Many of us know the important role exercise plays in keeping us fit and healthy. But for aging adults, staying active is even more important now than ever. Unfortunately, the majority of seniors aren’t getting enough exercise. The COVID-19 pandemic and tough stay-at-home restrictions have made it even harder for seniors to maintain an active lifestyle, resulting in an increased risk of health issues.

The implications of physical distancing have had a knock-on effect when it comes to exercise. Not only are seniors finding they can’t maintain physical activity due to gym closures and related restrictions, but they are also suffering the mental effects of social isolation. This leads to reduced energy levels and a lack of motivation to want to exercise. 

These barriers seniors face make daily exercise a challenge. However, there are ways older adults can increase their physical activity and improve their mental health at the same time. 

Why exercise is important 

Recent evidence has shown that leading a physically active lifestyle reduces a person’s risk of contracting viral and bacterial infections. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced many seniors to ignore physical activity altogether. 

The ongoing messaging from the government and health officials has made seniors more anxious about going outside or attending fitness classes and leisurely activities. And for some, the idea of exercising seems impossible as they deal with chronic conditions such as arthritis or poor mobility. 

However, it’s important to reassure the elderly that exercising has great physical and mental health benefits, particularly in challenging times as in the context of the pandemic. Olde people can enjoy improved mental health and a reduction of chronic pain when physical activity becomes part of their regular routine. 

The benefits of physical activity for seniors

Did you know that about half of physical decline as we age is due to a lack of exercise?  Without regular exercise, people aged over 50 can experience a range of health problems including:

  • Lack of mobility and/or flexibility
  • Reduced coordination and balance
  • Reduced bone strength
  • Poor heart and respiratory health
  • Increased risk of chronic health conditions
  • Cognitive decline
  • Depression and anxiety

Now that more people are living an increasingly sedentary lifestyle due to the pandemic, the risk of these health issues is even greater.

However, with just 30 minutes of daily exercise, seniors are in the position to improve their overall health and reduce their risk of disease and physical/mental deterioration. 

Some of the biggest health benefits of exercise for seniors include:

  1. Disease prevention

Exercise reduces common diseases including heart disease and diabetes. This is because physical activity boosts the immune system, allowing it to fend off illness more easily.

  1. Improved mental health

Exercise produces the “feel good” hormones known as endorphins. This is a natural stress reliever your body produces, leaving you feeling happier, calmer, and more energized. 

  1. Enhanced mobility and balance

Lack of exercise can lead to reduced bone density and muscle mass, leading to poorer mobility and balance. Without exercise, added weight can put more pressure on joints, and many seniors start experiencing issues related to arthritis or lack of joint mobility and flexibility. 

“Hip and knee arthritis are mostly hereditary or genetic. Maintaining a healthy weight and doing regular exercise can help decrease the need for surgery.” – Dr Shahram Shahrokhi.

As exercise boosts blood circulation, many people find that arthritis or chronic pain is reduced, as muscles and ligaments strengthen to help better protect joints. 

  1. Improved cognitive function

Exercise has also proven to reduce the risk of cognitive issues and related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. The feel-good state induced by endorphins helps us to become more alert and better able to recall information.

Ways seniors can keep active 

Before starting any exercise regime, seniors should consult with their doctor first. This especially applies to anyone suffering chronic illnesses such as severe arthritis or osteoporosis. 

Overcoming common obstacles to exercise such as lockdowns, pain, poor mobility or balance can be difficult. Seniors may feel discouraged, unmotivated, or uncertain of where and how to start. Like with every new skill, it’s best to start slow and work with what you’ve got. 

Try the following tips, and aim to complete around 30 minutes of these exercises a day to maintain overall health:

At home workouts – For those impacted by gym closures, restrictions, or who simply cannot afford a gym membership, doing a workout at home is easy and effective. 

There are many free workout videos online that you can follow along on your TV or mobile phone. 

Turn chores into exercise – Make housework your workout! Do some squats or try standing on one leg as you wash the dishes, do some lunges while vacuuming, and extend high up to those hard-to-reach places when dusting for added resistance. 

Dance – Pop on the radio or your favourite CD and dance to the music. Dancing can be done anywhere and is a great cardiovascular workout. It is also an instant mood booster.

Go for a walk – Whether outside in the local park, around your block, or even laps of your own house! Walking gets the heart pumping and helps soften joints, improving mobility and reducing any aches or niggles. 

Get in the garden – Spending an afternoon gardening targets all the major muscle groups (especially when you’re digging, squatting, raking, or repotting) and can also lower blood pressure and improve mental health. 

Use furniture – Use the kitchen bench or a chair to perform squats, pushups, or balance exercises. Walk up and down the stairs a few times, and use tin cans or water bottles as hand weights for an extra challenge!

Get up during ad breaks – Break up long periods of sitting by getting up every time a commercial comes on. You can perform a couple of squats, do housework, perform a series of yoga stretches or do a lap of your home until your program comes back on. 

Start exercising today

While it’s easy to do so, there’s no need to neglect physical activity due to age, outside circumstances, or common ailments. In fact, engaging in daily exercise will improve your ability to cope with the uncertainties of life as well as help to alleviate chronic pain or mood disorders. 

The trick to staying active in older age is by making exercise a habit. Doing a little bit every day is enough to keep your overall health and fitness in check. 

Find an exercise or activity you enjoy, and stick to it. We’re more inclined to exercise when it’s something that we enjoy and can look forward to doing. For some, it may be the challenge of lifting weights. For others, it might be the fun found in dancing to uplifting music. 

With daily exercise, you are able to manage chronic health issues such as arthritis, and decrease your risk of disease, while improvements in fitness and mental health will make dealing with social isolation easier, and can be a great way to manage stress and anxiety in older age.

Disclaimer: The statements, opinions, and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of Credihealth and the editor(s). 

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