Exercising for Seniors: What Activities Work the Best?

In Health by Companions for Seniors

From age nine to age 95, fitness is crucial for maintaining your overall health and well-being.

As U.S. News & World Report points out, numerous studies have shown that exercising regularly can help people of all ages to:

  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Increase stamina and endurance
  • Improve strength and balance
  • Reduce the risk of developing chronic illnesses
  • Increase positive feelings and self esteem
  • Improve brain health and mental function

For older adults, a little movement truly can make an enormous difference. Because of the way our bodies age, seniors are likely to lose some of their muscle mass, bone density, and balance as time goes on. Adopting some sort of physical fitness routine – tailored to the senior’s goals, preferences, and ability – can help older adults slow or reverse these negative trends, allowing them to stay independent and mobile for longer.

In fact, a prominent study out of Spain reveals that being active just two times a week can have major health benefits for adults well into their 90s, including significantly improved flexibility and strength.

Older adults who take steps to remain strong and stable over the years are minimizing their risk for severe slip and fall accidents. Seniors who are in better physical shape also may also find it easier to complete routine activities of daily living (ADLs) around the house, such as sitting and standing, moving from room to room, and performing light housekeeping. As a result, these older adults may be able to maintain their standard of living and independence for much longer overall.

What activities are going to be most beneficial to older adults looking to improve their health and maintain their independence?

Generally speaking, everyone’s fitness regimen should be unique, and tailored to their individual needs. However, for seniors looking to maintain their overall quality of life through fitness, the NIH’s National Institute of Aging recommends choosing activities from four focus areas: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.

The NIA advises seniors and their caregivers to “be creative,” and choose activities that allow you to experience “all four types of exercise.”

Need some ideas to get started? Courtesy of the NIA, here are some effective exercises and movement from each of those four major categories:

Endurance

The NIA describes endurance exercises as those that focus on your aerobic health. These exercises are designed to help increase your breathing and heart rate.

Some ideas for endurance-focused activities include:

  • Taking a walk
  • Jogging
  • Working around the house (gardening, sweeping, raking)
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Solo or team sports
  • Dancing

Strength

Strength training is about working your major muscle groups, which can help you remain mobile and active. Strength training may involve:

  • Exercising with resistance bands
  • Doing body weight exercises
  • Using hand weights or exercise machines

The NIA breaks down some low-impact activities that may help strengthen your upper and lower body, here.

Balance

Performing activities to help maintain and improve your balance can pay off in other parts of your life. Improving your balance can make it easier to walk up and down stairs, and get around without suffering a fall.

To help improve their balance seniors may want to focus on low-impact activities such as:

  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga
  • Core strength exercises
  • Standing on one foot
  • Strengthening legs

Flexibility

Flexibility is about stretching, so that you can comfortably extend your range of motion when you need to reach, squat, or move around the house. Activities that may boost balance include:

  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Focused breathing
  • Simple stretches (toe touches, arm rotations, side stretches)
  • Light dancing
  • Water walking

Safety First!

With all this being said, it’s also important to realize that older adults may be limited in how and how much they can exercise, particularly at first. Safety is paramount, whether it’s your first time exercising, or your fiftieth.

The NIA encourages older adults to trust their bodies; if an activity seems too strenuous while you’re doing it, you may be pushing too hard.

They also recommend starting slowly and working up to more high-impact activities, taking steps to warm up and cool down after vigorous movement, and always staying hydrated. In many cases, it’s also going to be important for older adults to have a spotter or buddy nearby, to help out in case anything goes wrong. Finally, the NIA reminds seniors to always dress appropriately for physical activity, which might mean dressing in layers before going outside, or staying indoors if it’s too hot or cold outdoors.

Most importantly? The NIA reminds seniors and caregivers to talk with a health care provider before making a big change in an older adult’s physical activity level. Be sure to discuss any health conditions you have, and make sure you discuss the specifics of your physical activity plan, to make sure it’s safe and suitable.

Finding the Fitness Plan That Works for You

Finally, it’s important to remember that for older adults, adopting a physical fitness plan is about making changes that will empower you to live a more full and complete life. It’s important to find activities that you love, and that you’ll want to stick with over time. Staying motivated is a key part of being active in the long-term.

In addition to finding activities that you like and which you’ll be able to stick with, it often helps for seniors to write down goals and aspirations, so that they can come up with a plan to work toward them. Having an end goal in mind can help make it easier for you and your care team to choose where to put your focus. For instance, as U.S. News put it:

“It’s all well and good to do seated stretching exercises, but when it comes time to get up out of the chair, do you have the leg strength to do that? Are you able to negotiate the stairs that lead into your house?”

In other words, it’s all about fun and functionality. Finding the right physical activity for seniors may involve figuring out the best way to balance their wellness goals, their physical restrictions or limits, their interests, and the amount of time they can devote to getting active.

How Caregivers Can Help

Caregivers certainly have an important role to play in helping seniors stay active, as well.

Being there to support and assist your aging loved ones over time can give them the drive it takes to stay motivated. Family caregivers can also help transport older adults to exercise groups or classes, and help them stay active outside of regular fitness sessions by leading walks or helping their family members do chores around the house.

When a family needs additional support for their aging loved one, there is also professional help available. A professional in-home caregiver or companion can help step in when you need them, providing personalized care for your senior loved ones. In-home caregivers can help fill in the gaps in your care plan and give you and your your older loved ones the additional support you need, whether that means providing driving services, assisting the senior with ADLs, helping with housekeeping or meal prep, or just providing a friendly face to share meals and go on walks.

This is where Companions for Seniors would love to step in and help!

About Companions for Seniors

At Companions for Seniors, we offer a variety of services designed to help our clients remain in the comfort of their own homes, while ensuring that their most essential needs are met. Our trained and bonded Companions are available on a full- or part-time basis, and can offer driving services in the comfort of a company car.

Our services are flexible, convenient, and it’s easy to get started. Companions for Seniors provides a free in-home assessment of your current situation, and in most cases we can be up and running in just a few days. We understand that every situation is unique, so we provide a personalized care plan that’s modified to meet each client’s specific needs. As a client’s situation changes, so does our plan of care.

Have any more questions about giving your senior family the support and assistance they need? Ready to reach out for help? Don’t hesitate to drop us a line today to get the conversation started, or give us a call at 866-910-9020.