Exercise has been shown to be beneficial to people of all age groups. As we age, the benefits of exercise increase and help keep the body and mind healthy. Seniors who exercise are happier, less likely to fall, reduce their chance of getting serious health disease and can more easily perform day to day life activities. Despite the numerous benefits of exercise, many seniors are reluctant to start an exercise program. They worry that they are not healthy enough or that they will fall and get hurt. Almost everyone can do some type of exercise. Even small amounts of exercise can have noticeable positive affects and help seniors live longer and better.

Understanding Types of Exercise

It is important to understand the different types of exercise and how a person can benefit from them. Exercise can basically be broken down into four categories: endurance, strength, balance and stretching. Each type of exercise focuses on different aspects of a person’s life. Some types of exercises work together to bring about the desired health goals. By combining different types of exercise, seniors can develop an effective exercise plan.

Endurance exercises work several large muscles groups at a time and increases the flow of oxygenated blood and the body’s ability to use it. The most common type of endurance exercise is walking. Other endurance exercises include swimming, hiking and dancing. Endurance exercises can help decrease fatigue, or feeling tired, and shortness of breath.

Strength exercises strengthens muscles, bones and joints by using weights. As the muscles, bones and joints are strengthened, back and arthritic pain are decreased along with the risk of falls. Strength exercises can start with little or no weight at all and then build up to lifting several pounds of weight.

Balance exercises help reduce a person’s posture and reduce the risks of falls. Some types of strength exercises are also balance exercises. In addition, posture exercises and yoga help increase a person’s balance.

Stretching exercises increase a person’s range of motion and ability to do normal activities of daily living by giving them flexibility. Joints and muscles that are flexible are less likely to be damaged or hurt. Flexibility gives people the freedom to do everyday tasks such as turn their heads to see something or bend down to tie their shoes.

Getting Started

The first step a senior should take in before beginning an exercise program is to see his physician. Most people can exercise without any negative effects, but a physician who is familiar with a senior’s medical history can recommend which exercises would be most beneficial and which should be avoided. The physician should also be able to advise the senior if he is on any medications that would require special precautions such as avoiding sunlight.

After receiving medical clearance, it is time to develop an exercise plan. Many community centers and gyms offer exercise programs geared to seniors, but with a little planning and minimal expense you can create your own program. The National Institute on Aging offers good advice and some samples of exercise for seniors. Anyone looking for information on exercise for seniors will benefit from visiting their website at http://weboflife.nasa.gov/exerciseandaging/toc.html.

Start Slow

Someone who has not been on a regular exercise program should begin slowly. In the beginning, you should not expect to be able to do as much as someone who has been exercise regularly. There are some important tips to remember as you begin: begin with a few minutes of exercise twice daily and build up to longer periods of time, if you cannot comfortably carry on a conversation you are exercising too hard, you should not experience dizziness or chest pain, you should not exercise if your joints are red or swollen. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop exercising.

How Long and How Often Should I Exercise

Many people wonder how long and how many days per week they should exercise. Make a schedule and try to stick with it every week. Your initial exercise schedule should be only what you can tolerate. As you build up stamina and tolerance, increase the amount of time you exercise. It is important to do a variety of each type of exercise to reap the maximum benefits of exercising. The National Institute on Aging gives two good examples of an exercise schedule. The first schedule is for seniors beginning an exercise plan, while the second represents the maximum amount of exercise a senior should do.

A Good Starting Exercise Schedule

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Stretching Endurance Strength and Balance Endurance and Stretching Strength and Balance Endurance Stretching

The Maximum Amount of Exercise Recommended for a Senior

  • Sunday-Endurance, Stretching and Any Time Any Where Balance
  • Monday – Endurance, Strength and Balance of the Upper Body, Stretching, Any Time Any Where Balance
  • Tuesday – Endurance, Strength and Balance of the Upper Body, Stretching, Any Time Any Where Balance
  • Wednesday – Endurance, Strength and Balance of the Upper Body, Stretching, Any Time Any Where Balance
  • Thursday – Endurance, Strength and Balance of the Upper Body, Stretching, Any Time Any Where Balance
  • Friday – Endurance, Strength and Balance of the Upper Body, Stretching, Any Time Any Where Balance
  • Saturday – Endurance, Strength and Balance of the Upper Body, Stretching, Any Time Any Where Balance

Examples of Different Types of Exercise

Endurance Exercises

Walking is the most common type of endurance exercise. Begin walking slowly and for five to ten minutes at a time. As your stamina increases, increase both the pace and length of your walk. As your endurance builds, you should walk at a moderate pace that increases your heart rate and breathing. Your goal should be walking at least thirty minutes a day, five days a week. Increasing to thirty minutes a day, seven days a week will give you the maximum benefit. You do not have to walk outside. Many malls and community centers offer free, air-conditioned walking tracks that are perfect for a relaxing walk.

Swimming, hiking, tennis and dancing are other examples of endurance exercises. Basically, any activity that uses a lot of muscle groups and increases your breathing and heart rate can be considered an endurance exercise.

Strength Exercises

Strength exercises involve lifting or pushing weights. You can start out with no weights or use a can of food as a weight and then gradually increase the amount of weight you use. Resistance bands, that can be found at sporting goods stores, are a good alternative to weights. Below is a list of strength exercises:

  • Arm Raises – Sit in a chair with both feet flat on the ground. Begin with your arms at your side holding a weight in each hand. Slowly raise your arms up until they are parallel to the floor. Hold your arms in this position for one second. Slowly bring your arms back to your side. Begin by doing this eight times. Rest and then repeat another set. As this becomes easier, increase the times you raise your arms to fifteen per set. When you can raise your arms fifteen times per set increase the amount of weight you are using.
  • Biceps Curl – This is another strength exercise that is performed in a chair. Sit in the chair with your feet flat on the ground, the same distance apart as your shoulders. Have your arms at your side with a weight in each hand. Using one arm at a time, slowly raise the weight to your chest and hold it there one second. Slowly bring the weight back to your side. Repeat with the other arm. Begin with eight curls for each arm. Rest and then repeat. Work your way up to fifteen curls per arm per set, and then increase the amount of weight you are using.
  • Planter Flexion – Stand behind a chair with your fleet flat on the floor and your hands holding on to the back of the chair. Slowing raise up as far as you can on your toes. Hold this position for one second. Slowly place your feet back on the floor. Begin by doing this in a set of eight. Rest, and then repeat. As you become stronger alternate legs during the set. You can also add ankle weights as your strength increases.

Balance Exercises

Any of the strength exercises that work on the lower body is considered a balance exercise. As you become more comfortable with the strength exercises, begin doing them with one hand on the chair instead of two or with your eyes closed. There are other balance exercises.

Any Time Any Where Balance Exercises

  • Walk Heel to Toe
    Walk by putting one foot directly in front of the other, with the heel of one foot almost touching the toes of the other foot.
  • Stand on One Foot
    Stand on one foot while standing. This can be done almost anywhere and almost at any time.
  • Sitting Up and Down
    Sit up and down without using your hands to balance you. You can incorporate this into your day any time you rise from a sitting position or sit down.

Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises should be done every time you do endurance or strength exercises. If you are not doing other types of exercise, make sure you do stretching exercises three times a week for twenty minutes a time. Stretching can be as simple as rolling your neck from side to side or standing with your feet slightly apart and then bending and reaching for your ankle.

All of these and additional exercises can be found at http://weboflife.nasa.gov/exerciseandaging/toc.html.

If you are a senior, begin planning and preparing to begin an exercise program today. Regular exercise will lead to a healthier and happier life. Remember to always check with your doctor before attempting any exercises.