If you are a living breathing creature, you need exercise. A story I read last week says this, “All seniors know they need exercise…” It’s not that seniors specifically need exercise and everyone else can continue on until they reach a magical age and then exercise. It’s that once you become a senior you need to have a plan to reduce your risk of serious ailment because otherwise it’s harder (and costlier) for you to recover than it is for your younger counterparts. Dr. Nancy Lee, the director for the Office on Women’s Health, recently wrote about the things she wished someone had told her when she was younger. She wrote that she wished that someone had told her when she was still in her 20s that she needed to fall in love with exercising. Her point? If you wait until you are older, it will be harder to begin later. More importantly I think, is that it gives you something to talk about with your children and grandchildren so they don’t fail to take up exercising when they are young. Here are five activities that seniors can do to stay safe while exercising in their own homes.
- Strengthen your core. Balance is an important part of staying active. As a very young child you probably wobbled a bit while walking and you had the usual outcome…you fell. While that can be upsetting for the diaper-clad younger set, older adults are missing the padding, shorter distance to the ground and ability to bounce back after a quick soothing. Getting out of bed quickly, reaching something on a high shelf and walking on an uneven surface can threaten your sense of balance. If you remember walking the curb when you were younger, you have one solution to improving your balance. (Stay off the curb though.) Place one foot in front of the other and follow an imaginary line or walk on uneven surfaces such as along the line created by carpeting on a bare floor. If you are alone and already have balance issues, use a chair or railing for support.
- Pant a little. Exercises that increase your heartbeat and cause your breathing to pick up improve both your heart and your lungs. Brisk walking, raking leaves, bicycling or swimming all constitute aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise builds up your stamina, reduces stress (and causes a natural high), strengthens your immune system, helps keep excess weight off, decreases your risk of breast cancer and improves your overall health.
- Build up your muscles. If you’ve ever tried to lift something you used to carry with ease, you understand that aging brings with it some weakness. While an in shape 60 year old may never be able to compete against an in shape 20 year old, the aim isn’t competing, it’s to stay independent. It takes muscle strength to get out of a chair, carry groceries in from the car or walk from the car to the store. Not being able to do those things brings you ever closer to having to hire someone to do those things for you or move to somewhere that will do those things for you. Either way, you’ll lose independence and it will probably cost you.
- Stretch yourself. Just about everything loses elasticity over time and your muscles are no different. Stretching allows you to maintain a full range of motion, have better posture and experience fewer aches and pains. Stretching also helps you feel happier and more positive and boosts self-esteem. It can also make you feel less tired, improve flexibility, prevent injury and allow you to sleep soundly. You can add stretching to your routine by taking a yoga class.
- Play some games. Video games have made it easy to have a bit of fun while also exercising. There’s a video game out there for just about everything from bowling to fencing, basketball to ping pong. The benefits include being able to do your sport anywhere there is a television and a game system and the fact that anybody of any ability can play. People with Alzheimer’s and those in wheelchairs are as capable of “smoking” the competition as the next person is.
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIH), even moderate exercise can improve the health of older adults who are frail or have diseases. Being physically active can help you stay strong enough to do things you like as you get older and will help you maintain your independence. The opposite, that is inactivity, can lead to more trips to the doctor, more hospitalizations and a greater need for medicines. Exercise is also an effective “medicine” for many chronic conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, or diabetes. In addition to all those benefits, exercise improves cognitive functioning and provides a means to be socially active. Research seems to point to exercise in combination with other healthy habits as a means to postpone or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease. That alone would make it a worthwhile endeavor. One MoneyWatch article suggests you can save thousands of dollars per year on medical bills and extend your lifespan by five to seven years by making smart nutrition, exercise and lifestyle choices. Isn’t that something you’d be willing to build up a sweat for?