Getting older is unavoidable, but succumbing to the biological effects of aging is not. As we age, our muscle mass and strength begin to decline, and our metabolisms slow down. Regular exercise for seniors not only combats the natural effects of aging, it can improve overall quality of life and may even help seniors extend their lives.
In 2016, researchers from the National Institute of Health found that exercise for seniors could increase life expectancy by almost 10 years. The researchers also found that seniors age 70 to 89 who were at risk for becoming disabled were able to reduce that risk by exercising for 150 minutes a week, which is the recommended guideline for older adults.
While 150 minutes of physical activity may seem daunting, there are simple ways seniors can incorporate exercise into their daily routines. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away from a destination, and walking or biking instead of driving are all simple ways to work up to 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
Exercise for seniors should also include a variety of different movements, including activities that focus on balance, strength, flexibility and endurance. Balance and flexibility exercises can help prevent falls and lower the chance of injury. Yoga and Tai Chi use low-impact exercises to improve balance and flexibility and have also been shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Strength exercises can reduce symptoms of arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes, as well as make daily activities like climbing stairs or bending down to lift something off the ground easier — it’s recommended older adults engage in strength movements twice a week. Endurance exercises help seniors maintain a healthy weight, heart and immune system. Exercises that raise heart rate and breathing should make up the majority of exercise for seniors. Low-impact endurance exercises like swimming, biking, walking and hiking are all good options for older adults.
On the last Wednesday of every May, our nation celebrates National Senior Health & Fitness Day. The goal of the day is to promote regular exercise for seniors, as well as highlight what local organizations are doing to help seniors meet this goal.