7 Fun Ways for Seniors to Get Enough Physical Exercise
We know that few things are more important to healthy, active aging than getting enough exercise. And yet, age-related declines in health and physical ability can restrict seniors from being as active as they want to be.
Starting around the age of 30, physically inactive people naturally begin to lose between 3-5% of their muscle mass every 10 years or so. This natural loss of muscle is called Sarcopenia and it’s one of the main causes of falls and injury in older adults.
Losing muscle mass has a tremendous impact on mobility and the ability to tackle simple daily tasks, like lifting something from a shelf, shoveling a driveway, or simply walking up the stairs. When left unchecked, Sarcopenia can also impact our cardiovascular system. This can happen so gradually we hardly notice.
The gradual loss of muscle mass causes even healthy seniors to slow down. They move less, walk slower, and stop participating in activities that require too much physical exertion. As all of these factors compile, seniors can find themselves trapped in a cycle of frailty that’s difficult to get out of.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
It’s easy for all of us to think of “physical exercise” in terms that are too narrow. There are a lot of ways for seniors to stay active and healthy, many of which are non-traditional, low-impact exercises that limit stress on the body and come with a low risk of injury. But, perhaps the most important factor for long-term physical fitness is that the type of exercise selected is considered fun and enjoyable.
Here are several kinds of exercise that are sure to keep you engaged at every age.
7 Fun Exercises for Older Adults
Dancing is an excellent way to improve cardiovascular health, coordination and balance. In addition, research shows that dancing may actually help seniors improve gait, balance, and cognitive health. The combination of these factors not only has a huge impact on overall physical health, but might also prevent dangerous injuries from falls.
One of the other benefits of dancing is that it can be a way for seniors to meet other people who enjoy similar activities. The social benefit of attending a regular dance class can be a powerful motivator for consistent participation. Social ties can also combat loneliness, and boost overall emotional well-being.
#2. Tai Chi and Yoga
Research has shown that participating in low-impact exercise classes, such as tai chi and yoga, can reduce stress and help improve strength, balance, and coordination . Many yoga poses can be modified to work for those who are less flexible or have decreased upper or lower body strength. Even adults with limited mobility can improve their quality of life with a seated yoga program.
Perhaps most importantly, Tai Chi and Yoga can go a long way towards preventing falls.
Tai Chi can significantly reduce falls by improving balance, physical endurance, and even decreasing the fear of falling. One six-month trial study on the effects of tai chi demonstrated a 55% reduction of falls compared to the those in a stretching control group.
Another review of over 100 different trials singled out tai chi as being particularly effective in reducing the risk of falls for older adults. With regular practice, tai chi strengthens muscles and improves coordination - two things required for good balance. Perhaps equally important is the fact that for many people, tai chi can increase feelings of calm and improve confidence, counteracting the fear of falling.
Likewise, Yoga is also an effective strategy for fall prevention. Yoga strengthens muscles, improves balance and flexibility, and can also support a confident mindset that reduces the fear of falling. An added benefit of yoga is that many poses can be done while seated, making it a great choice for seniors who are at particularly high risk for falling.
Golf is one of those ageless activities that come with a wide variety of benefits. Seniors who play golf on a regular basis are not only supporting their physical health but meeting social needs and improving their cognitive well-being. But, one of the most powerful things about golf is that, for those who enjoy it, the fun remains constant regardless of age.
The average golfer walks 4 miles during 18 holes of golf, which helps build muscle strength, improve cardiovascular functions, and increase endurance. Golf is also filled with precise mental calculations such as ball location, grass depth, wind direction, green speeds, slope, and much more, making it a fantastic way to support cognitive health.
For seniors who love getting outside, golf releases endorphins that help support a positive mood and overall sense of well-being. Regular participation can help build and maintain relationships with friends as well as provide seniors with a recurring event to look forward to.
Swimming is an excellent, low-impact way to get a great cardiovascular workout that can improve heart health, lower blood pressure, improve circulation, and even help reduce the risk of heart and lung disease. For seniors, one of the biggest benefits of swimming is that it’s gentle on the joints, providing a full-body workout that keeps pressure off hips, knees, and the spine. This is especially important for older adults suffering from joint pain or injuries.
Swimming can improve bone mineral density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. It’s also been shown to increase flexibility, improve muscle strength and tone, and even boost mental health.
One of the best things about swimming is that it doesn't have to be about swimming laps by yourself. Joining a swim team or taking a water aerobics or aqua jogging class are fantastic ways to get low-impact exercise AND socialize with friends. In fact, some research shows that water aerobics can improve body composition and reduce lower back pain.
For seniors with a lifelong love of gardening, joint pain and other impediments to bending and lifting can cause them to believe that their gardening days are over. However, seniors can still enjoy the benefits of gardening by creating a garden of raised pots and containers on their deck or patio. Raised plant containers are particularly helpful for those suffering from arthritis. For many seniors, growing their own food is the perfect mixture of fun, creativity, purpose, physical exercise, and nutrition.
As any grandparent can attest, one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to get exercise is to play with their grandkids. In fact, spending time with your grandchildren might be one of the most effective ways to counteract the tendency to be less active as we age.
While getting older is a predictor of reduced physical activity, children today also tend to get less physical activity than they did in previous generations. So, grandparents have a unique opportunity to not only support their own physical and mental well-being but set a great example for their grandchildren at the same time.
#7. Virtual Reality and Exergames
Exergames are technology-driven physical activities that requires participants to be physically active or exercise in order to play the game. Exergames tap into both physical and cognitive functions at the same time. By interacting with a virtual environment, exergames activate both the brain and the body.
Research shows that exergames can result in greater plasticity of the motor cortex. This positive neuroplasticity supports memory and learning by creating new neural connections. Better brain health results in better cognition, and better cognition results in better everyday functioning that allows us to live healthy, active, independent lives.
The Dividat Senso is a scientifically based dual-tasking interactive cognitive motor training system that requires multiple sensory inputs: Auditory, Visual, and Sensory. It includes a user friendly interface and games that simulate every day movements and automatic progression that’s been proven to improve both physical and cognitive function.
The Dividat Senso creates a virtual environment with cognitive challenges. The system automatically adapts to each user’s individual ability level, progressing in difficulty as they improve. It offers customized routines designed to improve specific cognitive and/ or balance weaknesses along with goal setting and individual progress reports to measure outcomes.