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Best Exercises for Seniors

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    What are the most useful exercises for seniors? Integrating simple workouts into your lifestyle plays a crucial role in maintaining good health as you age.

    Exercise not only reduces your risk of developing certain health conditions but also improves your overall balance and strength, thus making you less prone to common accidents. Note that millions of trips to the emergency room stem from fall accidents.

    Exercise Routines for Seniors

    Before starting any exercise, bear in mind that nobody expects you to follow a full-blown strength training program. For reference, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that older adults should perform no less than two and a half hours of safe, moderate strength exercises or physical activity for seniors weekly to maintain a healthy fitness level.

    Inline Walking Heel to Toe

    • Stand upright with your feet close together and arms hanging at the sides.
    • Place your right foot in front of your left. Make sure your right heel is directly in front of your left foot's toes.
    • Proceed to make another step forward. However, bring your left foot forward this time so that your left foot's heel comes in front of your right toes. Imagine as if you were slacklining.
    • Proceed walking in one straight line for 20 seconds nonstop.

    Heel-to-toe inline walking accurately gauges your balance. In fact, even law enforcement officers use this balance exercise to assess the stability and steadiness of people they suspect are driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal substances.

    The idea behind this exercise is to walk from heel to toe in one straight line without losing balance. Keep your hands tucked at the sides to make it more challenging to balance yourself.

    Combine heel-to-toe inline walking with other exercises that focus on whole-body stability or leg muscle strength to utilize its benefits. Seniors can perform this low-impact exercise regularly.

    Wall Push-Ups

    • Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart, face the wall, then back away by about one and a half arm's length.
    • Place both hands on the wall, straighten your arms parallel to the floor, and plant your palms directly in front of your shoulders—this is your starting position.
    • Slowly shift your body weight forward, halt once your chest hovers a few inches above the wall, contract your pectoral muscles, then press against the wall to push your body back to the starting position—this counts as one rep.
    • Make sure to keep your back straight throughout the movement. Also, focus on pushing your body weight with your pecs, not your arms.
    • Perform three sets of 8 to 10 reps.

    The wall push-up is an excellent strength and power exercise for seniors. They primarily work the chest and shoulders, but they also engage the abdominal and tricep muscles. Perform wall push-ups two to three times per week for best results.

    This variation allows you to perform the standard movement from a standing position, which removes a great deal of stress on your body. It's perfect for those with limited chest or shoulder mobility. To make the exercise more challenging, try regular floor push-ups or wrap a few bands around your body for extra resistance.

    Lower Leg Stretching Combo

    • Sit on a chair with your knees bent at 90 degrees, back straight, hands on your legs, and feet planted firmly on the ground.
    • Next, pull your toes up toward your body without lifting your heels off the ground. You should feel your shin muscles contract as you perform this movement.
    • Lower your toes back down—this counts as one rep.
    • Perform 20 reps, then rest for 20 seconds.
    • Afterwards, move on to the calf raise. This time, you will pull your heels up without lifting your toes off the floor. Imagine as if you're trying to stand on your tiptoes.
    • You should feel your calf muscles contract as you perform this movement.
    • Lower your heels back down—this counts as one rep.
    • Perform 20 reps, then rest for one to two minutes.

    This lower leg stretching combination is an exercise superset of heel raises and toe taps. The former helps build stronger, denser calf muscles, while the latter strengthens your shin muscles.

    Too many seniors overlook their calves and shins when training legs. These muscles might not seem as grand as your other lower body muscle groups, but they actually play a crucial role in your running speed and endurance. Powerful calves allow you to propel yourself off the ground when sprinting, while tough shins can withstand long-distance walks or runs.

    Pro Tip

    Performing these two lower leg exercises counts as one superset—perform three supersets. Always perform them back to back for best results.

    Chair Squats

    • Stand upright with your hands resting across your chest, feet shoulder-width apart, weight evenly distributed between each foot, and a stable chair positioned half a foot behind you.
    • While keeping the back straightened, push back your hips by bending at the knees and slowly lowering the upper body.
    • Stop once your knees bend at 90 degrees or when you find yourself sitting down already.
    • Hold for one count, then drive your feet through the ground to push your body back up—athis counts as one rep.
    • Perform three sets of eight to 10 reps.

    The chair squat is a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups, including your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. You will also engage your abdominal muscles throughout the movement.

    Similar to regular squats, chair squats focus on improving strength and power. Stronger lower body muscles will allow you to walk faster, stand longer, and cycle further without worrying about fatigue.

    Squats work your muscles much harder compared to your standard balance exercise. As such, only perform chair squats two to three times per week, so your body will have sufficient time to rest.

    Pro Tip

    You can also incorporate regular squats into your water aerobics program. Performing this exercise underwater removes the majority of the stress on your knees, foot joints, and hips.

    Weight Shifts

    • Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart, arms hanging at the sides, and weight evenly distributed between both legs.
    • Slowly shift your weight to your left foot while gradually raising your right foot. Then, hold for 30 seconds.
    • Return to the starting position, then repeat the same process with your other foot.
    • Perform three sets of 30-second holds per leg.

    Weight shifts easily classify as some of the best balance exercises for seniors. They primarily work your lower body and abdominal muscles. Note that you can make this exercise easier on your back by placing your hands on a stable chair as you shift left and right.

    This exercise promotes balance through boosted foot flexibility, stronger joints, and tighter core muscles. It can also improve overall body coordination.

    Pro Tip

    For best results, older adults can perform this exercise for seniors at least once every day. If you want to make the movements more challenging, opt to stand on each leg for more than 30 seconds.

    Marching in Place

    • Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms hanging at the sides, and eyes locked forward.
    • Next, bring your left knee up until your thigh is parallel to the floor.
    • Then, carefully lower your left leg while simultaneously lifting your right knee—this counts as one rep.
    • Perform three sets of 20 reps.

    This simple, low-impact cardiovascular exercise can elevate your heart rate, stimulate good blood flow, and strengthen your leg muscles. Over time, you can slowly shift to more intense cardio exercises.

    Pro Tip

    As with your squats, you can take this exercise over to your water aerobics routine as well. Mix marching in place into your exercise routine daily. You can make this simple exercise more challenging by lifting your knees higher or quickly transitioning between your left and right legs.

    Safety Practices for Working Out as a Senior

    Carelessly performing balance and strength training exercises can have grave, irreversible consequences—from pulled back muscles to several broken bones.

    To reduce the risk of getting into an accident, we strongly encourage seniors of all fitness levels to follow these simple, actionable tips:

    Take it Slow

    Regular exercise yields several physical and mental health benefits, but overexerting yourself will do more harm than good. As such, regulate the intensity of your training. If possible, only perform new, risky exercises under the supervision of a trained fitness coach or reliable relative.

    To gauge whether your body can handle advanced exercises for seniors, document your daily progress consistently. Keep track of how many reps and sets you can do per exercise. For example, if your heart rate does not even elevate after several push-ups, you can try challenging yourself with resistance band exercises that target your pectoral muscles.

    Make Sure You're Hydrated

    We cannot emphasize the importance of proper hydration while training. Physical activity causes the body to release fluids through perspiration, so you will need to balance out your water levels once again. If you forgo adequate hydration, you might experience health symptoms like dizziness, confusion, and dropped blood pressure levels.

    Neglecting proper hydration also has long-term effects among older adults, such as constipation, urinary tract infections, heart disease, and kidney failure, among other symptoms. If left unaddressed, these will degenerate into even graver complications.

    Warm Up and Cool Down

    Always perform your warm-up routine before exercising—regardless if you follow light resistance band programs or advanced strength training. A few minutes of light to moderate stretching will give you the flexibility your joints need. Jumping right into your workout while your muscles still feel tight and tense will put you at risk of injuring your foot, legs, back, or knees.

    When doing your warm-up and cool-down, make sure to pay extra attention to the muscles you're working. If you're focusing on upper-arm exercises at the chest level, be sure to warm up your back by rotating your forearms at shoulder height.

    On that note, your warm-up does not have to consist of stretching exercises solely. Activities like brisk walking would do just fine.

    Don't worry if you find the exercises listed here too challenging. Instead, check out our Senior Strong article on how simple physical activities like gardening can help you stay healthy.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How far should a 70-year-old walk every day?

    The vast majority of older adults who are in good physical shape walk about 2,000-9,000 steps per day. This equates to walking distances between one and four miles respectively. Increasing the distance you travel every day by just one mile will produce benefits for your health.

    Should seniors lift heavy weights?

    For those who fear the inevitable loss of strength as they age, there is hope. Older people can reverse or slow that descent by lifting weights and gaining muscle mass.

    How often should a 70-year-old exercise?

    You can improve your muscle strength, balance and flexibility by doing activities at least two days per week. To maintain a healthy lifestyle, aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week.

    How can seniors improve muscle tone?

    As an older adult, you need to keep your heart healthy and active. Cardio is a great way of doing so as it promotes the healthiness of cardiovascular systems while also assisting in weight-loss management.

    When we're talking about cardio exercise for adults over 30 years old, running or walking are both good options with little risk for injury due to age related changes that occur at this stage. Strength training can be another excellent option during these stages because muscle growth occurs naturally when one exercises consistently.

    Can muscle atrophy be reversed?

    Muscles atrophy is often reversible through regular exercise and proper nutrition, in addition to getting treatment for the condition that's causing it.

    What stops your muscles from growing?

    One of the simplest ways to build more muscle is by using heavier weights. Doing too much cardio, not enough rest or planning will only impede one's ability to be in top form and tone muscles effectively.

    On a similar note, overtraining can also affect your progress which may lead you into a state where recovery becomes difficult. Lastly, improper weightlifting technique combined with inadequate diet will inevitably hinder progress.

    To utilize the health benefits of regular exercise, strive to make small, consistent lifestyle changes rather than drastic, non-sustainable efforts. You do not even have to take on bodyweight exercises right from the get-go. If you struggle to perform most exercises for seniors, start by amping up the amount of physical activity you do daily—move around more!

    Lastly, consult with a medical professional before following new exercise programs. Otherwise, you might end up with back pain, inflamed joints, or sore knees, among other issues. If possible, ask your nutritionist or dietitian as well before making any significant changes to your current diet.

    At Senior Strong, we feature an array of resources to help seniors maintain a good quality of life even as they age. Check out our health and wellness plans for the elderly today.

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