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:

    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.

    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:

    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:

    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

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