Safe exercises for seniors are ones tailored to their specific level of ability, with any existing challenges or health / physical issues taken into account. The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS) reports that while bone and joint degeneration is a common parallel to the aging process, it’s not the aging itself causing musculoskeletal decline but the fact that many seniors adopt a more sedentary lifestyle.
However, many seniors face their golden years already having faced an injury or two, and arthritis pain can limit the ability to exercise. Joint instability can also increase the risk of falls, as can blood pressure issues or compromised cardiovascular health. Finding a safe, effective workout routine for seniors that can help maintain bone and joint health is key, and seniors should always seek input from their physician or physical therapist before beginning a new workout routine.
Three types of exercise are optimal for maintaining bone and joint health as we age:
Resistance training increases lean muscle, decreases fat mass and reduces the risk of strains, sprains, and acute fractures. Safe resistance training exercises for seniors include:
- Lying hip bridges, in which the individual lies on the floor with knees bent and feet flat, then lifts and lowers their hips slowly and repeatedly.
- Wall pushups, in which the individual stands just far enough away from the wall for their palms to press flat against it, then bends their elbows and leans in, allowing their heels to come off the floor before pressing back into upright position.
- Quad balancing, in which the individual is positioned on hands and knees with the back straight, then straightens diagonal arm and leg pairs slowly as far as possible before slowly resuming position.
Sustained aerobic training not only increases oxygen consumption and promotes heart health, but it has also been linked to maintenance of cartilage volumes. 10-30 minutes at least five times a week of the following can help maintain good health:
- Swimming is especially beneficial for seniors with joint pain in their hips or knees, and it removes weight bearing loads and allows aerobic exercise that is impact free.
- Brisk walking is undertaken by many seniors in groups, often in temperature regulated malls with skid free floors. The social aspect can provide added benefits.
Flexibility and Balance Training
Maintaining flexible joints and good balance is particularly important for helping seniors, avoid injury. Seniors who devote two days a week to flexibility training have better motion maintenance, improved balance, and a reduced risk of injury.
- Shoulder and spine stretching can be accomplished by standing with the feet slightly apart and knees slightly bent, arms held out at the sides, while the individual twists carefully to the left and right.
- Thighs and calves can be carefully stretched by sitting in a chair and alternating raising one leg up with the knee bent, straightening it, bending it back, and returning the foot to the floor.
- Tai Chi, Yoga, or Pilates for seniors are more excellent ways to get flexibility and balance training.
Understanding exercise goals and limits are important considerations when starting a new exercise program. Make sure to discuss your current health, goals, and safety with your doctor before beginning a new routine, and start slow to build up your strength and flexibility over time.