Live Better as You Age and Exercise

When I was younger, I never worried about my health or quality of life. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how important that is from my own experience and from working with older personal training clients. My senior clients, some of whom are in better shape than I am, have taught me about the importance of being healthy and taking care of our bodies for the future. Even more important, they’ve taught me that it’s never too late to start exercising.

You Can Stop the Clock

Despite all the anti-aging products pushed on us, it’s inevitable that we will get older. However, some of the things we lose as we age can actually be prevented, including:

  • Strength and muscle: Sarcopenia is the fancy term scientists have given to describe loss of muscle, strength, and quality of tissue often seen in older adults. Some experts have suggested that muscle mass declines about 1 percent each year from age 30.
  • Cardio endurance: As we age, we often lose aerobic fitness and experts believe this contributes to reduced mobility in daily life.
  • Flexibility: Joints change with age and this can lead to stiffness, decreased range of motion and more injuries
  • Balance: Each year, hospitals see thousands of older patients for broken hips due to falling. Balance exercises can help you avoid injuries from falls and keep you independent and mobile.

The good news is that the loss of strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance aren’t inevitable. The National Institute on Aging believes that “when older people lose their ability to do things on their own, it doesn’t happen just because they have aged. More likely it is because they have become inactive.” (Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging)

It’s Never Too Late

No matter how old you are, exercise can improve your quality of life and you don’t have to spend a lot of time doing it to see and feel improvements. Like everyone else, seniors need to engage in cardio, strength training, and flexibility exercises to stay healthy and maintain as much strength and functionality as possible.

Strength Training for Seniors

Strength training has incredible benefits for everyone, but especially for seniors. Experts believe that “resistance exercise may forestall declines in strength and muscle mass for decades.”

Before you get started, it’s essential to get checked out by your doctor. If you have any conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, high blood pressure or heart disease, you’ll need to learn the types of exercises you can and can’t do. Use the following guidelines to set up your program:

  • Lift weights for all muscle groups (lower body, chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and abs) at least 2 non-consecutive days each week. Use a chair if you need the extra support.
  • Start with no weights or light weights to practice the exercises and condition your body. You can use dumbbells, machines, and/or resistance bands
  • Do each exercise for at least 1 set of 10-15 repetitions.
  • Progress by adding more sets (with rest in between) and/or increasing the weights each week.
  • Focus on having good form for each exercise.
  • Be sure to warm up with light exercise before lifting weights.

If you’ve never lifted weights before, you may want to work with a personal trainer to learn the proper way to lift. Make sure your trainer has experience in working with seniors, particularly if you have any medical conditions, injuries or joint problems.

You’ll also find ideas in this Total Body Workout for Seniors. The exercises are only suggestions, so avoid exercises that cause pain or dizziness or that may aggravate any injuries you have.

Cardio Exercise for Seniors

Because endurance can decline over the years, it’s important to engage in some type of aerobic exercise. The National Institute on Aging recommends seniors shoot for 30 minutes of cardio exercise each day. To get started:

  • See your doctor first if you have any medical issues.
  • Choose an activity you enjoy and something that’s accessible such as walking, swimming, biking, tennis, etc.
  • If you’ve never exercised or it’s been a while, start with 5-10 minutes of cardio 3 times a week and allow your body time to get used to it. Each week, add a few minutes until you can move continuously for 30 or more minutes.
  • Work at a moderate intensity. You should be able to carry on a conversation
  • Always warm up with 5 or more minutes of light activity.
  • Stretch after your workout.

Strength Training for Seniors

Strength training is another important element of your exercise program for keeping your muscles and bones strong and fit. This is often the most confusing part of exercise, but there are some simple workouts to help you get started:

You can also check out your local gym or health club to find out what kinds of classes they offer for seniors. It’s much more fun and motivating to workout with friends.

Flexibility & Balance for Seniors

It’s important to stay flexible as you get older, so plan on stretching after your workouts or incorporate yoga into your routine. Be sure your muscles are warm when you stretch, either from working out or after getting out of a hot bath or shower. In addition to a basic flexibility workout, be sure to incorporate balance exercises into your day.

Remember that any activity is better than none, so start with something easy and enjoyable. You’ll find that, over time, exercise can help you improve your quality of life and help you age gracefully.