Exercise for Older Adults
Originally Published: Apr 02, 2020
Exercise not only helps you live longer—it helps you live better.
Exercise has been proven to not just improve the quality of life; it also can ward off disease, elevate mood, and enhance everyday activities for every population, even more so in older demographics. As the body ages, its physical and biological systems begin to deteriorate. Science has discovered that being active can slow down, and even reverse the natural aging process.
Balance, just like muscle, needs maintenance.
Incorporating balance drills into weekly workouts is very important, as life is a balance challenge all its own. Walking, climbing stairs, stepping on uneven surfaces, bending and twisting, are all daily activities that require balance to some degree. Adding balance drills improves coordination in everyday life. Ever step off a curb and lose your balance? The addition of simple exercises that require little to no equipment, and can be done anywhere, include: balancing on one foot, walking a straight heel-to-toe line, reaching out for something while standing on one leg, standing on a Bosu™ ball, and stepping up on a bench or chair.
Walking, an activity that gets us from point A to point B, is a life skill we probably don’t give much thought to.
You put one foot in front of the other and walk, right? The mechanics of walking can change drastically as a body and lifestyle changes. Older generations tend to have smaller steps, and a much slower pace. In comparison, younger generations are fast paced and have long strides, far from the short shuffling walk you may witness in older folks. This change is often related more to lifestyle changes and not the aging process. Walking, like balance, is a use it or lose it activity. A focus on long strides, how far a foot is placed in front when moving forward, should be part of any aging adult’s daily activity list. Pumping up the pace will also add a cardiovascular (heart) benefit, which also addresses one of the three pillars of fitness.
Grip strength grows weaker as we age.
Opening a jar may seem like a simple action, but without grip strength, it can become a grueling task, affecting the ability to live comfortably and independently. Other daily activities that involve grip strength may include carrying a bag of groceries and or turning a door knob. Simple activities to increase or maintain grip strength include squeezing a stress ball, farmer carries (hold a weight in each hand, or anything heavy, and walk for a designated time), and wringing out a wash cloth.
Rotational range of motion through the torso typically decreases with age.
A decreased and limited range of motion in the torso due to inflexibility can make daily movements and activities uncomfortable and even impossible. Driving a vehicle requires a certain amount of lateral rotation. Most of the driving population more than likely takes for granted the twisting and turning that is done when parking or switching driving lanes. This twisting and turning requires mobility and flexibility in the torso. Flexibility training, one of the three pillars of fitness, can be done anywhere and requires no equipment. Include simple exercises such the Russian twist and trunk rotation stretching while laying on your back. These examples, done daily, will maintain and increase rotational range of motion.
Our largest body part, our legs, is vital to anyone’s independence.
Keeping them strong is paramount. Strong legs are needed to climb stairs, step off a street curb, get in and out of a car, stand from a seated position, and step up onto a chair to reach that too high kitchen shelf. These are daily activities so many of us take for granted, until one day they become small daily victories. Resistance training, the last pillar of fitness to address, is a form of exercise that involves applying resistance, causing muscles to adapt and grow stronger. Leg strength can be gained by doing exercises that use bodyweight as resistance. Two excellent leg exercises that can dramatically improve overall lower body strength are wall sits and squats; both moves can improve daily functionality. Squats mimic the physical mechanics of sitting down and standing back up: wall sits further strengthen the leg, and glute muscles required to execute a squat properly.
A July 1996 article published in Consumer Reports Health confirmed the health benefits of exercise and the aging body decades ago. The science behind exercise isn’t new, however, the average person’s knowledge of it is. The article titled, “Exercise for the ages,” reports a 70-year-old man who has strength trained since middle age was just as strong, on average, as a 28-year-old who didn’t. The information is abundant and the facts remain steadfast—exercise becomes increasingly important as one ages, and if done correctly, adds quality and longevity to life.
Test your skills and set future goals for life long independence
- Balance on one leg, then the other
- Set a goal of better balance by increasing your time balancing on one leg at a time, or by adding a balance tool, such as a balance pad or a Bosu™ ball.
- Walk one mile
- How long did it take you? Set a future goal of finishing in a lesser amount of time.
- Farmer Carries
- Test your grip strength. Hold a weight in each hand, or anything heavy, and walk for a designated amount of time. Combine these with your one mile walk for even more of a challenge.
- How many can you do? Set a future goal of being able to do a few more.
- Wall Sits
- How long can you hold a wall sit? Set a future goal of going a little longer.