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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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 September 28, 2020

The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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Con #2: Less Human Interaction

One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

Con #4: Unique Distractions

Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

Final Thoughts

Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

More About Working From Home

Featured photo credit: Standsome Worklifestyle via unsplash.com

Reference

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