No matter your age or current fitness level, it’s never too late to start exercising—even in assisted living facilities. Movement has been shown to be key to a healthier, longer life. A study conducted in Sweden that was published in PLOS Magazine showed a direct correlation between regular moderate exercise and longevity, even among overweight participants. The study found that brisk walking for up to 75 minutes per week was associated with a gain of 1.8 years in life expectancy.
The Swedish study—and many others—clearly show that being active is one of the best things you can do for your health and to improve life expectancy. Exercise promotes healthy digestion, increases metabolic rate and helps with weight loss. It also has been shown to boost immunity, improve blood pressure and bone density, and lower the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise also reduces symptoms of illness and helps fight disease.
Here are some easy tips for increasing—or getting back into—physical activity that will help you stay safe and make it fun.
It’s essential to start exercising safely and carefully, especially if you haven’t moved in a while. Speak to your physician before starting any exercise program, especially if you have health issues or a pre-existing condition. Ask for recommendations and guidelines on activities that are safe to do and which ones to avoid. Take any health issues, conditions and medications you use into consideration when planning the next steps and creating an exercise routine. Prevent injury with proper hydration and by always stretching, warming up and cooling down.
Find an Activity You Will Enjoy
Once you have medical clearance from your physician, it’s time to get moving. Start by choosing an activity you enjoy so that you’ll stay motivated. An excellent choice for seniors—especially those just getting back into exercise—is to start a walking program. It can be done anywhere and the only equipment you need is good walking shoes. Water aerobics and sports are also a very safe way for seniors to exercise as the water reduces strain and stress on the body’s joints. Another great option is yoga, which can be adapted to all levels and helps boost strength, balance and flexibility. Many seniors enjoy Tai chi and qigong, martial arts-inspired systems that improve strength and balance while reducing stress. Many assisted living facilities offer group classes and Silver Sneakers classes are offered at facilities across the country.
Build Up Slowly
Slow and steady definitely wins the race when it comes to senior activity. Start a program slowly and build up steadily over time—this is especially important if you have not exercised in a while.
Here are some good ways to build slowly:
- Increase the length of a walk by just a minute every day.
- Do chair or wall exercises to slowly build strength and confidence.
- Take one senior exercise class during the first week of exercise and add another to the mix a week or two later.
- Do quick bursts of movement in 5- or 10-minute increments throughout the day. Start with one burst per day and add on as you feel stronger.
Incorporate Movement into Everyday Life
Fit activity into your daily activities and tasks whenever possible. NOTE: This is in addition to your exercise program! Here are a few easy ways to build more movement into daily life:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator once a day or more. If the destination is too high, get off the elevator a floor or two early.
- Take the long way to your destination.
- If you take public transportation, get off the bus or shuttle one stop early.
- Walk to local errands, visit a neighbor or walk a dog to add additional steps into your day.
- Turn a visit with a friend into a walking date.
- Take up gardening as a new hobby.
- Deep clean your living space or re-organize a closet.
Target All Four Pillars of Fitness
As you continue your fitness journey, strive to incorporate all 4 pillars of fitness: balance, flexibility, cardiovascular and strength. This will keep exercise fun and interesting while maximizing the benefits to your health, fitness and overall wellness. If you live in a facility that offers no classes that interest you, try streaming a workout, using a DVD or even visiting YouTube for some inspiration.
Here are some ideas for each pillar:
- Balance: Posture exercises, stability ball workouts, Pilates, yoga, Tai chi and other martial arts.
- Flexibility: Stretching, Pilates, yoga and dance.
- Cardiovascular: Aerobics, water aerobics, elliptical, treadmill, dance, and walking.
- Strength: Resistance bands, free weights, and gentle weight-bearing exercises, such as wall squats, planks, and bridges.
These tips will help you incorporate movement and exercise while providing a wealth of benefits, from improved bone mass and lower blood pressure to reduced stress and increased social connections.