Fitness for Seniors




By Robert Reames, CSCS, *D, RTS1, CPT


Exercise is for everybody. Studies show that regardless of your age, folks who stay active can reap the benefits of key six, intentional exercise. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) gathered some of the top experts on exercise for seniors and discovered that, for the most part, when older adults lose the ability to do normal activities of daily living on their own, it's not due strictly to age. It is more likely that they have become inactive. We know that an active lifestyle enhances quality of life at any age.

Seniors just beginning an exercise program absolutely must first consult with their physician. This is imperative from a safety perspective. In addition, your physician is most likely the best and most reliable source for consultation as to what activities at the appropriate intensity level would be best to include in your exercise regimen. He or she can provide expert advice and help you to modify and progress your exercise program on an ongoing basis.

Your physician may also know the best resources for exercise programs in your vicinity. Local YMCAs, community centers, parks and recreation centers, senior centers, churches/synagogues, schools, community colleges, hospitals, rehab centers and fitness centers all are possible venues for you to find expert help for both individual and group exercise instruction. You are sure to find these resources available in your home town and have a whole lot of fun. There is also plenty of information available on the Internet regarding fitness for seniors.

Take the initiative to find the best exercise activities for your needs and realistic goals. The areas that are important to consider for staying healthy, active and independent include: strength, endurance, balance, optimal posture, flexibility, maximum capacity for movement and more energy. Determine the best program for your individual needs. One size does not fit all. Individual needs and abilities vary and this is especially true of older adults. Seek out activities that you enjoy. Program options can include but are not limited to:

- weight/resistance training
- cardiovascular machine work (treadmills, ellipticals, recumbent and upright stationary bikes, recumbent step machines)
- walking outside or on an indoor track
- yoga and stretch classes
- pilates (supervised)
- gardening
- swimming
- fishing
- bicycling
- golf
- bowling
- tennis
- dancing
- modified aerobic dancing

Weight/resistance training: The basic elements of a resistance training program are the same regardless of age. However, it is vital that a resistance training program be tailored and monitored to meet the medical concerns, overall physical condition and functional capacity of each individual senior. Experts highly recommend incorporating resistance training into your program. Again, seek out individual or group instruction at the onset of your program to ensure that you understand the correct form for all exercise in your regimen. Good help is out there and the people who teach fitness classes for seniors are eager to help you. Modes of resistance can include free weights, tubing, Therabands, machines, soup cans or body weight exercises. Studies have confirmed that even folks in their 90s receive the benefits that we all strive for from a resistance training program. Focus on exercises for all major muscle groups. Begin slowly. Choose four to six exercises that you can safely perform. Use a resistance level at which you can comfortably and smoothly perform each repetition. The recommended minimal initial starting point is to do one set of eight to twelve repetitions of each exercise. Allow one to two minutes of rest in between sets. Do your resistance training workout two to three days per week on opposite days.

Cardiovascular conditioning: Aerobic exercise is extremely beneficial for seniors. This type of exercise causes the heart and lungs to work out at an elevated rate continuously to supply oxygen to the muscles and improves the overall efficiency of the cardiovascular system. Many activities listed above can be considered aerobic depending on the intensity level. Again, finding the activities that you enjoy most will enable you to be consistent and will ensure success. Walking is a very common choice and an excellent activity to include in your program. You may choose to use a treadmill or indoor track at a fitness center, walk outside, or use an outdoor track in your neighborhood. Begin by walking for 10 minutes and progress to walking 20 minutes every other day. Continually build on your progress. Make sure that you have comfortable shoes for your walk or for any exercise that you choose. I always advise people when purchasing athletic shoes to wear them indoors for a minimum of two days to make sure that they are comfortable and will suit your needs. This way you may exchange them for a shoe that will work optimally for you. Buy a heart monitor and use this for all exercise activity. Consult with your physician as to an appropriate target heart rate training zone for your fitness endeavors. You may choose a non-weight bearing mode of exercise such as a stationary bike, swimming, yoga/stretching or gardening depending on the present condition of your knees, hips and back. All are excellent choices.

Studies have confirmed that exercise can be safely and successfully implemented in older populations. Even the very sick and frail elderly can gain benefits that will enhance their quality of life. The resources are out there just waiting for you to tap into them. I have given you some general guidelines as to your available resources and different activities that you can include in your exercise program. Your individual needs and abilities are of prime concern when choosing the appropriate content of your program. This is important. Take the time and make your best effort in this area of your life. You will reap the benefits!

Disclaimer: All information and answers are given for educational purposes only. Your individual needs may vary. Always consult with your physician before starting or changing any exercise fitness programs and activities.