As we get older we’re told it’s important to keep exercising but just what does that mean and how should we be doing it? Elderly exercise is a complex subject and it’s not always clear what you should be doing to look after yourself or your loved one. In this guide, we’ll cover why you should be exercising, how to exercise in various scenarios and how it doesn’t need to be a burden.
Chapter 1: Why do the Elderly Need to Exercise?
People who exercise tend to have improved immune and digestive functioning, better blood pressure and bone density. In addition; a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. These risks can also be lowered with a balanced and healthy diet
Staying active is easy and can be done no matter what your situation is. Of course having some mobility problems can make it more difficult. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible to still exercise.
NHS Exercise Recommendation for the Elderly
Elderly adults should do some type of physical activity every day. Any type of activity is good for you. The more you do the better.
Adults aged 65 and over should:
- aim to be phyically active every day. Any activity is better than none. The more you do the better, even if it’s just light activity
- do activities that improve strength, balance and flexibility on at least 2 days a week
- do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity if you are already active, or a combination of both
- reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity
If you’ve fallen or are worried about falling, doing exercises to improve your strength, balance and flexibility will help make you stronger and feel more confident on your feet. The NHS also recommend speaking to your GP if you have any concerns about exercising.
Chapter 2: How Can I Exercise?
Light activity is moving rather than sitting or lying down.
Examples of light activity include:
- getting up to make a cup of tea
- moving around your home
- walking at a slow pace
- cleaning and dusting
- making the bed
Moderate Aerobic Activity
Moderate activity will raise your heart rate, and make you breathe faster and feel warmer. One way to tell if you’re working at a moderate intensity level is if you can still talk, but not sing.
Examples of moderate intensity activities:
- brisk walking
- water aerobics
- riding a bike
- doubles tennis
- pushing a lawn mower
Vigorous Intensity Activity
Vigorous intensity activity makes you breathe hard and fast. If you’re working at this level, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.
In general, 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity.
Most moderate intensity activities can become vigorous if you increase your effort.
Examples of vigorous activities:
- jogging or running
- swimming fast
- riding a bike fast or on hills
- singles tennis
- hiking uphill
- energetic dancing
Since people with disabilities or long-term injuries have a tendency to live less-active lifestyles, it can be even more important for you to exercise on a regular basis.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults with disabilities should aim for:
At least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity cardiovascular activity (or a combination of both), with each workout lasting for at least 10 minutes.
Two or more sessions a week of moderate- or high-intensity strength-training activities involving all the major muscle groups.
If your disability or injury makes it impossible for you to meet these guidelines, aim to engage in regular physical activity according to your ability, and avoid inactivity whenever possible.
Workouts for upper body injury or disability
Depending on the location and nature of your injury or disability, you may still be able to walk, jog, use an elliptical machine, or even swim using flotation aids. If not, try using a stationary upright or recumbent bike for cardiovascular exercise.
When it comes to strength training, your injury or disability may limit your use of free weights and resistance bands, or may just mean you have to reduce the weight or level of resistance. Consult with your doctor or physical therapist for safe ways to work around the injury or disability, and make use of exercise machines in a gym or health club, especially those that focus on the lower body.
If you experience joint problems from arthritis or an injury, for example, a doctor or physical therapist may recommend isometric exercises to help you maintain muscle strength or prevent further muscle deterioration. Isometric exercises require you to push against immovable objects or another body part without changing the muscle length or moving the joint
Electro Muscle Stimulation
If you’ve experienced muscle loss from an injury, disability, or a long period of immobility, electro muscle stimulation may be used to increase blood circulation and range of motion in a muscle. Muscles are gently contracted with an electrical current transmitted via electrodes placed on the skin.
Chair-bound exercises are ideal for people with lower body injuries or disabilities, those with weight problems or diabetes, and frail seniors looking to reduce their risk of falling. Cardiovascular and flexibility chair exercises can help improve posture and reduce back pain, while any chair exercise can help alleviate body sores caused by sitting in the same position for long periods. They’re also a great way to squeeze in a workout while you’re watching TV.
- If possible, choose a chair that allows you to keep your knees at 90 degrees when seated. If you’re in a wheelchair, securely apply the brakes or otherwise immobilize the chair.
- Try to sit up tall while exercising and use your abs to maintain good posture.
- If you suffer from high blood pressure, check your blood pressure before exercising and avoid chair exercises that involve weights.
- Test your blood sugar before and after exercise if you take diabetes medication that can cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
Cardiovascular Exercise in a Chair or Wheelchair
Chair aerobics, a series of seated repetitive movements, will raise your heart rate and help you burn calories, as will many strength training exercises when performed at a fast pace with a high number of repetitions. In fact, any rapid, repetitive movements offer aerobic benefits and can also help loosen stiff joints.
- Wrap a lightweight resistance band under your chair (or bed or couch, even) and perform rapid resistance exercises, such as chest presses, for a count of one second up and two seconds down. Try several different exercises to start, with 20 to 30 reps per exercise, and gradually increase the number of exercises, reps, and total workout time as your endurance improves.
- Simple air-punching, with or without hand weights, is an easy cardio exercise from a seated position, and can be fun when playing along with a Nintendo Wii or Xbox 360 video game.
- Many swimming pools and health clubs offer pool-therapy programs with access for wheelchair users. If you have some leg function, try a water aerobics class.
- Some gyms offer wheelchair-training machines that make arm-bicycling and rowing possible. For a similar exercise at home, some portable pedal machines can be used with the hands when secured to a table in front of you.
Many traditional upper body exercises can be executed from a seated position using dumbbells, resistance bands, or anything that is weighted and fits in your hand, like soup cans.
- Perform exercises such as shoulder presses, bicep curls, and triceps extensions using heavier weights and more resistance than you would for cardio exercises. Aim for two to three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions for each exercise, adding weight and more exercises as your strength improves.
- Resistance bands can be attached to furniture, a doorknob, or your chair. Use these for pull-downs, shoulder rotations, and arm and leg-extensions.
If you’re in a wheelchair or have limited mobility in your legs, stretching throughout the day can help reduce pain and pressure on your muscles that often accompanies sitting for long periods. Stretching while lying down or practicing yoga or tai chi in a chair can also help increase flexibility and improve your range of motion.
To ensure yoga or tai chi is practiced correctly, it’s best to learn by attending group classes, hiring a private teacher, or at least following video instructions online.