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The Best Exercises for Older PeopleArticle by Daniel Westhead
It's one of life's paradoxes that, at the time of life when staying healthy is arguably most vital, the range of exercises you are able to do are most limited.
Keeping fit as you age is vital to maintaining a good quality of life, yet choosing the most suitable activity can feel a little overwhelming. Your body may not feel quite so supple as it once was, and your energy levels are falling.
For the over 70's in particular, staying active is essential to maintain both physical and mental wellbeing. With this in mind, we explore some of the best exercises for older people.
Why does exercise get difficult as we get older?
As you age, your body goes through a raft of changes, impacting what type of exercise is right for you.
For women, less oestrogen is produced in the body after menopause, making bones more brittle, increasing the risk of injury. However, choosing the right types of exercise as you get older can slow bone loss post-menopause, which lowers the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.
Men, meanwhile, tend to lose testosterone which can lead to a loss of muscular strength, making working out harder.
For both sexes, other bodily changes can influence the range of exercises they can do. Joints become stiffer with age as the fluids inside them decrease and the cartilage becomes thinner. Ligaments also shorten, which results in a loss of flexibility and can make your joints feel stiff.
Feel like exercise is more tiring? Having less energy as you age is a real thing. As you lose mass and strength in your muscles, strenuous activities can feel far more tiring.
Why is physical activity so important for older adults?
Despite exercise feeling a little more of a chore, it is crucial to keep as active as possible. All the things that can make exercise feel harder are the very reason that it should form a regular part of your routine.
Being active helps prevent muscle loss and maintain flexibility, which will help you stay mobile and reduce the risk of falls.
Exercise will also help to keep your heart healthy. Aerobic exercise improves circulation, which results in lowered blood pressure and heart rate. This doesn't mean you have to don your legwarmers and sweatband – simply increasing your heart rate by a little will help strengthen your heart.
And it’s not just your body. Exercise helps to keep you mentally fit too. Even a short ten minute walk can increase mental alertness and energy. Choosing a group activity or taking a walk with friends helps you to keep in contact with others too.
Best exercises for the over 70's
Maintaining physical activity as you get older is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health. Ideally, adults aged 70 and over should aim to be physically active every day – even if the activity is something fairly light – a brisk walk will do the trick.
It’s a good idea to undertake a mixture of activities; some to build strength, some light cardio which gets your heart rate slightly elevated and something designed to improve your balance. While some exercises will help with all three, it’s a good idea to mix things up so that you don’t get bored with doing the same thing.
With this in mind, here are some of the best exercises for older adults.
The secret of choosing the best exercise is always to pick something easy to do, that can fit in with your lifestyle and build up over time. As long as you're reasonably mobile, walking ticks all of these boxes.
It's also an activity that can improve your mental well-being. Being outside in nature has been linked to a wealth of benefits, including lower stress, better moods, and increased attention span.
Getting started is easy; you just need to leave the house and get walking; however, there are some things to bear in mind.
It’s wise to map out a route or walk it with a friend or family member first to familiarise yourself with any bumpy terrain or uneven paving. If you plan to walk alone, be sure to take along your mobile phone or your SureSafe tracker.
The best way to get fit through walking is to build up your endurance over time. This can mean extending your walking time or increasing your steps in the time that you have available to you. A great way to track your steps while also staying safe is to use the SureSafeGO Plus. It’s a smart watch, pedometer and personal alarm all in one.
If you’re a little wary of walking alone and can’t rope in friends or family, you could consider joining a walking club. Take a look on sites such as MeetUp which often have group walks across the UK.
Swimming can be an ideal exercise for older people as it's gentle on your joints. The buoyancy of the water will allow you more movement than you would have on land.
Swimming is an excellent all-round exercise, building strength while also offering a cardio benefit. It's low impact which is perfect if you have any issues with your knees or hips.
If it has been a while since you've donned your swim cap and goggles, never fear; you can start small. While swimming laps are great, just choosing to walk the pool or using a kickboard for swimming those lengths still offer excellent health benefits.
Whether you’re swimming or walking your lengths, every time you move in the water, you’re putting every muscle group to work thanks to the natural resistance to your bodyweight, so it’s the perfect way to strengthen your muscles, and is also an ideal workout for those wanting to increase their balance.
Strength workouts for older people
As muscles lose mass and strength as we age, it is vital to maintain or even build upon muscle strength with regular strength training.
This does not mean that you're expected to hit the weights in the gym. Strength training is about doing exercise that involves resistance of some form. This could be your own body weight, a tin of baked beans or consider buying a resistance band.
Consistency is key with weight training, so aim to build up your reps or weights when your exercise starts to feel too easy. If you do choose to use equipment such as hand weights or dumbbells, choose one’s which are easy for you to grip, particularly if you suffer with arthritis.
If you don't feel like braving the elements during the colder months, then why not consider investing in a stationary bike for your home.
Like swimming, one of the biggest benefits is that it's a cardio exercise with low impact. Therefore, unlike walking or running, which can be hard on painful or arthritic joints, a stationary bike is low impact.
For those who suffer from back problems, choosing a recumbent bike (one where the pedals are in front of you rather than beneath you) can be a better option as it supports your back and can feel more comfortable.
Exercises to improve balance
While most of us don't like to admit it, a secret fear is often a trip or fall as we get older. Choosing exercise that will improve your balance will help avoid this nightmare scenario.
Balance training simply involves choosing exercises designed to strengthen the muscles that keep you upright, including your legs and your core. By improving your stability, you can help to avoid falls.
Exercises that improve balance can be super simple (think standing on one leg) through to moderately strenuous – such as some of the more challenging yoga poses. You can even buy a balance board, which you stand on.
Whatever exercise you choose, we would always recommend a quick chat with your doctor before taking up a new physical activity.
Call SureSafe's team of experts on 0800 112 3201 to learn more about our fall detector alarms to help give you peace of mind when exercising.