We all need exercise at any age, and the National Institute of Aging recommends at least 30 minutes of vigorous activity in your routine every day.
Physical activity helps older adults improve and maintain balance, flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance. But when the winter comes, it’s not easy to get outside for those brisk walks or a leisurely bike ride. Between the colder temperatures, snow and ice, many seniors take their exercise indoors for safety and comfort. Here are some ways to keep active this season.
Dancing. Whether ballet or foxtrot, dancing keeps minds and bodies healthy. You can dance alone, with a partner or in a group, and enjoy music at the same time. Ballet steps and poses have been shown to improve posture and dancing in general is a great way to enjoy social time with friends. As with any form of exercise—particularly as we get older—it’s important to stretch and warm up beforehand, and be careful not to overdo it.
Yoga. This popular form of exercise, combined with elements of mindfulness, is a wonderful year-round activity. It’s gentle, quiet, and low impact and you can do yoga in a chair. Yoga is said to increase flexibility, help improve balance and strength, and lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. Poses can be easily modified to avoid injury or to accommodate physical needs or restrictions, while still providing great benefit. Several JCHC communities offer yoga and balance & mindfulness classes for residents to work on their balance, stretching, and stress reduction.
Gym workouts. Weight-bearing exercise is good for bone health and a light cardio workout is important for young and old alike. Treadmills, stair climbers, recumbent bikes, weight machines, and more provide many options for maintaining muscle tone and cardiac health. Working with a personal trainer or instructor will ensure you are using the equipment properly and are handling the right weights for your level of fitness and ability. Lester Senior Living in Whippany and Village Apartments in South Orange have nicely equipped fitness rooms with a variety of equipment and space for exercise classes.
Swimming. This low-impact form of exercise improves balance, flexibility, endurance, and strength. Senior aquacise is a popular and fun swim class. Moving gently in the water can provide benefit for seniors who have limited mobility, and water exercise may be helpful for those with arthritis or joint pain.
Walking. Walking outdoors gives you fresh air along with the exercise but indoor walking is a fine way to keep moving. Make sure you wear sneakers or comfortable walking shoes, that the area is well lit, and that the track or route is free of trip hazards. Mall walking with a small group is popular—many shopping malls have early hours before the stores open for mall walkers. Find out if a local community center or senior center has an indoor walking track or an area suitable to walk. Residents at Jewish Federation Plaza in West Orange enjoy walking the Promenade, which connects the buildings.
Benefits of exercise for seniors
Regular exercise activities such as those noted above are key factors in helping prevent falls. Exercise that strengthens and tones muscles, improves mental state and alertness, and keeps bodies more limber will enhance one’s balance.
Aerobic exercise (such as using a treadmill or bike, or swimming) is good for the heart and lungs, and improves oxygen flow which is good for the brain as well. Incorporating arm movements into walking helps pump up the workout.
Simple stretching—before or during an exercise class—helps combat the loss of elasticity many older adults deal with, which decreases range of motion. Staying limber helps one perform many daily tasks—think of how many times we reach for things every day.
Regardless of what type of exercise you enjoy, make sure it’s comfortable and suited to your abilities, and remember to listen to your body. It’s good to challenge yourself somewhat but don’t push yourself too hard—it’s not a competition!