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New Year New You – The Health Benefits of Physical Activity for Seniors in 2016

New Year New You – The Health Benefits of Physical Activity for Seniors in 2016

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Quick Summary

If you’ve been wondering whether you or someone close to you could benefit from physical activity, the answer is yes – especially… seniors. The truth is that seniors can actually reap more benefits from exercising than any other age group, physically and mentally. However, there are some things that everyone planning to start a new exercise routine should know. Whether you’ve been active your whole life or have just decided to join a gym, you must know your limits, speak to your doctor, cater your routine to your strengths and do your best to avoid injury. This guide will explain how.

Quick Links

Part 1: Exercise Considerations for Seniors
Part 2: The Best Types of Exercises for Seniors
Part 3: Physical Activities for Seniors
Part 4: Making S.M.A.R.T. Fitness Goals for 2016
Conclusion: The Unexpected Benefits of Physical Activity

Patients Working Out In Gym

Introduction: The Benefit of Being Active, at Any Age

The start of spring is just a few short weeks away. As cliché as it sounds, it’s a season of rebirth and renewal. Spring is the perfect time to kick start your own physical health. While exercising may become more difficult as we age, it’s never too late to become healthier. People commonly search for a magical way to get healthier and feel better, they often miss something as simple as exercise. Skip the unhealthy so called “miracle pills” or other latest health fad and replace it with quality exercise.

Make 2016 the best year for your health and avoid the potential health risks commonly associated with a lack of exercise. You won’t regret it. Improve your quality of life and even potentially reduce the number of medicines that you have to take on a daily basis. You will feel better physically and emotionally, as well as experience other benefits of daily exercise. Check with your insurance provider to see if you can receive any insurance benefits from adding exercise to your life. Some insurance plans offer gym free memberships. If yours does, enjoy this wonderful perk.

What are the specific benefits of working out at an older age? While the specific type and level of benefits depend on the individual, there are numerous benefits for everyone. Some cancers are prevented simply by being more active. You can also your chances of heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, obesity, type II diabetes, osteoarthritis and abnormal cholesterol by exercising. In addition to all of this, your mind receives health benefits when you work out. Endorphins from exercise are a great mood booster. Furthermore, you will see mental benefits in between your workouts as well. Exercise reduces stress, fatigue, loneliness, sadness and more. You may notice that you sleep deeper and longer after you begin an exercise routine. You will also be able to spend more quality time with family and friends because your increased level of energy.

What if you have no idea where to start? Whether you are scared of exercise injury, are concerned that there might not be any trainers specifically for seniors, or are tired of going to the doctor as much as you do now, there is no need to worry.  Do you feel anxious or depressed or have problems sleeping? Exercise can help.

You may be afraid to go to the gym by yourself or work out in public at all because of your age or physical abilities. Lucky for you, you don’t have to go to the gym to exercise. Simple activities like walking your dog, taking out the trash or walking upstairs can give you the exercise your body is craving.

You probably don’t feel as agile as you used to. The good news is that it is fairly easy to create a healthy routine that includes exercise. Older people also receive more health benefits than younger people because of their risk for numerous health problems.  Are you ready to feel better than last year? Aging is not always easy on the body, but it can and will get better by adding healthy habits. Maintain your independence. Prevent becoming dependent on others if you can. You might even be able to stay in your own home longer by following a healthy lifestyle. Here are four useful tips to help you on your new health journey.

Senior man working out with his trainer in fitness studio

Part 1:  Exercise Considerations for Seniors

Did you know that statistics show that many seniors do not get enough exercise? 3.2 million people pass away due to not being active enough in their lives. Studies show that people over the age of 64 are 60 percent more likely to live sedentary lives.  Health conditions develop or worsen without healthy habits. Don’t let this happen to you. Fit people can defer becoming dependent by an average of eight to 10 years by 50 percent. If a senior has leg strength, they can also reduce their risk of dependency by another 30 percent. Also, keep in mind that not all exercises will help you reap the most benefits. You need to engage in exercises that are cardiovascular and strengthening.

Studies show that there is a 20 to 30 percent reduction in your heart function when you become a senior. Every ten years, your heart rate slows down a little bit more. Oxygen levels also decrease with aging. The respiratory system also loses some functionality by 40 to 50 percent while breathing. In addition to this, seniors lose 40 percent of their muscle mass and 30 percent of their strength. Lastly, a number of neurons in the brain decrease and the overall brain size is also reduced. Now, is the time to improve your health for the better. While it is understandable that you may not feel up to exercising, you are only missing an opportunity to feel better. While exercise is not a cure all, it is essential to at least get the minimum exercise for your age. Taking this step will improve your health. However, before beginning your new exercise routine, it is important to take the proper precautions. Learn more below:

Intensity: Monitoring Heart Rate, Avoiding Over-Exertion

While it is extremely important to incorporate exercise into your weekly routine, it is equally important to ensure that you are exercising at the appropriate intensity. For example, measure your intensity two different ways: through your heart rate and level of exertion. One way is to measure exercise intensity is by heart rate. You can measure your heart rate by taking your pulse. For example, if you are brand new to consistent exercising or if you have certain ailments, your goal heart rate should be around 30 to 40 percent heart rate reserve. The other way to perceive intensity is through exertion. Sitting and looking at a mobile device is about a one on the scale. Beginners would start at three to four on the perceived intensity scale. More experienced exercisers would have an average intensity level of five to six for moderate exercise. The most intense exercise rate is at about seven to eight.

Another way to test how tough your workout is by talking aloud to yourself. If it is hard for you to talk, then you are probably working out too hard. However, if you can talk without difficulty, then you are working at the right level of intensity. If you need help determining your specific intensity level, then you can consult an American College of Sports Medicine certified trainer. A qualified trainer would be more than happy to assist you in reaching a safe intensity for your specific needs. These trainers are experienced in different fitness levels. They have helped some people completely turn their lives around for the better. Since the elderly population is one of the biggest age groups in the world, there are a number of trainers experienced with helping seniors. One example is a man who began exercising when he was 66 years old. He did not work out for approximately thirty years. A year later, he noticed vast improvements in his health and he continues to remain active.

Another elderly man had a heart attack and realized he needed to work out. After he started working out, he felt younger and his doctors told him his health improved. A woman began starting to exercise at the age of 62. Previously, she lived a sedentary lifestyle. However, she realized that she was taking too many naps and feeling lazy overall. She hated exercising at first, but after about six weeks, she began to love working out. She noticed that she was feeling a better and that she had more energy. Another woman began exercising because she had really bad back pain. After sticking with a consistent routine, she was eventually able to stop taking some prescription drugs. She also lost some weight. It’s never too late to feel better by incorporating healthy habits. The list of senior success stories goes on and on.

Happy elderly seniors couple working out in park

Potential for Injury: Flexibility and an Increased Emphasis on Stretching

In order to prevent the potential for injury, good flexibility needs to be worked on, so stretching needs to be done. It is unwise to engage in any exercise program without stretching. Furthermore, stretching will make your workout go more smoothly. Set aside approximately ten minutes before your official workout begins to stretch. Be sure to include static and dynamic stretches. Static exercises are meant to increase your range of motion and expand your muscles. Typically, you hold this type of stretch for an average of 10 to 30 seconds. Lessen back pain and help other ailments with your stretches. Breathe normally during stretches. Don’t add other movements while stretching. A great time to stretch would be right before an exercise. However, you can stretch at any time. If you can, try to include both upper and lower body stretches for more health benefits. If you have further questions about if you are doing the stretches correctly or if you are doing the right types of stretches, consult your doctor. Don’t take any chances. The goal is to feel better not worse.

When to Check With Your Doctor Before Exercising

Overall, it is prudent to discuss your exercise plans with your doctor. He or she will review your medical records as well as your current health status. It is extremely important to pay attention to your doctor’s recommendations if you have a serious condition such as heart disease, asthma lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease or arthritis. Remember to mention any other risk factors with to doctor. The only exception to obtaining a doctor’s approval is if you are already in optimal health for your age. You would know this based on your last check up and how you feel in general. However, it never hurts to bring your doctor up to date. For whatever reason, if you find that you feel dizzy or sick while or after exercising, discuss this with your doctor to figure out what’s wrong and how to help you find a way to work out without feeling worse. Also, if you are a smoker or you used to smoke, it is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine to wait to start your exercise program until after you check in with your doctor.

Choosing the Right Exercise for Experience and Ability Level

Make sure that you do not jump into a new exercise routine that may not be the best fit for you. Start off slowly, so the exercise is not too demanding on your joints. One way to begin a new exercise program is to slowly add minutes to your daily workout. For example, start off with ten minutes of activity, then increase it a few minutes per day until your reach your maximum workout time.

Even younger people need to take their experience and ability level into consideration when participating in a new exercise program. Your doctor can help you figure out what exercises and level of intensity will work best for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. When it comes to your health, no question is a dumb question. You can also talk with any active senior friend you have and ask for advice and ideas.

In addition to selecting a safe exercise program, you want you pick one that you will truly enjoy. It is easier to stay motivated through this new and healthy lifestyle change if you are doing activities that you enjoy.

Senior man tying up sneakers in fitness club locker room

Big Things to Avoid

Exercise safety is imperative for everyone – especially for seniors. Make sure that you take the appropriate steps to avoid an unpleasant and unsafe workout experience. Drink enough water or other healthy electrolyte beverage to stay properly hydrated before, during and after a workout. Wear appropriate exercise clothing so that your body has room to breathe while you work up a sweat. Make sure that you have reflective colors on if you are working out outside. Try not to exercise where there is air pollution. Make sure you check your feet after a workout for any injury. Aging causes a loss of immediate sensation in friction injuries of the feet.

Avoid skipping warm up exercises and cool down exercises. Also, make sure you have enough room to workout. Another helpful tip is to not work out right after eating; wait a few hours to prevent an upset stomach.

Carefully select the right environment to workout. It is not safe to work out in extreme hot or cold temperatures. Seniors are more at risk for cold injuries. This is because, as we age, our bodies are slower to perceive the air’s temperature. Overall, seniors lose some of their ability to handle temperature extremes.

If you feel dizzy or have chest pain or any other severe pain, stop working out right away and seek medical care. Do not try to push through the pain or any sick feeling. If you recently had surgery or were really sick, wait to begin or resume your exercise until you have completely recovered. Finally, remember to wear comfortable sneakers and socks. Replace your sneakers as needed so that you prevent injury as a result of a worn down shoe.

Even if you are successful at your new exercise routine, you still need to avoid other unhealthy habits. While rewarding yourself for hard work is often good, pay attention to how you reward yourself. One reward to avoid is overeating or eating bad food a lot of the time. You don’t want to discount all your efforts by messing it up with a bad habit. Of course, you can still enjoy a desert but keep it in moderation.

Finally, another thing to avoid is doing a workout program that does not feel fun at all. Instead, keep your motivation high by including some fun in your workout even if it just means incorporating the type of music you like hear while burning those calories and building muscle.

Senior couple having fun in park

Part 2: The Best Types of Exercises for Seniors

Some seniors lack the motivation to work out. Most of the time this is because they have various aches and pains. However, once you realize all the benefits of exercise, you will wonder why you did not get started sooner. Never feel like you are too old to workout. You can do this even if you have not consistently exercised in your life.

What if you never worked out before? It’s never too late to begin exercising. Even exercise later in life offers the possibility to expand a person’s life span. Try to aim for an average of 150 minutes per week. If you can handle 300 minutes per week, then you can obtain even more health benefits. Discover what works best for you. It is recommended to vary the types of exercises you do, if possible. For example, one day you could focus on endurance exercises, and another day you could do strength exercises.

No matter what exercise you chose, you will notice the stress reduction benefits as well. After you start your exercise program, you will see your health get better in a number of different ways. Exercise increases your level of good cholesterol in the body. It increases muscle strength, bone density and overall endurance. Exercise also decreases bad cholesterol known as the LDL. Exercise is worth the time investment.

Endurance: Improve Health and Energy Levels

Endurance exercise is an excellent choice for seniors because it improves heart health and increases overall energy levels. Walking is one of the best exercises for endurance. By slowly building up your endurance levels, you can safely participate in more activities. Remember to add two endurance exercise sessions per week.

Balance: Prevent Falls, Increase Athletic Ability

Unfortunately as we get older, we are not always going to have good coordination. One way to improve this is to select balance exercise. It is imperative to do balance exercises. Did you know that one-third of seniors fall every year? These falls sometimes cause significant injury. Avoid injuries such as hip fractures by incorporating exercises such as a tightrope walk or a rock the boat exercise. Other helpful balance exercises are toe the line, heel walking, standing from sitting, walking sidewise and the flamingo stand.

Strength: Build Muscle, but with Special Aging Considerations

Some people mistakenly think that only bodybuilders need to do strength exercises. However, an appropriate strength training routine is very beneficial for seniors. Did you know that building muscle helps with a number of conditions? Remember, it is always important to be safe when you do strength training. When you first start, you can do no resistance or light resistance exercises.

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Flexibility: Maintain and Improve Joint and Muscle Flexibility

Yes, it is possible to increase your flexibility as you get older. One way to become more flexible is to try yoga. Yoga is great at any age. It is great for your spine, posture and strength. While yoga is not really aerobic, it still offers an excellent way to improve your health. If you spend time participating in flexible exercises, it will help you throughout your day. It will make life a little bit easier to do all the things you already do now. In order to obtain the most benefits from flexibility exercises, it is recommended to do them on a daily basis.

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Part 3: Physical Activities for Seniors

Regular exercise for seniors helps keep the mind sharp while improving your physical condition. Exercise can improve auditory attention and brain fog as well, while reducing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (if you exercise at least three days per week). Seniors can also reduce their chances of delirium by 24 percent. You cannot afford to wait any longer, so take a look at these exercise ideas.

Another thing to keep in mind is that working out can help you avoid boredom. Why stay at home wishing you had something to do or someone to talk to when you can go out and meet new people or even reconnect with old friends? Sometimes, seniors feel lonely. You do not have to feel lonely. In fact, you are bound to make new friends. You might even discover new passions in life.

Aerobic Classes: Benefits, Considerations, Starter Tips

Check out local aerobic classes. Usually, there are a number of aerobic classes in moderate-sized cities. You will probably find a few classes even if you live in a small town. If, for some reason, your town does not have any aerobic classes, you can set up an internet streaming class on your TV. Cable TV also offers these types of classes. Make sure that you raise your heart rate to a safe and beneficial range.

Water Aerobics and Swimming: Benefits, Considerations, Starter Tips

Water exercise is a great choice for any type of person, regardless of fitness level. Furthermore, water exercise is one of the best ways to avoid exercise injury. This type of workout improves symptoms that stem from different conditions. For example, some people have discovered that water aerobics can helps with arthritis.

Pool walking, lower body aerobics, cross-country skiing and upper body aerobics and swimming are all great ways to work out in the water. Many doctors recommend this for seniors. At least 50 percent of your weight is off of your legs. It is much easier to move around in the water versus out of water. It also offers you a chance to feel freer and to socialize with others.

Dancing: Benefits, Considerations, Starter Tips

Dancing is one way to get moving without feeling bored. Choose your favorite type of music and let the sounds take you away. Dancing For The Dream is an organization that offers low-impact dance classes for seniors. They are aware of the large senior population. Because of this fact, they have designed a specific dance program for seniors.

Yoga: Benefits, Considerations, Starter Tips

Yoga is an excellent way to improve your balance and range of motion. It might even help you sleep better, lower body fat and improve blood pressure. It is a useful exercise at any age. More seniors are starting to do yoga. This could be a great way to make new friends and participate in healthy activities. It’s never too late to start. Did you know that you lose approximately half a pound of muscle yearly if you are not active enough? Yoga is one way to help you keep your muscles. The great thing about yoga is that if you find that certain poses are too difficult, you can modify the poses.

Walking: Benefits, Considerations, Starter Tips

Walking is one of the best free exercise activities that you can include in your plan to get healthier. Walking is less stressful on the joints than more strenuous exercises, like running. Kept track of your fitness goals with a step counter. You simply wear the step counter while you walk. It will count all of your steps. Remember, you can count all the walking you do in a day. You are not limited to a walk outside or on a treadmill. You can count steps walking around a store or even in your home. If you do decide to walk outside, you will also reap the benefits that fresh air can provide. Studies show that going into nature can improve your mood.

Cycling: Benefits, Considerations, Starter Tips

Another fun activity for seniors is to ride bikes. However, before starting, make sure that your doctor gives you approval for this exercise. Also, use protective gear when riding a bike. Find a suitable trail near you so that you can bike ride on smooth surfaces. Enjoy nature as you ride -two stress relief methods at the same time. Alternatively, you can also ride a stationary bike at a safe pace. Stationary bikes are also great to avoid injury on the road, and it puts less stress on the joints than your typical bicycle.

Strength Training, Bodyweight and Lightly Weighted: Benefits, Considerations, Starter Tips

It may surprise you to know that you can still use weights as a senior. Of course, you cannot use weights like a bodybuilder, but you can still obtain quality results. Strength training sometimes helps reduce various symptoms from different conditions. Some strength exercises include stair climbing. If you have stairs, you can use those. If not, you can use a stepper machine. You can buy one for a fairly reasonable price, or you can use one at a local gym.

If you would prefer to workout at the privacy of your own home, that is another option. Luckily, you really do not need much to workout. Proper exercise clothing and an exercise mat may be all you need. As always, make sure that you discuss any exercise routine with your doctor.

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Part 4: Making S.M.A.R.T. Fitness Goals for 2016

 

Introduction to S.M.A.R.T. Fitness Goals

What is a S.M.A.R.T. fitness goal? This acronym represents an effective foundation for all future goal setting. Your goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. When you apply these constraints to your own fitness goals, you will notice healthy changes. The more achievable your goals are, the more motivated you will become. Doesn’t the S.M.A.R.T. acronym sound perfect for health?

How specific can you get with your goals? Take some time to write down what you hope to achieve, whether it is losing weight, incorporating healthy food choices with your exercise, lowing your blood pressure or relieving chromic pain. If you aren’t ready to be that specific, create goals that focus on how many times per week you would like to work out or the duration of each workout session. As you continue to work out, the more specific you can become.

Keep track of your progress so that you can measure it to see how far you have come and how far you need to go to reach your goal. You can handwrite your progress, or you can type it into an online document or application.

In order to stay properly motivated, pick goals that are attainable for you. If you hate running, do something else. If your current friends like an exercise program that you don’t, do something different. At the end of the day, it is only you who can achieve your goals. You might as well try to find something fun to do!

Senior Man Doing Press Ups In Gym

Setting Age-Reasonable, yet Ambitious Goals

It is important to set goals that work with your current health status. This way, it makes it easier for you to remain active. However, in order to receive maximum health benefits, you need to challenge yourself a bit. How can you safely challenge yourself? Perhaps, you can simply start by being more active in your normal, everyday life. Park a few spaces farther back when you go to the store. Or, when you fold laundry and put it away, you can add a few more trips to the bureau. You could also get up more to change the TV channel. Perhaps you could push a lawn mower or rake leaves in your yard.

Another possible way to begin is to vacuum a little bit more frequently. Get creative and think about how you can safely incorporate a slight increase of activity into what you already do. Next, you could progress to more traditional exercises like light aerobics. One way might be to add a few more minutes to whatever exercise routine you are already doing. If you are disabled, there are customized exercises for people who have to sit down. Remember not to overexert yourself. It really is okay to ease your way into a healthier lifestyle. That way, you are less likely to get overwhelmed and go back to not exercising. Assessing where you are physically and where you would like to be in the future can help you write out a plan for your reasonable and ambitious goals.

Create goals that are time sensitive. This adds a slight sense of pressure to stick to your goals. Saying that you want to lose 50 pounds in about a year is not specific enough. What goals can you make for yourself every week, month and so on? A good example would be, “I am going to lose two pounds per week by adopting a healthier diet and exercising four times a week. I will do strength training one day, cardio another day and yoga the other two days.” Take some time to think over what you want to change. With dedicated effort, you can do this!

Focusing on the Process, Not The “Benchmarks”

By focusing on the S.M.A.R.T goal framework, you will see the big picture. Furthermore, this is a lifestyle change. While a benchmark is important, it is only one part of the whole goal. Be proud of all the steps you take to become a healthier person. Perhaps you can even enlist another senior friend or loved one in this goal concept. You can help each other stay on track. If you join an exercise class, and you discover that you don’t know anyone, you can suggest this method to the instructor and the rest of the class. Perhaps, you can start a whole class movement to set healthy and attainable goals. Imagine how much fun it would be if a number of people participated in this concept? Start mapping out your goals today. Make 2016 truly count.

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Conclusion: The Unexpected Benefits of Physical Activity

After reading this, you now know that you have many options to get healthier. If you have not found your favorite form of exercise, don’t give up. Keep searching for something that you enjoy. Remember that within each type of exercise, there are usually subcategories to explore. For example, there are countless styles of aerobics. If you find that you still don’t have a favorite exercise routine, sometimes you can add an interesting element to help you stay motivated. Some people listen to podcasts or watch television shows while walking or jogging. Customize a workout environment that you will appreciate.

Share this knowledge with your other senior friends. Help them see that it’s not too late to become healthier. Why continue on day to day stuck in an unhealthy rut? Once you change your attitude and apply these tips and techniques, you will begin to notice changes. Take advantage of online resources such as eBooks, videos, and articles to expand your health knowledge. If you struggle with motivation and consistency, perhaps you can participate in an online community that supports each other’s goals.

In addition to improving your overall health, getting physically active can provide social opportunities, improve your mood, and lead to the exploration of new hobbies. 2016 is the time to change your life for the better. You might even set an example for your other senior friends. Watch them get inspired to become healthier – like you. If you are single, perhaps you will find someone to date who is also devoted to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Alternatively, if you are married, perhaps exercise could become your new date night routine. The possibilities are endless.

Imagine going on a tennis date or dance date. Perhaps you have grandkids, this is your chance to get into good enough shape to keep up. In fact, you might even discover that you are more active and healthy than some of the younger people in your life. Enjoy getting older and feel a little younger in spirit and body. Take advantage of the extra energy you have from exercising more and apply it to all of your other interests. Be proud of any progress you make and enjoy more independence.

*This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living