The Four Pillars of an Effective Senior Fitness Program

Cardio, Strength Training, Flexibility, and Balance Exercises Will Give You Health and Independence

maryjanedetroyerAs I said last week, being fit at any age is important, but as a senior, it holds even more significance as it can mean the difference between independent living and assisted living. Not only is fitness great for your body, but exercise and fitness routines help improve your mind, your mood … even your memory, making those “senior moments” less frequent.

After years of “slowing down,” many seniors find themselves stuck in a sedentary lifestyle. The CDC reports that only 11% of older adults meet strength training recommendations and almost 35% of adults 75 years and older engage in no leisure, household, or physical activity at all (Promoting Active Lifestyles Among Older Adults,  www.cdc.gov).

There are four components to an effective senior exercise programs: cardio, strength training, flexibility, and balance. Modified, according to each individual’s needs, these four elements can help you live a healthier, happier, independent life.

Cardio: Every exercise plan needs to include cardio. Again, I’m not talking about hiking K2 or running the New York marathon. Many seniors I work with have joint pain and can’t withstand high-impact cardio. Swimming, yoga, water aerobics, walking, and Tai-Chi are all low-impact cardio exercises that can get your heart pumping. Moreover, they strengthen joints – a key component to a senior health fitness plan – improve cardiovascular health, and lower blood pressure. In terms of independent living, by introducing a cardio fitness plan into your life, you’ll improve your endurance, ability to run errands, walk, and clean the house.

Strength: Strength training is the only way to prevent the loss of bone mass and build bone density. As osteoporosis is one of the most common women’s health issues, a solid exercise program is one of the best ways to battle the bone thief. Moreover, day-to-day activities that require strength won’t feel so overwhelming: getting in and out of cars, opening jars, being able to do a half squat, so you can go to the restroom on your own.


Flexibility:
With age, our range of motion becomes more limited. Simple things like being able to look side-to-side while driving, stretching to tie our shoes, reaching up to grab something from the cupboards – all of these activities require the ability to move our bodies freely. Stretching for a purpose, yoga and Tai-Chi are great activities to get your body more limber and increase your range of motion.

Balance: Loss of balance is a common problem with seniors. Many believe it only has to do with inner ear issues and vision problems. This may be true, but oftentimes lack of balance comes from lack of muscle strength and joint mobility. There are target exercises to improve balance including yoga, Tai-Chi, and posture exercises.  Better balance helps reduce the risk of falling, and fear of falling.

Talk to your health care provider before starting an exercise program. Understand what limitations you might have, obstacles you might have to face, to begin on the road to fitness.  But by incorporating these four pillars of exercise into your fitness program, you’re going to see leaps of improvement in your quality of life.

There’s no question that the more active we are, the healthier we are. The majority of adults don’t get the recommended 30 minutes a day, five days a week, of exercise. Nevertheless, even a small amount of physical activity is better than nothing. So start with small chores: cross the street to the neighbor’s house for a cup of coffee, walk around the block, weed part of a flower bed. Don’t get discouraged by how quickly you tire. It’s part of the process to improved health. Soon, the walk around the block will feel easy, and you’ll want to go for two.

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