Workout routines for seniors are on the minds of many Baby Boomers who are watching their parents getting older and less able to manage their activities of daily living. Although exercise can't turn back time, it is just about the best fountain of youth we have available.
Getting your aging parents or another beloved senior to begin exercising can be tricky, though, because injuries, illness and other limitations can make movement difficult or painful. An ideal workout routine for seniors includes several essential components:
- Doctor's clearance. You'll rarely find a doctor who will advise against exercise, but seniors may have a range of health issues that require extra safety precautions. Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, arthritis and many other conditions may require special program design to ensure safety.
- Cardiovascular exercise. At least three days per week (and preferablyfive or six), seniors should get 20-30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise. Depending on the senior's level of conditioning, moderate aerobic activity should elevate the heart rate to 40-85% of the maximum heart rate. (You can estimate maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220, but note that this estimate can vary by as much as 20 bpm in either direction.)
Good options for cardiovascular exercise include walking, swimming, dancing and bicycling (for those with good balance). Water exercise is especially well-tolerated by seniors with arthritis and other painful joint conditions. Walking and other weight-bearing exercise are especially good for maintaining bone health.
- Resistance training. At least two but no more than three days per week, seniors should include resistance training to build and maintain lean muscle mass. Resistance training could include weight lifting, resistance band exercises, or just body weight resistance. Many resistance exercises can be adapted for seniors of different fitness levels. Resistance workouts should include special attention to functional fitness skills and special needs like improving grip strength.
- Flexibility training. Gentle range of motion and flexibility exercises should be part of every workout for seniors. The ability to manage the activities of daily living are often limited by the loss of flexibility in the joints, but a great deal of flexibility can be regained with simple exercises that may include stretching, yoga or even tai chi.
- Balance training. Balance exercises can be included as part of either the cardiovascular routine or the resistance workout. Reclaiming a sense of balance can give seniors the confidence they need to live independently and securely.
Each of us goes through the aging process differently, and every senior will have different abilities and needs for their workout routines. A qualified personal trainer with experience training seniors can help design a workout routine that is safe and appropriate for seniors.
(photo credit: Philip Schatz)