The Importance of Exercise for Seniors
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Are you interested in managing arthritis, improving your balance, feeling lighter both mentally and physically? Perhaps you don’t like how stiff you feel or are trying to minimize the risk of disease. If any of this applies to you, the thing to do today is to exercise. It does make a difference.

Begin where you are, do everything in moderation, and don’t strain or hurt yourself. Do a little each day and within a very short amount of time, you will feel better and be able to do more. Let’s get into what you can safely begin to do at home.

Chair Exercises for Seniors

Gently ease into any exercise program but challenge yourself. Get support to keep going. If you need some extra care and support working with someone who has been trained in Home Care Assistance’s Balanced Care Method might be just the thing for you. The point is to spend some time moving safely and to improve your physical well-being.

[Disclaimer: As with any exercise program it is advisable to consult your physician for medical advice before beginning any program. Know what is realistic for your body and take care not to hurt yourself. If you feel any pain when doing any of these exercises stop. Stretching and feeling challenged is fine, but remember pain means stop]

Creating a safe exercise routine for older adults can be tricky. Using a sturdy chair is a safe and great low-impact way to do some serious exercising. Many exercises are effective and over time, will help to strengthen your body and improve your balance. There may even come a time when you can do some exercise without the use of the chair. Here are a few stretches to start with and improve your range of motion.

7 Exercises to Improve Mobility

Side to side stretch. Sit up straight in your chair and pull your shoulder blades together. Then gently move your head from side to side. Looking right as far as you can and then moving your head to the left as far as you can. You should feel a slight stretch, but not so much that you hurt yourself.

Up and down stretch. Put your two hands on your chest and hold down. This prevents you from leaning back while stretching and isolates the movement to your neck. Lean your head up and look up to the sky, feel your neck stretch. Then gently look down and pivot your neck from the base of your skull. As you look down, tuck your chin.

Make your neck longer. Put your two hands on your chest again to stabilize your upper body. The idea of this exercise is to make your neck longer by stretching your ears up. Tilt your head from side to side, left ear reaching to the sky, stretching the side of your neck. Then tilting in the opposite direction with your right ear reaching up.

Chin stretch. This exercise helps to properly realign your head over your shoulders. Again, holding your hands on your chest to stabilize your upper body. Look straight ahead, move your head forward then back. As you move your head back your chin should align underneath. If you make a double chin you are doing this correctly.

Shoulder curls. Begin by loosening up by simply rolling your shoulders back in circles. Do this five or ten times and then reverse direction and roll your shoulders forward five or ten times. This warms up the muscles in your shoulders and improves limited mobility.

Cross arm stretch. Starting with your right arm, stretch it across your upper body toward your left shoulder. You either then hold onto your left shoulder or keep your arm straight and use your left arm to support it. Hold it for a few seconds until you feel the stretch through the shoulder blade. Let go and do the same with your left arm.

Triceps stretch. Another good stretch for your triceps is to take your right arm bent at the elbow and bring it up toward the sky stretching your elbow up and back just a little. Repeat this with your left arm.

3 Arm Exercises for Seniors

From being able to reach for something on a shelf to gaining strength. Here are a few exercises that can cover the arms’ basic muscle groups.

Upper arm curls. Sit in a chair or stand, with your arms at your sides and feet flat on the floor. Bend your arms at the elbow up toward your shoulder. While doing so tense your upper arm muscle. Do this with both arms ten times.

Back of the arm curls. Hold your arm to the side and reach your hand behind your head, and lift your fist into the air. You will feel this in the back of your arms. Do this with both arms ten times.

Hand flips. Hold your arms out in front of you with your palms up. Simply move your arms from palms up to palms facing down. Turn the palms up and then down. Do this with both arms at the same time ten times.

6 Leg and Knee Exercises

Many older adults experience pain or soreness in the knees. Given it is a simple joint that is influenced by how we move our hips and ankles. Having strong leg muscles helps keep the knee aligned and bending properly. These exercises increase leg strength which will lead to improved leg strength.

Posture squats. Keeping your knees behind your toes and holding your arms above your head bend at the knees as far as you can do and then stand up. Use a chair or counter if you need support for balance. Start with doing five repetitions and try to increase over a few weeks to 20.

Marching. Using a chair, countertop, or wall for stability - standing straight lift your knees in a slow marching movement. Lift your knees as much as you can alternating between each leg. Repeat lifting each leg ten times.

Toes Up. Using a chair, countertop, or wall for stability, stand up as straight as you can and with your feet flat on the ground, lift your toes while keeping heels on the ground. This will stretch your calf muscles and strengthen the muscles in your feet. Repeat the exercise up to 25 times.

Hip Stretches. Using a chair, countertop, or wall for stability, stand up straight and lift your right leg out to the side and straight up as far as you can go. It is important not to lean into the leg lift or to twist your foot, keep the leg straight. Keep your torso as straight as you can and lift your leg as much as you can, repeat ten times on each leg. With consistent exercise, your hips will loosen up.

Thigh and core strength. This exercise has been proven to be the best exercise for improving your balance. It is simply sitting and standing. Sit in your chair. If it has armrests you can use them if needed. The idea is to sit up from your chair using your legs only. You may need to use armrests or a table to help at the beginning, but try to get to where you can do it hands-free and lift from your legs and core.

Ankle and Foot Flexibility. Sitting in a chair, cross one leg so you can hold your foot. Holding your foot, flex your foot up and down, toes up, and then toes down. Repeat ten times. Then, still holding your foot, move it from side to side gently, ten times. Do this same series with your other foot.

Balance Exercises for Seniors

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one in four Americans age 65 and older falls each year. Each fall doubles a senior’s risk of falling again and increases the likelihood of early death. By practicing a few gentle exercises at home on a regular basis, you can gain strength and improve balance for seniors and coordination which decreases the risk of falling.

Exercises that improve balance include:

  • Clock Reach
  • Heel-Toe Walk
  • Tightrope Walk
  • Eye Tracking
  • Knee Marching
  • Body Circles

Example balancing exercise: Clock Reach:

  1. Hold onto a chair with your left hand. Visualize a clock with 12 in front and 6 behind you.
  2. Stand on your left leg and bring your arm to 12 o’clock, then 3 o’clock, then 6 o’clock. Repeat one to five times.
  3. Then move to the other side of the chair and stand on your right leg and bring your arm to 12 o’clock, then 3 o’clock, then 6 o’clock.
  4. Repeat one to five times.

Benefit: Helps stabilize and coordinate movement while improving balance.

Exercise Programs for Seniors

What kind of exercise class is right for a senior? If you can think of it, there probably is a class out there for you. Naturally, the type of exercise will depend on the individual. Some have been exercising for decades and are able to engage in a wide variety of exercise. Others have never really exercised and finally choose to for health reasons. The good news is that anyone can benefit from some form of exercise.

A comprehensive exercise program should include stretching, and some form of cardio. It should also include resistance training, which benefits strength, and flexibility training. Walking counts, it is actually one of the very best things you can do for yourself. While there are not many walking classes, include a walk to your class.

Various classes which cover these types of exercise include:

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Tai Chi
  • Water Aerobics
  • Cycling Classes

Yoga: There are many different types of yoga. There is a class for everyone for many different levels and abilities. Yoga incorporates using the breath to stretch, strengthen, and improve flexibility. It is a practice that can work for anyone.

Pilates: This is a wonderful practice that concentrates on the core and strengthening. It helps make the body more flexible, improve balance, and improve strength. Exercises can be modified to meet different needs. Pilates is gaining popularity among seniors.

Tai Chi: Tai Chi is a Chinese tradition that is deceptively effective in improving balance, flexibility, and strength. It involves learning slow, focused movements matched to deep breathing. Each posture moves to the next ensuring constant motion.

Water Aerobics: Water aerobics is an exercise that requires water immersed participants. Most water aerobics are in group fitness classes with a trained professional who teaches the class. This type of workout, focuses on endurance, resistance training, and creating an enjoyable atmosphere.

Cycling Classes: A cycling class, also known as indoor cycling or spinning, is an organized sport that could be a great way to get a workout in! It typically requires a stationary bike, and is often taught by an instructor in a group setting. It focuses on intervals of intensity and can build endurance and strength.

The wonderful thing about these forms of exercise is that all levels of practice can be searched for online, and can be done in front of a television or computer. Just enter what type of exercise and the level you are looking for, and you will find something. The point is to begin, get warmed up, and try different exercises until you find one you enjoy- and repeat!

Resources

5 Habits to Stop for Knee Pain

Arm Exercises for Seniors

Exercises for Fall Prevention

Tips for Working Fitness Into Your Daily Routine

About the Author(s)

As a Volunteer Caregiver to the Zen Hospice Project and a Course Manager at the CareGivers Project, Audrey Meinertzhagen is passionate about improving the standards of care for older adults and educating caregivers on the principles of mindfulness and self-care.

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