Why older adults should exercise regularly

Older adult exercise class

Pay attention to how much activity you’re getting—even climbing the stairs Exercise is the energy booster that is so counterintuitive, most people don’t even think of it. But it’s a proven way to increase your energy levels. The physical activity guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week (for example, half an hour five days a week) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a mix of the two.

The guidelines also advise engaging in two to three strength training sessions per week. Allow at least 48 hours between these muscle-building workouts to give your body time to recover. Whether you are doing aerobic exercise or strength training, start each exercise session with a five to ten-minute warm-up.

Stretching is also essential at the end of a session to work out muscle kinks and improve range of motion and balance.

Aerobic activity for older adults:

The most convenient and affordable form of aerobic activity is walking. Studies have shown that brisk walking for at least half an hour, five times a week, has nearly the same health benefits as more vigorous exercise. People who take brisk walks have a lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, and perhaps other diseases. Even mental health problems are less frequent in regular walkers. Although it hasn’t been studied, many regular walkers also believe that this exercise makes them more energetic.

Strength training for older adults:

Resistance exercise, such as weightlifting, is especially beneficial for people in their 60s and older because it builds muscle mass. Weightlifting doesn’t have to involve heavy barbells. Lifting light hand weights or using resistance bands like those used at the Young At Heart Keep Fit Club classes can provide adequate resistance, as can using strength training machines at the gym. Be sure to exercise all of the major muscle groups of the legs, abdomen, arms, and shoulders.

Choose weights as light as 1kg for your first few strength training sessions, so you can concentrate on good form, you want to isolate muscles by trying to move only those that you’re exercising. After that, add enough weight so that the maximum number of repetitions you can do per set is about eight to 12. The last few repetitions in each set should require a good deal of effort. Aim for two to three sets per exercise, breathing out as you lift and breathing in as you lower the weight. Rest between sets for a minute to reap the best strength gains.

Safe stretches for older adults:

Everyone with medical conditions or not—should use these tips to help protect muscles and joints while ensuring flexibility gains.

  • Warm up first. Much like taffy, muscles stretch more easily when warm. You can begin by marching in place with arms swinging for five minutes or dancing to a few songs. Moist heat packs or a warm shower are effective first steps, too.
  • Feel no pain. Stretch only to the point of mild tension, never to the point of pain. If a stretch hurts, stop immediately! Reset your position carefully after checking the instructions, then try again.
  • Pay attention to posture and good form. Posture counts whether you’re sitting, standing, or moving. Good form translates to better gains in flexibility and less likelihood of injury when stretching tight muscles.
  • Focus on the muscle being stretched. You’ll notice that one side of your body often is tighter than the other. Work on balancing this over time.
  • Breathe comfortably while stretching or use yoga breathing.
  • Practice often. You’ll make the best gains if you stretch frequently—daily, or on as many days of the week as possible. At the very least, aim to do stretches two or three times a week

Want some help starting a regular exercise routine?

Ty Paul and Gav O’Brien, who run the Young At Heart Keep Fit Club classes, also offer Young At Heart Personal Training where you can benefit from one on one coaching, including advice on aerobic activity and strength training. To request a call-back for Young At Heart Personal Training please click the button below and fill out the form:

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