Maintaining Physical Fitness Can Increase An Older Adults Independence 

Seniors love living independently. Although there are some wonderful senior living communities that offer great amenities like enjoyable social experiences and quality care, many still prefer to stay in their own home if given a choice.

Of course, it’s not always up to them: there may be changes in mental or physical condition which require them to relocate. Perhaps severe injuries from a fall or advanced forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease can make it so it’s difficult or unsafe for a person to stay by themselves.

It’s definitely a difficult situation, and may require input from family members and health care providers.

But one of the factors that may keep this discussion from taking place is if someone is doing well physically. If they get around fine and keep themselves safe, then everyone should be satisfied, other than occasional check-ins.

Getting to this point does require some effort, however. They need strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance. They should be aware of fall risks and take steps to avoid them, since falls can be devastating. A bad fall could lead to broken bones and even a loss of confidence and fear of future falls.

Once you’re at this point, you need to maintain it too, which means some regular exercise is in order.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that seniors aged 65 and older will benefit from at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, which could include something as simple as a brisk walk. This could be broken down to about 30 minutes each day for five days.

If you’re up for it, the CDC also said value will be found in at least 75 minutes a week of more vigorous activity like jogging, running or hiking.

Along with this type of activity, the CDC also recommends activities that build strength and grow muscles for at least two days a week plus other activities that improve balance.

The CDC does offer some sample fitness plans on its site that people can use to set up a weekly schedule. It also suggests various alternatives for those who might not be able to do all the exercises.

For instance, those with mobility problems might not be able to walk as easily or as far. Instead, some exercises may be done while sitting or at a pool.

Those with past cardiac or respiratory problems should discuss a fitness plan with a health care provider, and be conscious of chest pains or shortness of breath. People who are out of shape or are recovering from surgery or injury might need to start at lower levels and build up.

This is OK – medical experts say that even 5 minutes a day can be a great start if that’s all you can handle at first.

Benefits of exercise

Younger people may like to exercise regularly to build up muscles and increase strength, but with many seniors, it’s more a matter of preserving what you have. You can certainly work on being stronger but you’re more likely wanting to not lose any gains you’ve made, since it’s easy for muscle, balance and overall strength to be reduced if you have to take a break.

MyHealthfinder, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week – basically anything that “gets your heart beating faster,” which can be walking, dancing, even yardwork.

This optimal level of activity can have all sorts of benefits beyond demonstrating overall independence and reducing the risk of injury from falls, including

  • Better mood
  • More endorphins, which reduce pain
  • Clearer thinking and better decision-making abilities
  • Lower blood pressure (especially from more frequent higher-intensity exercise)
  • Lower risk of some health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, strokes, or certain types of cancers.

People seeking to boost their overall health can look for activities that provide several health benefits at once by combining strength-building, cardio endurance, and balance. This can include dancing, especially something that requires certain steps and rhythm, like ballroom or salsa. Yardwork, especially raking or general maintenance, can use different muscles and take a certain amount of time. Plus you get the benefits of being outside and having a well-kept yard.

Water aerobics classes, which might be available at a local health club or community center, might be a great fit. Not only does water create good resistance without straining muscles too much, but it can be a good way to meet people and maybe find exercise partners around your age.

People can also look for activities that build balance, including tai chi, performing yoga or stretching, which can be done in a group setting or home with a video. If you have limited space or aren’t comfortable exercising outside, you can walk around your home or apartment, then switch direction. Walking backwards (safely) can also help your overall balance. Using cans of food or thick books instead of weights at a gym can also help your strength.

Learn more

There’s never a bad time to focus on improving your fitness, and there are several opportunities throughout the year to gain new skills and explore resources.

February is American Heart Month, an occasion to learn about how to take better care of your heart and reduce the risk of heart disease, including exercise.   

National Physical Fitness and Sports Month used to take place in February but has been moved to May.  

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