Senior fitness is more than just physical activity. In fact, a 2013 study concluded that senior-oriented fitness programs improve quality of life. And dozens more studies over the past two decades indicate that the physical results of senior fitness may vary, but a positive outlook is almost universal among seniors who exercise regularly.
This is why many senior living communities offer fitness options for their residents. If you visit senior housing these days, you might see anything from yoga or tai chi classes to jogging groups, personal trainers, or even high-intensity training. Senior living residents stay fit in a variety of ways. What follows is a closer look at fitness options for seniors, along with safety tips to help prevent injury.
Senior fitness means starting smart
When your body recovers quickly as a younger adult, it can be fun to lift a few extra pounds, to run a little farther than last time or to try out a tricky new stretch.
When you are 55 or older, however, it can be dangerous to push too hard or too fast. Strains, sprains and other pains take longer to heal, so it’s important to be realistic as you set your fitness goals. Make sure to drink plenty of water when working out, and do warm-ups before getting into rigorous activity.
As a senior living resident, you may have access to indoor workout spaces. If not, plan ahead for outdoor exercise based on the weather. In summer, wait until the cooler evening or early morning hours before going on a hike. In the winter, add extra layers if you ski or play outdoor team sports. In rainy climates, wear bright clothing when you jog along a wet or foggy road with low visibility.
Variety is the spice of senior fitness
“Keep the body guessing” is a favorite phrase of personal trainers. Too much use of one muscle group can overwork those muscles, leaving them sore. Senior living residents can avoid this by sticking with a varied exercise routine. Stretch exercises are great for seniors. If your mobility is limited, focus on stretching out the parts of your body that can still be moved without causing you pain. Daily stretching is a great way to maintain balance and to prevent muscle atrophy, the loss of muscle mass and function.
Senior aerobics can be risky, but they can also pay off. Start slow and work up to an active pace any time exercise quickens your heart rate. End the aerobics session with a cool-down period, such as stretching in place or walking around until your heart rate slows back down.
Calisthenics focus on rhythm and motion. Using your own body weight is less expensive than a gym membership and is very effective. If you haven’t done sit-ups, push-ups or other calisthenics in a few years, start with light repetitions and gradually increase the number of reps you complete each time.
Senior fitness may require working through some excuses
Physical ailments or medical conditions can limit how well senior living residents stay fit. However, the most common resistance to fitness is a senior’s own attitude.
In 2015, the sports and fitness industry grew 3.5 percent to $84.4 billion in total sales. Fitness videos, gyms and advances in health research turned the industry into what it is today, while working out before the 1970s was uncommon outside of sports or military life.
Many of today’s seniors grew up before fitness became a cultural force. Some retirees stick with the attitude that exercise is not necessary, and they decide it’s too late for them to start working out.
If you work with senior living residents, it’s not a good idea to insist that they change their attitude. Start small, such as by planning walks around the community. Make sure to speak about fitness as a conversation, not as a lecture. Over time, excuses such as “I’m too tired” or “I’ll just get hurt” just might evolve into “let’s go for a jog” or “when is the next Pilates class?”
Remember, each person has a unique set of fitness needs. The best way to help senior living residents stay fit is to work together on a routine that meets those unique needs, rather than assuming one-size fits-all approach.