It’s easy to assume that, as we get older, our physical capabilities decline. And maybe there’s nothing we can do about it.
While our bodies certainly age — I hate to admit it, but my back pain has definitely gotten worse as I’ve gotten older — it doesn’t mean that we can’t work out.
Seniors especially might approach exercise with apprehension. But in reality, there are exercises for seniors that not only improve strength, but balance as well.
What’s the best form of exercise for seniors?
According to the CDC, seniors need at least “150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity,” like a brisk walk, or “75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity,” like hiking or running.
Additionally, seniors should do strength exercises twice a week and balancing-improving activities three times a week.
Why do seniors need to exercise?
According to a study conducted in 2018, exercise is imperative for seniors not only to improve strength, but balance as well.
The study found that exercise can “contribute to maintaining quality of life, health, and physical function and reducing falls among older people in general and older people with morbidities in particular.” Researchers found that completing balance activities more than three hours per week reduced falls among participants by 21%.
Researchers also concluded that exercise among seniors decreased cardiovascular mortality, as well as potentially benefiting brain centers “that support executive control.”
It should be noted, however, that researchers recommend that seniors be active for six months or longer to “attain a high level of cardiorespiratory fitness.” Researchers noted that this level of physical activity might also be needed for balance exercises.
How much exercise is too much for seniors?
According to a study conducted in 2012, vigorous exercise that exceeds 7.5 hours a week can be detrimental one’s health. The study found that strenuous and excessive exercise “may be associated with coronary artery calcification, diastolic dysfunction, and large-artery wall stiffening,” while noting that “this concept is still hypothetical” and “there is some inconsistency in the reported findings.”
It’s worth noting that the study wasn’t conducted on seniors, but it’s fairly safe to say that any adverse effects from excessive exercise will have a similar toll on seniors.
Exercise for seniors to do at home
In order to maintain both strength and balance, seniors need to participate in low-impact strength twice a week. According to Today, strength training for seniors can prevent the loss of bone mass, “which is necessary to prevent osteoporosis and other major health problems.”
Today recommended that seniors do the following exercises:
According to Today, dead bugs can help work your core without taking a toll on your joints. Simply lie down on your back and make sure that your back and shoulders are flat on the ground the whole time. Then, lift your hands above your shoulders while lifting your legs and bending at the knees. Engage your core and lower your opposite leg and arm — and hover them over the floor. Repeat on the other side, and continue for five repetitions.
Per Today, glute bridges are great for targeting your “glutes, hitting the quads and hamstrings.” Start by lying on your back and placing your feet on the floor, while keeping your knees bent. Keep your arms flat by your side. Then drive your hips up, by pressing down on your heels, and squeeze your glutes at the top. Slowly return to your original position and do 10 repetitions.
Seated overhead press
This one is pretty simple — all you need is light dumbbells and a chair. Take a seat on your chair while keeping your back straight and core engaged. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and hold them at your shoulders. Make sure your palms are facing away from you. As you keep your wrists straight, press your dumbbells up into a straight line. Slowly lower your dumbbells back down and repeat 10 times.
Chair calf raises
This is another simple exercise that only requires a chair. Start by standing with your hands on the back of your chair. Shift your weight into the balls of your feet and lift your heels off the ground, so all of your weight is in your toes. Slowly come down and repeat for 10 repetitions.
Body weight squats
As Today points out, lower body strength is pivotal for everyday tasks. Easy body weight squats — with the help of a chair — is a great way to build strength. Place a chair behind you, and place your feet should-width apartment. Engage your core, and keep your chest up, as you squat down. Slowly move down until your thighs are as close to parallel to the floor as you can get them. Press up on your heels to stand back up. Do this exercise for 10 repetitions.
Think of wall pushups as classic pushups’ low-impact cousin: they’re a great way to build upper body strength, without the physical strain. Begin by standing in front of a wall at arm’s length. Place your hands on the wall, a little wider than shoulder width. Take a step back while keeping your legs straight, with your weight centered in the balls of your feet. Activate your core, keep your body straight and slowly lower your chest to the wall. Push back up and repeat 10 times.
Consider practicing stress fitness — if you can
As a longevity expert told CNBC, the key to living longer and preventing bodies from “aging fast” could be stress fitness.
What is stress fitness?
According to CNBC, “Stress fitness is a way of exercising the body with short bursts of stress.” According to a 2018 study, short-term stress can “be harnessed clinically to safely and effectively enhance immuno-protection, and functionally to enhance mental and physical performance.”
Additionally, per CNBC, stress fitness “can improve the health and regenerative life span of your cells, instead of slowly wearing them out.”
How can you practice stress fitness?
As Dr. Elissa Epel, longevity expert, told CNBC, there are a few ways that you can incorporate stress fitness into your life.
High intensity interval training (HIIT)
Epel recommended completing a HIIT routine for seven minutes total. HIIT exercises include:
- Jumping jacks.
- High knees.
- Jump squats.
- Side planks.
Complete a HIIT exercise for 30 seconds and follow it up with 10 seconds of rest.
It should be noted that HIIT exercises typically require a certain level of fitness. Epel recommended, “Find your edge of intensity with speed where you feel some discomfort or struggle.”
But if you’re not quite there yet, Epel recommended starting with “something accessible,” like a brisk outdoor walk.
Take a cold shower
This is probably the easiest stress routine you can practice — depending on your cold tolerance. According to CNBC, “Studies have found that taking a quick, cold shower can decrease inflammation, increase longevity and improve your metabolism.”
But don’t push yourself — there’s no need to take a 15-minute, freezing cold shower. Instead, Epel recommended turning the dial to cold after a warm shower. Try to see how long you can handle it.
As Epel recommended, “Push yourself to your edge in the same way you would with exercise, then relax into it.”
Try heat exposure
Heat exposure, under the right circumstances, can “turn on positive stress,” per CNBC.
Epel said that more research needs to be conducted, but “some studies have found links between sauna bathing and lower risks of cardiovascular issues and inflammation.”
Since your heart rate goes up as you’re in a sauna, Epel recommended sitting in a sauna for at least 30 minutes. If you go to a gym, it’s likely that you’ll have sauna access there.
But before you try stress fitness, or perhaps any other fitness routine, Epel suggests checking with your doctor first.