As age creeps up on us and our bodies become stiffer and sorer on a daily basis, it’s natural to want to limit movement. Unfortunately, this strategy often leads to more discomfort overall as muscles break down and joints become locked up. Seniors still can, and should, exercise on a regular basis to improve their health. A sedentary lifestyle exacerbates problems with arthritis, depression, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, dementia, and more. The trick is to modify exercises to keep them low impact, and to make it fun. Following are 14 easy exercises for seniors that can be done alone or with a friend.
Cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, increases energy, sharpens the mind, helps with weight management, and can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Some amount of cardio is recommended to form the base of any exercise routine.
Seniors who are just getting back out there after a period of inactivity should start with 10-15 minutes of moderate cardio activity about three days per week, and work up as their bodies permit. Choices like swimming, walking, and biking offer a good low-impact workout that’s easy on the joints. If you love to bike but are worried about balance, a three-wheeled recumbent bike is a good alternative.
Single Limb Stance
Balance can be an issue for older people, so it’s a good place to start in regaining strong mobility.
Stand behind a steady chair (no wheels) with your hands on the back of it. Lift your right foot up about mid-calf and hold the position for as long as you can. Then switch feet. Eventually, you should be able to do it without holding the chair. Set a goal to hold the pose for one minute on each side, without support.
Walking Heel to Toe
Walking is one of the best exercises you can do. It improves leg strength and overall balance. Switching up your gait can extend the benefits.
Start with your left foot flat, and put your right foot directly in front of it, heel of right to toe of left. Then move your left foot directly in front of your right in the same manner. Shift your weight from your heels to your toes and you walk this way for about 20 steps.
Rock the Boat
When your hips lock up it causes a lot of discomfort both walking and sitting, not to mention the impact on balance.
Stand firmly with your feet hip-width apart. Stand up straight and keep your head level. Slowly transfer your weight to your right foot and gently lift your left leg off the ground. Hold that position for up to 30 seconds, as long as you can, and lower it again to starting position. Repeat five times per side to start, and work up to more repetitions when you feel comfortable.
Back Leg Raises
This strength training exercise helps seniors to improve posture and balance by making the bottom and lower back stronger.
Stand behind a chair with your hands resting on the back for balance. Slowly extend your right leg straight back, as far as is comfortable, without bending your knee or pointing your toes. Hold the position for one second and then bring the leg back down. Repeat the move 10-15 times per leg.
Single Limb Stance with Arm
Balance and coordination go hand in hand, with the latter more about how the parts of your body work together.
Begin by standing with your feet together and arms at your side. Lift your left arm and extend your hand as high as it will reach. Now raise your left foot off the floor, calf-height if you can manage it. Try to hold the position for ten seconds. Repeat the action on the right side. Once you are comfortable with that, try raising your right arm and left leg, then left arm and right leg. You can stand next to a chair for this exercise if balance is an issue.
Squats are a good strength training exercise for seniors because they build the muscles used for standing up from a sitting position. Many seniors become chair bound when they lose this ability.
Stand in front of a chair as though you were going to sit down, then slowly bend at the knees and push your hips back, lowering gradually until your bottom just touches the chair. If you lose your balance, you can just sit down, but the goal is to straighten back up to standing without putting weight on the chair. Try to do five reps – it’s a quick little exercise that’s easy to fit in right before you settle in to sit a spell.
Retaining arm strength is critical to continued independence as basically all forms of personal care require the use of arms and hands.
Stand in front of a clear wall at arm’s length, then lean forward slightly to press your palms flat against the surface. Position them at the same width and height as your shoulders. Keep your feet planted a comfortable distance apart as you flex your elbows out and bring your body toward the wall. Push back and straighten your arms. Try for 20 reps at a time.
Flexibility is key to comfort when both sitting and moving. A stiff back can be especially painful and favoring it can lead to strain in other parts of the body.
Sitting towards the front of a sturdy chair, plant your feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart. With your neck and back straight, slowly bend forward from your hips. Keep your chin and neck relaxed as you bend as far as is comfortable, sliding your hands down your shins for support. Hold the pose for 10-30 seconds before slowly sitting back straight, and repeat the move 3-5 times.
These exercises are designed to help jumpstart cardiovascular fitness, strength, balance, and flexibility in seniors who have had a period of inactivity due to illness or injury. It is not always and easy to get back into exercise, especially if there is some fear of reinjuring yourself, but regular physical activity is the best way to minimize aging-related pain and to live a long, independent life. You’ve got this!