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Staying Strong as a Senior

With age, it is important to pay close attention to our overall health: physical, mental and emotional. Did you know that staying physically active isn't just good for your body, but also beneficial for your mind. Regular physical activity can help to boost your mood and improve flexibility, strength and balance. Getting a move on can also prevent heart disease and help you live longer, so what are you waiting for? Some of the most enjoyable benefits of a safe and consistent activity routine may be having the strength and endurance to carry your groceries, climb up the stairs, take a longer walk, dance a little longer or play another round of golf.

Use the following guidelines to develop a safe activity routine:

Aerobic Activity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults who are 65 years or older and generally fit with no limiting health conditions should aim to get a total of between 75 and 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise. This may seem like a lot of time, but in reality it's only about the length of a movie, or 15-20 minutes per day. If you are not currently active or have a challenge finding time for activity, break it up into 10-minute intervals and build up your time and intensity slowly.

The time you should spend each week on cardio activities depends on the intensity level:

  • Moderate-intensity cardio activities include brisk walking, swimming, light cycling and dancing. This level of cardio intensity will increase your heartbeat and make you breathe harder. As a general rule of thumb, if you can talk but not sing, your activity is probably moderate in intensity.
  • Vigorous-intensity cardio activities include jogging, running and climbing hills. This level of cardio intensity will make your heart rate increase even more, and you may be able to only say a few words without having to catch your breath.
  • In general, one minute of vigorous-intensity activity is equal to about two minutes of moderate-intensity activity. Aim for intervals of at least ten minutes of moderate- or vigorous-activity at a time.
  • For added variety, mix the two in the way that works best for your physical condition and preferences.
  • Walking for five minutes, power-walking for two, then walking again is a good and effective way to mix them. Depending on how you may be feeling on any given day, you can mix and match these intervals.
  • The key is to find activities that you enjoy and will do on a regular basis. Recruit a "workout buddy' to keep you motivated while you help each other stay on track.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that as you get more physically fit, adding more time to your routine provides additional health benefits. So, make it a goal to work up to at least 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week or more than 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity each week.
  • You can play that extra round of golf, take an extra trip around the mall or swim a few more laps in the pool, and you'll reap the advantages of physical fitness.
  • Strengthening Your Muscles

    In addition to aerobic activity, healthy, fit seniors incorporate muscle-strengthening activities that use all major muscle groups on two or more days per week. Building up muscles isn't just for bodybuilders. This can help you prevent muscle loss, and make it easier to do everyday activities like climbing stairs, carrying the laundry basket and playing with your grandchildren. Activities that will help strengthen your muscles include using light weights or resistance bands, doing exercises like sit-ups or push-ups, doing yoga or gardening that includes shoveling or digging.

    Some important aspects to keep in mind:

  • Don't just work on one set of muscles. Instead, make sure you are working all your major muscle groups including your abdomen, arms, shoulders, hips, legs, chest and back.
  • Build your strength over time. Start slow and safely increase the number of repetitions of an activity (like a sit-up) that you can do at once without stopping to rest. (8-12 such repetitions is known as a "set'). Then, work to increase the number of sets you can complete, making sure to rest between sets so that you don't overdo it. Follow your healthcare provider's recommendations and listen to your body to prevent injury.
  • Stretching and Balance

    The National Institute on Aging recommends that seniors also incorporate activities that promote flexibility and balance.

  • Flexibility comes from activities like stretching and yoga. It helps you stay limber and able to move more easily, which can increase your ability to get around and enjoy yourself. When stretching, start slowly stretching as far as you can without pain, hold the stretch for between ten to thirty seconds and then relax. Remember to breathe normally and to not bounce while stretching.
  • Balance can be improved by doing simple exercises like standing on one foot or doing leg raises or Tai Chi. This important type of exercise can help to prevent falls. When doing balancing activities, be sure to have a sturdy chair to hold onto or an activity buddy to help if you feel unsteady.
  • Activity For the Mind

    Physical activity is good for weight loss and health, and is also good for your mind. Studies show that regular physical activity may improve brain function, ease depression and anxiety, improve sleep patterns, increase self-esteem and help those who have experienced dementia or a stroke.

    Plus, researchers have found that consistent activity can increase blood flow to the brain, helping with learning and cognitive skills at any age.

    Important note: Be sure to consult your healthcare provider before beginning a physical activity program. If you have any medical conditions that can interfere with your activity, speak with your healthcare provider about how you can customize your workouts.

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