Exercise for Seniors
If you want to stay independent as you age, exercise should be part of your daily routine.
According to Gary Moorhead, CEO of Sport Medicine Australia, seniors are increasingly aware of the importance of physical activity and its impact on their health.
“Women in particular are fitter now than 20 or 30 yeas ago and there is now proven research which shows that without regular exercise, as people age, they can experience a range of health problems,” explains Mr Moorhead.
These problems can include reduced muscle strength and balance; decreased cardiovascular and respiratory function; increased blood pressure and hypertension; and susceptibility to mood disorders such as depression. Also, one-in-three people aged 65 and over fall at least once a year however, the risk of this and other health problems occurring can be reduced through a regular exercise program. (Source: www.physiotherapy.asn.au)
Best exercise options
Your program should include:
- Moderate fitness activities – these promote muscular endurance, heart and lung health and involve exercising at 70 to 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate (220 beats/minute minus your age) for at least 30 minutes a day. Activities include walking, dancing, cycling, swimming, and gardening.
- Strength activities – these should be done two to three times a week and include yoga, weight and resistance training, lifting and carrying, climbing stairs.
- Flexibility activities – such as reaching, bending and stretching and should be done daily and include tai chi, yoga, bowls, mopping/vacuuming.
- Balancing activities – these can help prevent falls and should be done daily. Exercises include yoga, side leg and heel raises, stand up and sit down exercises.
Having helped many seniors at his Mosman-based MediGYM, physiotherapist Monte Elissa says “The main benefits for seniors are feeling stronger and better about themselves, pain reduction/management, and being more confident in activities of daily living such as using the stairs without holding on or getting out of a chair with no hands.”
Its estimated the average body loses around 3kg of lean muscle every decade from middle age. However, evidence suggests that these changes are related more to a sedentary lifestyle rather than age. Seniors can increase muscle mass in a relatively short period through regular exercise
Bone density begins to decline after the age of 40. This loss accelerates around the age of 50 and more rapidly in women. Bone loss makes people more prone to fractures. Exercise can help slow the rate at which bone mineral density is reduced.
Regular exercise helps joints remain supple. In particular, people with arthritis benefit from joint mobility work such as yoga, aerobic and strengthening exercises. (Source: www.sma.org.au)
Yoga and meditation
“Yoga has been growing in popularity for some time now among seniors. We have seniors ranging in age from 50 to 91 years attending our classes,” says Sue Flatman, a yoga teacher at Manly Yoga and Meditation Centre.
“Yoga helps us deal with the many anxieties we experience as we get older when our self image and roles in the community and family change. It can soothe us and help establish a fresh view of ourselves and our lives,” says Ms Flatman.
Sevadevi Glover, a Sydney-based yoga teacher with the Australian Association of Yoga In Daily Life conducts Easy Yoga for Seniors classes which focus on breathing (meditation) and weight bearing postures.
According to Ms Glover the yogic solution called Sarva Hitta Asanas (Good for Everybody) can be adapted for any group of seniors with some postures performed in a chair. “During the practice of Yoga Asanas, the rhythmic alternation of stretching and contracting individual parts of the body causes blood and lymph to be squeezed out of the vessels.
With each contraction there is a brief reduction in blood supply and then with each stretch the same area becomes flooded with a fresh supply of blood carrying oxygen and nutrients. This improves circulation and there is better elimination of toxins and waste products,” explains Ms Glover.
Regardless of the type of activity, be realistic. Dont make it too hard, start slowly and increase over time. And to make it sustainable choose a time you can stick with, set some goals and even get a friend or neighbour involved.
Its also advisable to get a medical clearance check from your doctor before beginning an exercise program.