This guest post is from Kaki Zell, the Vice President of Ames Walker.
Sitting for extended periods is a major contributing factor to a variety of health issues, even if an individual is young, fit and otherwise healthy. As you age, your mobility naturally becomes more limited, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on moving entirely — indeed, staying active can actually increase your mobility or maintain it for a longer period of time.
However, sometimes it can be difficult to come up with ideas to be active if you have limited mobility, especially if you’re bound to a wheelchair. We’ve outlined five activities seniors of various mobility levels can engage in to stay fit and age gracefully. We’ll then discuss the mental and physical benefits of exercise and offer tips for starting your fitness journey later in life.
If you exercise regularly, stretching should be part of both your warm up and cool down routine — and if you don’t work out a lot yet, stretching is an easy way to start being active. Stretching eases stiff joints and tight muscles, making it easier to work up to a more involved activity. Common “problem” areas that will loosen up from stretching include the neck, chest, back, lower back, hips, quadriceps, hamstrings and ankles.
Try to stretch at least once daily to build the habit, but you can always do it more often if your muscles feel tight. However, if you feel pain during a static stretch, back off — that’s a sign you’ve pushed yourself too hard.
Yoga might make you think of twisting yourself into a pretzel, but there are many types of yoga classes at a variety of intensity levels. Restorative yoga is a gentle version that focuses on overall wellness, relaxation and improving balance, coordination and flexibility.
It’s a great way to start recovering from an injury or addressing a chronic health issue such as arthritis. You’ll move through the poses at a slow, meditative pace, concentrating on your breathing throughout the exercise. You may use props such as blocks or blankets to help you hold the poses. Consider signing up for a few restorative yoga classes first before you try anything at home, so an instructor can walk you through the poses.
Core Strength Exercises
Your core is far more than just your abs. It engages in just about everything you do, from sitting to walking to picking up an object. Deliberately building your core with exercises can make it easier to get around — and may even help with back pain.
Exercises that seniors can use to target their core include planks, bridge lifts, leg lifts, seated side bends and the Superman. You should also try to engage your core in other scenarios, such as sitting up straight or walking around the neighborhood.
Even if you’re wheelchair-bound, you can still work on improving your activity levels. Numerous strength-training exercises — using a resistance band, small weights or even your own body weight — can be done while seated. Many flexibility exercises can be modified for a seated individual, including stretches, yoga and Tai Chi. Even certain forms of cardiovascular activity, such as aerobics, can be adapted for those in a chair.
Of course, you need to make sure you’re taking care of your body during and after your exercise, especially as you age. Compression socks with graduated compression improve circulation and provide extra padding for your foot as you stay active. Therapeutic shoes with Velcro closures give your feet the proper support they need, plus they’re easy to take on and off. Elevating your legs using a leg rest after being on your feet awhile can take the pressure off your veins and discourage the blood from pooling there.
Benefits of Exercise
Exercise has many benefits, both mental and physical, for older adults. Here are just a few of the things that can happen as you start to exercise.
- Exercise reduces the risk of:
- falling and fracturing bones
- dying from coronary heart disease
- developing high blood pressure, colon cancer and diabetes
- Exercise can help improve:
- blood pressure in some people with hypertension
- stamina and muscle strength
- symptoms of anxiety and depression
- physical signs of stress
- joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis
- thinking and memory skills, especially verbal
Tips for Exercising as a Senior
It can be hard to build a fitness habit at any age, but it’s far from impossible. Plus, it’s never too late to start. Follow these three tips to help kickstart your new fitness routine:
- Start slow: If you’ve never exercised before, don’t try to do too much too soon, especially if your mobility is really limited or you’re contending with chronic conditions. Even just five minutes of movement a day can be a good place to start, and then build on that as you are able.
- Do it daily: Trying to be active every day, even if it’s not an official workout, will help you build the habit faster. The sooner you build the routine, the less likely you will be to stop exercising. Many seniors like to exercise in the morning, before the day can get away from them, in order to stay on track with their daily goal.
- Listen to your body: It’s normal to feel a little soreness and discomfort as you begin a new exercise routine. However, stabbing or joint pain isn’t normal, so if you start feeling that, stop exercising immediately to avoid exacerbating it. As always, you should consult your doctor before beginning any fitness routine, and check in with him or her if you feel any pain.
Exercising as a senior comes with certain considerations, but there are a wide range of activities you can try, no matter your level of mobility. Seniors of any age and fitness background can start with as little as five minutes of stretching a day and then build up from there, even if they are currently wheelchair-bound. Follow these tips and exercise ideas to start your fitness journey today.
Zell is the vice president of Ames Walker, which specializes in graduated compression products and other supportive products.