Good nutrition, proper rest and medical care are all recognized as important elements of
senior health. Social media and marketing professionals do an outstanding job of
targeting seniors with information (and misinformation) about food, drugs, Medicare
plans, and sleep aids. There is another essential element for maintaining good senior
health that is not heavily advertised. Regular physical exercise is a key to maintaining
seniors’ good health.
Participating in regular strengthening exercise promotes emotional and mental health as
well as physical wellbeing. It can be of benefit in managing medical conditions often
seen in seniors including arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and back pain.
Beyond all of that, strength training will make daily living a far more enjoyable
experience. Climbing stairs, carrying groceries, or simply rising from a chair unaided are
tasks that younger people do without a thought. As we age, these simple abilities can
become more and more of a challenge, but regular strength exercises can keep seniors
independent, mobile and healthy.
It is a common misconception that “bodybuilding” or muscle-building exercises are
exclusively for the young, but this is not true. The fact is that as you age, regular
exercise is more important than ever. Some studies have concluded that exercise is the
single most important factor in determining longevity. Physical activity, including
strength or resistance training, was more important than any other factor studied, even
more important than the BMI (BMI measures how “fat” you are). More immediately,
strengthening through functional movements like sitting and rising will translate to
improved performance at everyday tasks.
Strength training exercises are easy for seniors to learn, safe, and they are effective in
avoiding or overcoming common physical problems. If you have not exercised for some
time (or never), you should check with your healthcare provider before starting any
exercise program. The most effective programs are often conducted by organized
groups at places like senior centers or YMCAs. However, the threat of Covid exposure
and the requirement of “social distancing” has made this uncomfortable for many
seniors. If you are still wary of group situations, there are alternatives.
If you are a member of a Medicare Advantage plan, one of the benefits may be
automatic membership in the Silver Sneakers program. Silver Sneakers conducts
scheduled, online exercise programs specifically aimed at seniors and their needs. You
can check eligibility at https://tools.silversneakers.com/. You may be already eligible
because of your Medicare plan. If the Silver Sneakers option is not available, try your
local senior center or YMCA. These centers have specialized programs, often listed
under names like “Active Older Adult Resources.”
If group participation is not your thing, you can accomplish a lot on your own. Once
again, the Silver Sneakers website can help out with photo illustrations of strength or
“resistance” exercises that can be performed in privacy at home. Many of these require
no special equipment at all or a minimal investment. The government’s CDC publishes
a PDF booklet titled “Growing Stronger-Strength Training for Older Adults.” Like the
Silver Sneakers website, this booklet is filled with useful tips, including illustrations of
safe exercises for developing strength.
Common strength-building exercises advocated by senior health experts include-
Squats for strengthening legs, hips and thighs. Building strength in these muscle
groups makes walking, climbing stairs or just getting through a long day easier,
Squats require no equipment except a sturdy chair.
Wall pushups for strengthening arms, shoulders and chest muscles. This is a
modified version of the standard pushup requiring only a sturdy, unobstructed
Toe Stands for building stronger ankles and calves. It will also improve balance,
a critical element in maintaining mobility.
Step-Ups for building strength in legs and hips. This exercise will also improve
balance, and it requires only a small set of stairs,
Knee Curls and Knee Extensions for strengthening weak knees, the muscles of
the thighs and the backs of legs (hamstrings). These muscles are involved in
mobility and everyday tasks.
For more advanced seniors, exercises like the pelvic tilt and back extensions can build
strength in the back and hips. Like those above, they are described and illustrated in
free publications like the CDC’s booklet, “Growing Stronger-Strength Training for Older
Adults.” This is a free download.
At some point, you may want to purchase very basic exercise aids like hand weights
(dumbbells) or an exercise resistance band. These weights and bands provide the
“resistance” needed for some strength training exercises. Informative instruction can be
seen at the website, “The Beginner’s Guide to Exercise Bands.”
It is important to remember your limitations. Injuring yourself in an inappropriate
exercise program can result in a reduction in your activity level. Pick one of the
exercises described in the sources above and adhere to their good advice: start slow,
repeat daily and build up. If you have a special need or difficulty finding the right activity,
talk to a physical trainer or physical therapy expert.
Finding the right exercise or exercise program is one of the many challenges that
seniors face. OurSeniors.Net exists to help in meeting those challenges. We strive to
provide knowledgeable advice on topics of concern to seniors, so please continue to
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