With 43 million plus seniors (people 65 and older) living in the U.S., fitness for this population is vital. Exercise improves function and longevity. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) touts physical activity for better memory, energy, balance and overall strength. Exercise helps prevent and control serious conditions such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. Moving improves the mood, too.
What exercise is best for senior longevity?
The ACSM says seniors must engage in aerobic activity and strength training. Muscle mass, strength and circulation decline over time, but surprisingly, they can increase to amazing levels, even in the senior years, through activity that is regular and strenuous. The National Institute on Health (NIH) recommends several different kinds of exercise which, when combined, rev up health and add years to life.
1. Endurance exercise
Seniors should pick a vigorous activity they enjoy, and do it 3 to 5 times per week for at least 30 minutes. “Vigorous” varies from person to person. However, in general, moderate activity which builds endurance causes mild breathlessness, but the individual can still talk. Strenuous activity leaves a person unable to talk while performing the task. Trainers suggest dancing, swimming, bike riding, brisk walking and fitness classes to build endurance.
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2. Balance activities
Good balance, combined with strength, prevents falls and fractures. The Center for Disease Control has found that the number of falls per 1,000 seniors increases over the age of 75. Because of this senior home healthcare specialists urge seniors to do some form of activity each day to get the blood moving and vitals pumping. Do things to promote good balance such as walking heel to toe or getting up from a chair without assistance. Many gyms hold clinics which teach balance-friendly techniques to keep seniors upright. Yoga remains a tried and true friend of balance.
3. Strength training
The ACSM states that anyone can maintain and build muscle mass through strength training. This involves weight-lifting with a trainer or class instructor. Each session should include 8 to 10 exercises, each repeated 8 to 12 times to fatigue. The muscle fatigue indicates the exercise has been beneficial.
4. Improving flexibility
Yoga and stretching before and after any workout dovetails with balance, endurance and strength to prevent falls and relieve aches and pains. Seniors that pursue yoga report that turning their heads for driving and walking up and down stairs gets easier as flexibility improves.
5. Start slowly
Exercising for long life takes time. Start a routine slowly. Breathe regularly, and hydrate. To stick with senior exercise join a group to encourage and to promote accountability.