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Comedian George Burns, who lived to be 100, once quipped, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!” Taking care on oneself isn’t just about extending the length of one’s life – it’s about continuing to live well as we age. One of the most important ways seniors can take care of themselves is to exercise.
As we get older, various aches and pains can become more commonplace, which can decrease our interest in exercising. As a result, many seniors limit their physical activity, or stop it altogether. According to the AARP, 40 percent of people age 40-64 are considered sedentary. For people age 65 and older, this number jumps to 60 percent.
Here’s the issue: the older you get, the more important exercise becomes. Seniors need to exercise more than their younger counterparts because they are at greater risk for the diseases that exercise can prevent, which include heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, among others. Numerous studies have shown that regular exercise protects the body against chronic diseases, improves mood and lowers your chance of injury.
Of course, it’s best to start an exercise program as early in life as possible. But research has shown that even when started late in life, exercise provides amazing benefits. British researchers conducted a study of senior’s activity level over the course of eight years. The study included people who were physically active at the start of the study and those who weren’t. At the end of the eight years, researchers discovered that those who were active and the start of the study and remained so throughout the eight years had the lowest incidents of chronic diseases, memory loss and physical disability. Those who were sedentary at the start of the study and who started an exercise program and sustained it throughout the study did nearly as well. The participants who started exercising late in life and sustained it had a sevenfold decrease in their risk of becoming ill or frail compared to those who remained inactive throughout the length of the study.
The good news is that even moderate exercise provides benefits. A study by the Department of Cardiology in New Orleans and published in the American Journal of Medicine found that as little as 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (which can be as simple as walking) three times a week may reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as 60 percent. In another study involving seniors from age 72 to 98, subjects lifted leg weights three times a week for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, leg strength had increased by 113 percent! Strong legs help prevent falls, one of the main causes of injury among seniors.
If you’re a caregiver caring for an elder loved one, don’t forget that keeping healthy is particularly important, as many caregivers tend to let their own needs slide. Maintaining a regular health maintenance program – including eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and finding some time to engage in something you enjoy – is essential for your own well-being as well as being able to provide the best possible care.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, almost all older people can benefit from increased physical activity. So check with your doctor about starting an exercise routine and start adding more years to your life and life to your years!
Good Exercises for Seniors
The National Institutes for Health recommend four types of exercises for older adults:
Here are some great choices that accomplish many of these:
Swimming is a great choice for seniors, because it’s not only a total body workout – building strength and endurance – but it’s low impact, making it an ideal choice for those with joint pain or back problems.
Yoga and Tai Chi are great for balance and stretching and are also low impact. Yoga can also build strength and both have the added benefit of helping to manage stress.
Walking and hiking are great endurance exercises and also low-impact, making it a perfect exercise for most everyone. It has the added benefit of taking you from one place to another, so you can multitask by exercising while doing errands.
Weightlifting is the easiest way to build strength quickly. And you don’t even need to go the gym to do it! Pushups, sit-ups and leg squats are all great strength-building exercises and can be done in the comfort and privacy of your own home. Do arm curls with household objects like canned goods or fill up old plastic bottles with water.
Range of motion exercises are gentle stretching exercises that can help ease the symptoms of arthritis. These can be as simple as rotating the neck and wrists, clenching and unclenching your hand into a fist, and lying on your back and bending your knee toward your chin.