Exercise is beneficial at any age, but it’s a particularly important component in aging healthy. It can be difficult to fit exercise into our lives on a daily basis –and challenging to truly enjoy an active workout. Yet the impact of physical activity on one’s health – and particularly upon one’s heart – is tremendous. “Seniors should consider low impact ‘gentle’ exercises,” said Nikki Lee, Director of Rehabilitation at Jeffrey & Susan Brudnick Center for Living. “Many seniors suffer from chronic conditions like osteoarthritis or osteoporosis that cause the pain in the bones and joints. Regular exercise can help maintain muscle mass, improve balance and boost the health of your heart.” As we celebrate National Heart Month, consider all the ways you can help your heart stay healthy. Here are six low impact exercise options that are easy to implement and help lower the risk of heart disease. Added Lee, “On the plus side: you may really enjoy adding exercise to your daily routine!”
The Big Six
The American Heart Association recommends that inactive people gradually work up to exercising three to four times a week for 30-60 minutes at 50%-80% of their maximal heart rate. So remember that in the beginning, slow and steady wins the race.
An increase in walking is probably the easiest exercise to implement into your daily routine. And it’s really good for you! According to Harvard Medical School, walking “reduces the risk of cardiovascular events by 31% and decreases the risk of dying by 32% in both men and women.” Walking works the cardiovascular system and burns calories. To get your heart rate up, walk faster than a stroll. Picking up the pace can increase the intensity of your workouts. Add short bursts of speed or walk up an occasional steep hill. There are some simple strategies to help you effortlessly increase the amount you walk. For example, park your car a little bit farther away from the office or mall –and walk. You’ll not only increase your fitness level; you’ll decrease the stress of fighting for the closest parking space! For those who enjoy shopping, mall walking can be a truly enjoyable experience.
One of the best things about dancing is that while you’re having fun moving to music and meeting new people, you’re getting all the health benefits of a good workout. From line dancing to Zumba to ballroom dancing, there’s a dance style to suit all tastes. Unlike other types of cardiovascular exercise, dance fitness doesn’t necessarily require specialized equipment or workout settings, making it a much more accessible option for those looking to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol, maintain a healthy body weight and protect their heart.
Swimming makes your heart stronger and improves your cardiovascular health and endurance. It will also lower your blood pressure, improve your circulation and help reduce the risk of heart and lung disease. For these reasons, swimming is highly recommended for seniors. The buoyancy of the water counteracts gravity, which makes this activity low impact and low weight strain. As a result, it is extremely easy on the joints. Swimming or even water aerobics can also help you lose weight if you swim at a steady and continuous pace throughout your session. What a great way to tone up and slim down – while helping your heart stay healthy.
walking Nordic walking is becoming more popular in the US. A specialized type of fitness walking, Nordic walking utilizes specially designed poles. The benefit: low impact upon the joints and it gets your heart rate up. Nordic walking is a full-body exercise suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Classes range from gentle walks for people with health concerns to workout walks, which are a great way to improve fitness, lose weight and tone the whole body. It’s a suitable activity for people with joint conditions or those who may be carrying some extra body weight.
Yoga for seniors offers a multitude of benefits for the body –and the mind. It aids in flexibility, strength and balance and improves your core muscles, which are vital in stability and coordination. Keep in mind that regular yoga practice helps develop strength, balance and flexibility. Yoga involves a series of postures and breathing exercises that are sure to improve not only your physical fitness but can also boost your mood.
6. Strength Training
Strength training doesn’t have to involve pumping iron in a sweaty gym. Actually, you can undertake a bodyweight exercise routine in the comfort of your own home. People are often afraid to exercise after a heart attack, but the reality is that moderate exercise is the best medicine. As the American Heart Association points out, “Regular physical activity, such as strength and resistance training, can help reduce your chances of having another heart attack.” Try chair stands, leg raises, stretches and wall pushes. Weights and resistance bands are also a great way to get strength training and they are extremely portable.
Exercises to Avoid
Not all exercise is beneficial to seniors. Generally, it’s best to avoid lifting heavy weights, abdominal crunches and toe touches, which can strain the back. Climbing stairs, although highly recommended for individuals aged under 65, can be dangerous for older adults. Over 50% of falls in older adults are the result of climbing stairs. When in doubt, consult with your doctor, nurse practitioner or certified fitness professional about the best and safest exercise options.
It’s Never too Late!
Boosting physical activity and strength helps aging adults do the things they want to do in daily life. This is why exercise should be an integral part of a senior’s life. “There’s no doubt that regular exercise will help improve one’s level of fitness – and overall health,” said Nikki Lee. “Indeed, one of the very best gifts you can give your heart – and yourself — is physical activity.”