skeletal muscle and bone density, if you build one, you build the other.  Put another way: If you don’t use it, you lose it!

man exercising
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

The Brain Benefits of Physical Activity

One of the most remarkable developments in modern health science is the revelation that the mind and the body are much more closely connected than previously thought. Studies of adults aged 50+ show that physical activity and executive function are closely interlinked.

The term ‟executive functions” refers to the higher-level cognitive skills you use to control and coordinate things like memory and behaviour.

Interestingly, the two have a reciprocal and dynamic relationship: changes in executive function can enhance and promote physical activity over time, and changes in activity level can improve future executive function.

More to the point, research into the protective role of physical activity shows that regular exercise significantly reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia by 45% and 30% respectively.

It’s important to note that physical exercise does not just mean playing a sport or running. It can also mean a daily activity such as brisk walking, cleaning or gardening.

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The Best Exercises for Seniors

The World Health Organization recommends aerobic and strength exercise, as well as balance exercises to reduce the risk of falls. For older adults who are limited by health conditions or mobility challenges, try to be as active as your ability or condition allows. At the end of the day, the best exercise is the one that you can do.

Before you launch into an exercise regimen, it’s important to check with a physician to ensure you’re healthy enough for exercise, and to see which exercises are ideal for your current fitness level.

Chair yoga

Chair yoga is a low-impact form of exercise that improves muscle strength, mobility, balance, and flexibility, all of which are crucial health aspects for seniors. As a bonus, chair yoga has been shown to improve mental health in older adults.

Great chair yoga exercises for seniors include:

  • Overhead stretch
  • Seated cat and cow stretches
  • Seated mountain pose
  • Seated twist

Resistance band workout

Resistance bands exercises are ideal for strengthening your core, which improves posture, mobility, and balance. For seniors with balance challenges, be careful when bending over to manipulate the band – ask for professional help to determine which exercises are safe for your given challenges.

Resistance band workouts for seniors include:

  • Leg press
  • Lateral raise
  • Bicep curl
  • Band pull apart

Walking

Walking is an accessible and effective cardio exercise that to get your blood flowing, strengthen your legs and arms, stretch your lower limbs, and improve your mobility and balance. While distance and step goals differ from person to person, doctors recommend that seniors age 65 and older aim for  2.5 hours of walking every week.

Ideas for walking exercises for seniors:

  • Walk the perimeter of a familiar building
  • Find an audiobook or a playlist to keep you company
  • Try heel to toe walking
  • Join an All Seniors Care walking group

Body weight exercises

Body weight workouts are one of the best ways to counteract the effects of muscle atrophy in older adults. The materials required for body weight workouts are minimal: loss comfortable clothing and possibly a chair.

Some great body weight workouts for seniors include:

  • Squats to chair
  • Bird dog
  • Lying hip bridges
  • Side leg lifts
  • Wall push-ups

Walker Lifts

Walker lifts require and improve core stability, balance, and shoulder strength by utilizing the walker itself. Before trying to perform a walker lift, first ensure that your balance is good enough by momentarily stepping away from your walker (have someone spot you just in case). If you have adequate balance, all you have to do is take hold of your walker and raise it one or two inches off the ground. This exercise is easy to perform anywhere, as you’ll always have the necessary equipment with you!

Water aerobics

Exercising in the water is ideal for those living with arthritis and other forms of joint pain, as the buoyancy of the water puts less stress on your joints. Additionally, water brings natural resistance, which eliminates the need for weights in strength training.

Great water aerobics exercises for seniors include:

  • Aqua walking
  • Flutter kicking
  • Leg lifts
  • Standing water push-ups
  • Arm circles
swimming pool
Pre-Covid 19 picture, Chateau Symmes RR, Aylmer, Quebec

Exercise with the help of a supportive community

For many, the coronavirus and the associated stay at home orders, means a reduction in overall physical activity.  In an ASC supportive living community, getting physical is always a priority in our activity calendars.

All Seniors Care senior housing provides an accessible a physical and social environment, which encourages and enables residents to be physically active, independent, and social in a safe manner. Our supportive retirement community will hep motivate seniors to get active and celebrate your achievements.

If you want to learn more about life at one senior housing options, get in touch with us today and ask about residences near you.

 

(from 2015)

 

Writer:   Julianna McLeod

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