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Published on April 3, 2018

Exercise for Seniors: How to Improve Strength and Balance (And Stay Fit)

Exercise for Seniors: How to Improve Strength and Balance (And Stay Fit)

Seniors are living longer than ever. But longer isn’t always better. If you want your parents (and yourself) to live healthier, happier and more independently as they age, try introducing these proven exercises into their weekly routine.

I’ve selected 15 exercises focused on improving seniors’ balance, strength, flexibility and cardio. Because no matter the age or conditioning, research has shown that these exercises help seniors avoid falls and disease while staying active, mobile and independent longer.

Let’s look into these exercises for seniors:

The importance of exercise for seniors

Let’s take a look at 10 benefits of exercise researchers at Harvard have identified for seniors:[1]

  • Lessens risk of heart disease
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Strengthens bones
  • Protects Joints
  • Limits knee & mobility problems
  • Improves mood, reduces depression
  • Improves cognitive functioning
  • Improves sleep
  • Helps fend off infection
  • Increases lifespan

Finding the right exercise is the ultimate life hack. Not only will it help the elderly feel better physically and emotionally, it will help them live independently far longer – dramatically improving their quality of life.

Exercise for seniors (the complete guide)

This ultimate guide on exercise for seniors is different because there is no complicated exercise routine or trainers needed.

You can choose from a wide range of exercises that you enjoy. No one exercise is the answer. Just get in the habit of doing some of the suggested strength, balance, flexibility and aerobic exercises every week.

I recommend following a weekly routine suggested by a recent study from Harvard University specifically for seniors:[2]

  • Do at least 150 minutes of walking or other aerobic exercise per week
  • Practice strength training 2-3 times per week, but never 2 days in a row
  • Stretch and do balance exercises every day

Just make sure to consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.

Senior exercises for strength

1. The squat (for strength / lower body, balance)

This is a good strength training exercise for the lower body — the squat to chair. Squats are one of the best exercises to improve the strength of your legs, gluts and your core.

Doing it with a chair is very safe. Try doing 5-15 repetitions, for 2-3 sets. If you feel light headed, dizzy or off balance stop. Here’s a great video to teach proper form:

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2. Wall push-ups (for strength / upper body)

Wall push-ups are a great and safe exercise for upper body strength, specifically for the arms, chest and shoulders. The closer one stands to the wall, the easier it will be.

Try doing 10-30 repetitions, for 3 sets.

3. The plank (for strength / core)

Strengthening the core improves balance, overall fitness and prevents many lower back injuries.

Plank strengthens arms, abs, legs, tush, hips and back. In fact, AARP (the United States-based interest group that focuses on the elderly) claims it’s the #1 best overall exercise for every post 50 year old body.

Try doing it for 2-3 sets for 30-60 seconds a set.

4. The bridges (for strength / core)

Like the planks, bridges are great for building strength in your glutes, abs and lower back – the entire core. It’s highly effective, but low impact on the joints.

Try doing 3 sets of 15 repetitions.

Stretching exercises for seniors

5. Floor hip flexors

The floor hip flexor stretch does a wonderful job stretching the glutes, thigh and hip flexors.

To do it, lie down flat on the ground. Wrap your hands around one leg, and pull it back to your chest as far as you comfortably can. Hold it in that position for 10 to 30 seconds. While doing so, press the back of the knee of your other leg as far to the ground as you can, stretching your hip flexor.

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Try doing it 2-3 times per leg, holding each leg in position for 10 to 30 seconds at a time.

6. Standing hamstring stretch

This is a simple stretch for the back of your legs.

Extend your right leg straight in front of you, heel grounded on the floor and toes pointing to the ceiling. Place your hands on your upper thighs for support and hinge forward from the hip, keeping your spine neutral. Hold. Return to the starting position.

Try doing this 2-3 times, holding it for 10-30 seconds at a time.

7. Double knee torso rotation

This is a great stretch for your outer thighs, hips, chest and back.

Lie down flat on the floor. Lift both knees toward your chest, then lower them to the right side on the floor. Keeping your shoulders relaxed and pressed into the floor, look in the opposite direction, with your arms spread out.

Do this 2-4 times, holding it for 10-30 seconds at a time.

8. Yoga (also for strength and balance)

As we age, our flexibility and pliability diminish. As a result, activities of daily living like getting dressed and tying our shoes become more challenging.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommend Yoga as a “total-solution” exercise for older adults. Yoga is an effective and safe way to improve your overall flexibility, strength, balance and mental fitness.

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You can start with a beginners’ yoga routine, or if mobility is an issue, start with chair yoga for seniors found in this video:

Senior exercises to improve balance

9. The single leg stand

The single leg stand is another excellent exercise for improving balance.

Simply lift one knee up so you’re balancing on one leg. Hold for 10 seconds. Then do the other leg. Repeat 5 times per leg. Feel free to use a chair for additional support.

10. Heel raises

Heel raises improve balance by strengthening the toe flexors and getting you used to being on your toes.

Stand straight. Raise your heels of the ground and hold yourself in that position for 3 seconds. Repeat the sequence 10 times. Hold on to a chair if needed.

11. Walk the line

To walk the line, simply place one foot in front of the other, by placing your heel directly in front of your toe (they should touch), and walk 10-15 paces. If you need to, place a hand on a counter top as you do the exercise for balance.

To make the exercise progressively difficult, try doing it with your hands by your side, turning your head side to side, keeping one eye closed, keeping both eyes closed, and doing it backwards.

12. Tai Chi

Tai Chi has been shown by Harvard researchers to improve the balance, gait and overall functional abilities of seniors.[3] Tai Chi is an excellent activity to help seniors improve balance and avoid falls.

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Here is a great 8 minute daily Tai Chi video designed specifically for beginner seniors:

Cardio exercise recommendations

13. Walking

Walking, although simple, is still one of the best all around exercises to improve cardio, balance, and overall fitness. According to the National Institute of Health, a simple 30 minute walk a day, can help reduce the risk of heart disease.[4]

If your loved one is just starting out, encourage them to start with a 10 to 15 minute walk and work their way up to 30 to 60 minutes a day. Make sure they have a good pair of supportive sneakers.

14. Swimming (also for strength)

Swimming has been identified as one of the best overall exercises for seniors. It’s gentle on the joints, great for muscle strength, builds the core and improves cardio. One study has shown that swimming reduces falls among seniors by over 30%.[5]

Complex muscle movements, requiring coordination seem to offer benefits that simple movements like walking do not. I’d recommend swimming for a 30-60 minute session, with breaks in between laps as needed.

15. Dancing (also for balance)

Dancing has been shown to not only improve one’s cardiovascular health, balance and motor skills, but also to have significant cognitive benefits.

A recent study in the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience demonstrated that the physical demands of dancing, the learning of new dance routines and the emotional benefits of being socially engaged while dancing, all contributed to slowing down mental decline.[6]

Summing it up

The challenges of aging are not inevitable. The 15 exercises selected are proven to help the elderly stay healthy, active and independent longer.

The formula is simple. Do any cardio exercise for 150 minutes a week, any strength training exercise at least 2 times a week and a balance or stretching exercise every day.

Whether it means going for a walk, swimming or dancing, these exercises are fun to do and will make your parents feel great!

Reference

More by this author

Marc Felgar

Marc Felgar is an aging, health & senior care expert focused on improving the lives of mature adults.

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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