According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), older adults can benefit from regular physical activity. Incorporating a moderate amount of activity into a senior’s daily routine can help maintain healthy bones, muscles, joints and reduce blood pressure. In fact, the loss of strength and stamina are attributed to aging because the majority of seniors don’t get enough physical activity.
We had the opportunity to chat with ACE Director of Science & Research, Sabrena Jo, M.S.. Sabrina has been actively involved in the fitness industry since 1987 and is an ACE-certified group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and health coach. She is a relentless pursuer of finding ways to help people start and stick with physical activity.
Given that we’re all at home a lot more, what are the best ways seniors can begin exercising? Do you have any tips to keep seniors motivated? How can they make exercising a habit?
Walking is one of the best ways that seniors can begin introducing more physical activity into their daily routine. Choosing a time of day, such as in the morning, and sticking to it may help in keeping exercise a regular habit. Increasing neighborhood walkability may promote physical activity among the older population. A growing body of evidence illustrates the importance of the built environment and community design to promote physical activity for seniors, and older adults who live in more walkable neighborhoods engage in more physical activity.
What food groups should seniors focus on more to have a balanced diet? Are there any specific cookbooks or websites you can recommend for ideas?
A balanced, healthful diet for older adults should include plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and sources of vitamin D as described by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
In your experience, what are the most common things senior citizens fail to consider when it comes to their health?
The loss of muscle strength and functionality is something that is overlooked by many. As we age, we naturally lose some of the functionality we had in youth. Although some reduction in muscle size and strength is a normal consequence of aging, the loss of muscle mass in older adults accelerates with physical inactivity. Fortunately, age-related muscle loss can be minimized by resistance training, otherwise known as strength training.
Building strength can come in a variety of forms, and finding the right way to build and maintain muscle mass can enhance your potential to maintain overall health, rebound from an illness or injury and maintain independence. Resistance training may also benefit bone-related disorders, such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
For arthritic joints, functional ability can be improved if the surrounding muscles and unaffected joints are stronger and can share the stress of the affected joint. Stronger muscles absorb more of the attendant pressure on a joint, thereby reducing stress on painful joint surfaces. Osteoporosis, which is characterized by fragile bones, may be improved through resistance training, which slows bone loss and increases bone mineral density. Further, training-induced improvements in muscular strength and balance may prevent falls that cause fractures among those with osteoporosis.
Improved muscle strength may also improve other indicators of good health, like a reduced heart rate and lower blood pressure responses during physical exertion. This means that strength training may decrease stress on the heart during daily activities like carrying groceries or lifting heavy objects. In a nutshell, participating in regular resistance exercise allows us to maintain appropriate levels of muscular fitness and improve daily function.
What are some workout alternatives if seniors don’t feel comfortable going to a gym?
Walking is a great start. Resistance and functional training, which can be done anywhere, is another option.
Here is a list with links to simple body weight exercises that require no equipment. Each link provides a video to help you begin and familiarize yourself with the exercise technique. However, for the ground-based exercises, it is advisable to do them on an exercise mat.
· Forward lunge (lower body)
· Side lunge (lower body)
· Bent-knee push-up (upper body and core)
· Birddog (upper body and core)
· Side plank (upper body and core)
What are some of the biggest issues you’ve seen amongst seniors that could be avoided if they incorporated exercise?
In short, disability and falls. Seniors with reported disability are at a greater risk of physical inactivity. A study found that seniors who reported a disability are almost twice as likely not to engage in the recommended level of physical activity compared with seniors who did not report any disability. Major risk factors for falls include impaired balance, loss of mobility, and muscle weakness, all which may be helped by regular exercise.
For older adults with frailty, muscular and balance training should precede cardio training.
Multicomponent programs that include balance, gait, coordination, muscle-strengthening ,and aerobic exercise have been most successful at reducing falls in older adults.
When it comes to exercising and choosing a healthy lifestyle, how important is it to have a routine?
Having a healthy lifestyle means that you’ve built into your daily routine several healthy habits. Creating habits are good ways to embrace a healthy lifestyle. When we set up our environments to make the healthy thing to do the easiest thing to do, we don’t have to rely so much on motivation.
One way to build a habit is to pair a simple part of your new desired behavior with a habit you already regularly do. Scientists call this “chunking.” For example, if you want to practice meditation, you can plan on meditating each morning while you wait for the coffee maker to finish your coffee. This plan ensures that there’s a repeated opportunity each morning to practice a minute or two of meditation.
In terms of adopting an exercise routine, make it more convenient by putting on your walking clothes and shoes as soon as you get out of bed in the morning. That way, the barrier of putting on the appropriate apparel for your walk has already been resolved and you have one less obstacle to deal with as you prepare to walk out the door.
Working out and staying healthy shouldn’t be complicated. If you’re willing to invest time each day to exercising and adjust your diet to include nutritional balance, you’ll reap the benefits.