No matter what age someone is, the best exercise for them is the one which they enjoy the most. After all, if someone does not enjoy their workout, how long would they stick to it?
Still, all good fitness experts know that there are countless forms of exercises out there, and the best ones create plans that are enjoyable by their clients and keep them engaged – that’s why fitness trainers are so important. Barbara Bergin, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon in Austin explains that, for older adults, the number one priority must be to maintain their quality of life outside the gym.
For that, focus on workouts designed to help older clients build strength, maintaining muscle mass and staying mobile along with balance is one’s fitness instructors generally focus on. Also key is considering the requirements of any given fitness option. Are there bones strong enough for high-impact exercises such as running and jumping? Is their balance where it needs to be for fall-free bike rides? How much time to do you really have to spend at the gym?
Below, some experts share the best types of exercise for older adults.
There’s a reason swimming is called the world’s perfect exercise. Whether you’re performing the breaststroke, taking a water aerobics class, or playing Marco Polo with the grandkids, getting in the pool is a great way to increase your cardiovascular fitness while also strengthening your muscles, says Victoria Shin, M.D., a cardiologist at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in California.
It does all this while putting minimal stress on your bones and joints, which is a major plus for men and women who have arthritis or osteoporosis. As if that isn’t enough reason to jump in, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Aging Research suggests that swimming can help older adults keep their minds as sharp as their bodies.
Not a swimmer? You can still benefit from water exercise, such as SilverSneakers Splash. If you’re a confident swimmer, you can swim on your own. And when the weather is nice, take advantage by moving your swim sessions outdoors. Research consistently links time in nature with improved mental and physical health.
With a holistic approach to fitness, yoga helps build muscle strength, aerobic fitness, balance, core stability, mobility, and flexibility—all of which are important for older adults, says David Kruse, M.D., a sports medicine specialist at Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Orange, California.
And while yoga is low-impact and gentle on your body’s joints, it’s still weight-bearing, meaning that you have to support your body’s weight with every posture. That’s vital to strengthening not just your muscles, but also your bones.
If you are new to yoga, look for an introductory class that will teach you the basics. SilverSneakers Yoga is made for older adults. Hatha-, Iyengar-, and restorative-style classes are also great options. Talk to your class instructor about any physical limitations before getting started.
Heather Seekonk, a leading pilate instructor from Chicago, US says that much like yoga, Pilates is also known for being a low-impact strength program and with it’s focus on core strength and stability makes it especially great for older adults.
4. Bodyweight Training
One out of every three older adults experiences severe muscle loss, according to an analysis published in Age and Ageing. Meanwhile, when it comes to fighting age-related abdominal fat—a marker for overall health, Harvard research showed that strength training is much more time-efficient compared to cardiovascular exercise.
No surprise that a lot of fitness instructors subscribe bodyweight exercises
Fortunately, you don’t have to bench press your bodyweight to keep your muscles healthy and prevent fat gain over the years, says Dr. Shin. In fact, she notes, for most older adults, it’s far safer to start small. Simple bodyweight exercises such as chair squats, single-leg stands, wall pushups, and stair climbing will do a great job at keeping your body strong and ready to tackle everyday activities.
5. Resistance-Band Training
Most gyms now, have an array of resistance bands ready for use, but these inexpensive and beginner-friendly exercise tools are perfect for at-home workouts as well, Dr. Shin says.
In addition, bands can help people challenge their muscles in ways that are possible with equipment-free training.
Even if people can’t find the time to perform a structured workout, everyone is likely to have time to put one foot in front of the other to get where you need to go, says Dr. Shin, who recommends most people take 10,000 steps per day, even on days they don’t “work out.” Research published in PLOS One found that people who increased their activity levels to 10,000 steps per day were 46 percent less likely to die in the following 10 years compared to those who stayed sedentary.
For some older adults or people with a chronic condition, 10,000 may not be the right exact number. But the fact remains: Walking is a great, free workout that can have a big impact on your health.
Another low-impact form of exercise, cycling is ideal for those who want to increase their leg strength, but can’t run or engage in other high-impact sports due to osteoporosis or joint issues, Dr. Shin says. A 2017 analysis published in the European Review of Aging and Physical Activity found that cycling also helps improve cardiovascular health, metabolic health, function, and cognitive performance in adults older than 70.
8. Strength and Aerobic Classes
In-person classes are the best, not only to get the heart rate going but also for social purposes. You get to meet people, in a friendly environment and allow fitness experts to pass on their vast wealth of knowledge.
9. Personal Training
For anyone looking for more attention and instruction than group classes provide, working with a personal trainer is a great path to fitness and fun. Many offer one-on-one and small-group sessions, the latter in which you and one to three of your friends perform the same workout with the trainer.
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