We all know that exercise is good for us. But as we age, exercise can seem like a bit of a chore. Often we will use excuses such as the weather not being suitable, feeling too tired, or being a bit stiff or sore as reasons for not getting active on a regular basis. Even though the benefits of exercise are drilled into us, often we don’t appreciate what overall health improvement that equates to. Here are 7 reasons why exercise for seniors is so important.
1. To help prevent falls
As we age, the risk of having a fall increases. It’s estimated that by the time we reach 75 years of age, our muscle mass may have deteriorated by as much as 50%. This is quite an alarming statistic, and usually results in weakness in the legs or a loss of balance. By doing a combination of lower body balance exercises, you can help to build up your muscles and regain strength, which also helps you perform daily tasks much easier.
2. Shorter stays in hospital
A recent study has shown that regular walking is linked to reduced patient recovery times in hospital following procedures or medical treatment. An analysis of hospital records showed that the recovery time was almost 24 hours longer in seniors who walked on average of 4500 steps a day, compared to those who walked almost double that each day. So whether it’s walking to and from the letterbox to get the mail, or a few laps of the garden, your step count will begin to add up and will have a positive impact on your health in the long run.
3. To help you feel happier
Sometimes feelings of loneliness or isolation can get the better of us, especially when we’re at home for long periods. Even a little light exercise has the ability to make you feel good by releasing hormones such as endorphins and serotonin that help to improve your mood. You might also notice that symptoms of depression or anxiety are alleviated too, making you feel happier overall.
4. Improves your blood pressure (and keeps your heart happy)
If you suffer from low or elevated blood pressure, exercise can help to improve the symptoms. Seniors with high blood pressure will benefit greatly from regular exercise to ease the pressure on your heart. Cardiovascular exercises such as walking are very effective in strengthening your heart without the risk of overdoing it. For seniors with low blood pressure, lower limb exercises such as calf raises will help circulate blood flow back to the heart, as often lack of exercise can make low blood pressure symptoms worse.
5. To help make everyday tasks easier
Whether it’s making a cup of tea, answering the door or getting out of your recliner chair, these everyday tasks require movement of some kind. Regular exercise for seniors can have a huge impact on your everyday mobility and flexibility, so that everyday tasks don’t become more difficult as you age. You’ll also notice that your balance will improve, and that you’re out of breath less when you’re out and about.
6. Reduces your chance of developing diseases
This one is commonly known but often we forget that exercise can be a contributing factor in preventing disease, especially in older age. There are several medical problems such as osteoporosis, dementia and stroke that are much more common later in life, and exercise can have an impact in helping to fend these off.
7. To help you sleep
Seniors tend to have a harder time falling and staying asleep than in younger years. Exercising just a few times a week can help you to fall asleep much easier at night time and stay asleep for longer periods. If you suffer from afternoon slumps in energy, before reaching for a cup of tea and a biscuit, try going for a walk instead. Exercise has a positive impact on alleviating fatigue, and can help improve your overall mental sharpness – great for when you’re sitting down to finish off a crossword or puzzle.
Getting back into exercise
If you haven’t exercised in a long time, getting back into it can be a challenge. It’s best to firstly consult with your doctor about the types of exercise which will benefit your health most.
The Department of Health recommends that older adults aged 65 and over should be active every day in as many ways as possible, doing a range of physical activities that incorporate fitness, strength, balance and flexibility. The estimate is at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all days, depending on your overall health.
To get you motivated to move, it helps to choose a time of day that you enjoy most, and pick a type of exercise that you’ve done before to ease you back in. Walking is a popular choice, but it doesn’t have to be around the neighbourhood. You can try doing a couple of laps of the backyard, or try walking to and from the letterbox a few times a day. If you have stairs in your house, you might like to try going up and down these a few times, ensuring you hold onto the hand rail for stability.
If you suffer from lack of balance, chair based exercises are fantastic for seniors to build strength and can be done in the comfort of your home. Check out the below Choose Health guide from the Department of Health which lists out a number of great exercises to help you ease back into a more active and healthy lifestyle at home.
Did you know that there are a number of different technologies available to help track the number of steps you do, and how many kilometers you’ve travelled across a 24 hour period? Most smart phones have this technology built in, or you could look into purchasing a wearable fitness tracker such as a pedometer. The devices can also help track your food and water intake, and notify you when it’s time to get moving.
Sources: Health Direct| National Seniors | Better Health VIC| Department of Health AUS