Exercise as a tool for weight loss, heart health, and overall health improvement isn’t new to any of us. If you have kids, chances are you register them for as many sports and activities as possible in an effort to get them off screens and onto their feet. As busy working adults, we all fret daily about how to find the time to make it to the gym or go for a run. But what about the older generations – the retirees, the aging parents and grandparents – whose physical prowess isn’t what it used to be?
Exercise is vital for all ages – arguably even more critical as we age, as our bones start losing density, our muscles naturally atrophy, and our proprioception flags. In fact, as part of my master’s program (MS in Exercise, Fitness & Health Promotion), I worked on an exercise intervention program for older adults over 65 years of age. As reported by the CDC, one in three people in this age group are likely to suffer a fall within a given year; in 2010 alone, 2.3 million older adults were treated in ER’s around the country for non-fatal fall-related injuries. While not an end-all, be-all preventative measure, there was evidence over the course of a 10-week exercise intervention that regular exercise can decrease falls risk. And guess what? According to the CDC, falls are consistently either the number one cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans, or one of the top causes.
While our ability to regularly participate in intense exercise may diminish, and our desire to push ourselves to our physical limits wanes, there are ample ways to get moving in a safe and beneficial way as we enter our 60’s and beyond.
The truth is that priorities shift as we get older. Sure, there are occasional marathoners in their 70’s still pushing to Boston Qualify and set blistering PR’s, and body building has seen a rise in senior participants, most seniors’ purpose in exercising is to decrease falls risk, mitigate risk of injury, and – at the highest level – reduce mortality risks (dementia, heart disease, etc.).
So what does an exercise program look like for seniors? Generally speaking, any prescribed fitness schedule should involve predominantly low- to moderate-intensity and impact exercise. Balance exercises – utilizing tools such as a Bosu Ball and strength work such as single-leg exercises (squats, deadlifts, leg lifts, etc.) – should make a regular appearance, as should functional exercises such as sit-to-stand, toe raises, and step-ups. Other great forms of exercise to consider for any seniors in your life:
· Swimming – either lap swimming or water aerobics
· Pilates or low-intensity yoga
· Bike riding if knee issues aren’t a limiting factor
· Pickle ball
· Golf (without the cart!)
Many of you reading this article are still objectively young (and/or young at heart!). Worrying about balance and falls risk may seem like a very distant concern, but that time will come faster than you think, and starting NOW to increase your single-leg strength and overall balance can only benefit you in the long run.