Ability is the only factor that determines what you can do, age is just a number
The idea ingrained in society that extensive exercise in seniors can be dangerous is an assumption. Research has shown that exercise in senior adults is linked with better health and active wellbeing – reduced falls, reduced risk of chronic illness and better cognitive functioning.
There are misconceptions about age and exercise that still exist – exercise recommendations from health professionals are often based on age. But if you look closer, you notice that these recommendations are often identical to those for younger people with chronic health conditions. That is due to the assumption of ability.
It is true that as you age you lose muscle strength, bone density, and there is a swift transition of your body composition from muscle to fat. However, research shows exercise training at any age results in positive gains i.e. muscle mass, muscle strength, bone density, and improvements to overall health – even in people as old as 95.
Safety is perceived as a barrier when it comes to senior life. However, there is enough evidence on the internet that proves the benefits of regular exercising.
Ability to exercise
When choosing what type of exercise to do, it’s your ability and not your age that should be the primary consideration. Seniors are more likely to suffer from one or more age-related health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, heart disease and blood pressure that may affect their ability to take exercise. But risk of and recovery from these conditions are all positively influenced by daily exercise. Even arthritis symptoms can be reduced by low-impact body movements.
What type of exercise should you be doing?
Each individual irrespective of their age can be different from one another. You may know of someone fit at the age of 80 doing a marathon while the other frail at the age of 65. So, exercise prescription should be done by ability. And, whichever mode you choose, remember it should always challenge you.
Combat sedentary lifestyle
Maintaining a high level of low-intensity activity such as walking, jogging or cycling is a lifestyle choice correlated with longevity. An immediate positive impact that people can have on their fitness and health can be achieved by being active and by off-setting the negative health affects of leading a sedentary lifestyle.
Simply moving around more is a great way to begin to maintain general fitness level. For instance, standing up every ad break when watching TV, walking to the shops instead of driving, or taking the stairs are all great ways of increasing activity.
High intensity workouts (HIIT)
Various types of workouts may also have similar benefits for older people. High intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise, which involves exercising at 95 per cent effort for short bouts followed by rest, is a popular form of aerobic training.
While HIIT training is often assumed to be only for those who are athletic or young, however, it is beneficial to seniors as well. An intense bout of HIIT exercise may make people of all ages feel a bit faint. But the key is to start slow and then work your way upwards.
HIIT training incorporates leg balance and strength exercises, that is linked to decreased falls and improvement of cardiovascular health.
Resistance training/ Weight training
Resistance training require your maximal strength. It is also a great option for people of every age. Not only will many seniors be capable of performing resistance training – improves bone density, gaining muscle mass and overall physical ability.
Resistance training need not involve heavy lifting of weights. As a general guide the movement should be challenging and near the limit of your strength. For example, performing a chair squat can be made harder by holding weights, or even a bottle of water. It can be made harder still by balancing on one leg as you stand up.
It does get difficult with age but it’s not impossible
While seniors are likely to gain muscle mass and strength from exercise, it does get difficult to build muscle tissue faster as you age. Even elite athletes, who maintain lifelong high levels of training see a decrease in their ability as they age.
Improves mental health and cognitive functioning
Exercise also improves mental health and cognitive function. Balance is also an important skill at any age – a skill can be trained. Improved balance may prevent injuries from falls. Activities such as yoga or tai chi will improve balance. But even something as simple as standing on one leg while putting your socks on can challenge your balance.
Customise and combine according to your ability
A great combination of strength, balance, cardio exercises are which involve your body weight will help you improve overtime. This can be as simple as balancing on one foot whilst moving the other leg back and forth, or using one arm at a time to perform a lifting or throwing movement or climbing a flight of stairs.
Ability to workout regardless of your age should be the mindset. Start where you are and work your way upwards. Aim to be physically active daily, do activities that improve strength, flexibility and balance at least two days a week, get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week, and reduce time spent sitting or lying down. Challenge yourself ever day with something new.