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Exercise for Seniors

Live Better as You Age

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Updated February 25, 2011

When I was a younger, I never worried about my health or quality of life. As I've gotten older, I've realized how important that is from my own experience and from working with older personal training clients. My senior clients, some of whom are in better shape than I am, have taught me about the importance of being healthy and taking care of our bodies for the future. Even more important, they've taught me that it's never too late to start exercising.

You Can Stop the Clock

Despite all the anti-aging products pushed on us, it's inevitable that we will get older. However, some of the things we lose as we age can actually be prevented, including:

  • Strength and Muscle: Sarcopenia is the fancy term scientists have given to describe loss of muscle, strength and quality of tissue often seen in older adults. Some experts have suggested that muscle mass declines about 1% each year from age 30.
  • Cardio Endurance: As we age, we often lose aerobic fitness and experts believe this contributes to reduced mobility in daily life.
  • Flexibility: Joints change with age and this can lead to stiffness, decreased range of motion and more injuries
  • Balance: Each year, hospitals see thousands of older patients for broken hips due to falling. Balance exercises can help you avoid injuries from falls and keep you independent and mobile.
The good news is that the loss of strength, endurance, flexibility and balance aren't inevitable. The National Institute on Aging believes that, "when older people lose their ability to do things on their own, it doesn't happen just because they have aged. More likely it is because they have become inactive." (Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging)

It's Never to Late

No matter how old you are, exercise can improve your quality of life and you don't have to spend a lot of time doing it to see and feel improvements. Like everyone else, seniors need to engage in cardio, strength training and flexibility exercises to stay healthy and maintain as much strength and functionality as possible.

Strength Training for Seniors

Strength training has incredible benefits for everyone, but especially for seniors. Experts believe that "resistance exercise may forestall declines in strength and muscle mass for decades." (Decreased Mobility in the Elderly: The Exercise Antidote)

Before you get started, it's essential to get checked out by your doctor. If you have any conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, high blood pressure or heart disease, you'll need to learn the types of exercises you can and can't do. Use the following guidelines to set up your program:

  • Lift weights for all muscle groups (lower body, chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps and abs) at least 2 non-consecutive days each week
  • Start with no weights or light weights to practice the exercises and condition your body. You can use dumbbells, machines and/or resistance bands
  • Do each exercise for at least 1 set of 10-15 repetitions.
  • Progress by adding more sets (with rest in between) and/or increasing the weights each week
  • Focus on having good form for each exercise
  • Be sure to warm up with light exercise before lifting weights

If you've never lifted weights before, you may want to work with a personal trainer to learn the proper way to lift. Make sure your trainer has experience in working with seniors, particularly if you have any medical conditions, injuries or joint problems.

You'll also find ideas in this Total Body Workout for Seniors. The exercises are only suggestions, so avoid exercises that cause pain or dizziness or that may aggravate any injuries you have.

Next Page: Cardio, Flexibility & Balance

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