An MGH fitness expert offers exercise tips for seniors who want to incorporate more physical activity into their lives.

Staying active and exercising as you age may be a way to dip into the proverbial fountain of youth. Through the years, many people experience changes to their bodies that negatively affect their quality of life.

Gradual muscle loss, decreasing cardiovascular fitness, declining balance and general stiffness are a few commonly associated with aging. But even though these conditions are partly due to aging, they are seriously exacerbated by sedentary living.

Exercise and activity can greatly reduce the effects of aging.

Many of us believe all of this is just an unhappy part of getting older—but it doesn’t have to be. Exercise and activity can greatly reduce those effects.

Beginning an exercise program today, even if you are already a senior citizen, will improve the way you feel right away. Continuing to exercise will bring you better health and vitality.

Tips to Keep Seniors Safe

For adults 65 years or older, or for adults age 50 or older with chronic conditions that limit movement or function, these suggestions will help keep exercise safe and effective.

  • Check with your physician before starting any exercise program—particularly if you have a chronic health condition or physical limitation. Once you have your physician’s clearance, begin slowly and build your time and effort gradually.
  • You should always exercise at a tolerable level that improves your specific conditions. Exercise will be most beneficial at moderate or vigorous intensity, which can be rated with a simple 10-point scale. If resting is a 0 and all-out effort is a 10, moderate intensity should feel like a 5 or 6. Vigorous intensity should feel like a 7 or 8. Ratings of any given exercise may vary greatly between people. For example, walking at a pace that feels moderate for you may feel vigorous for another person.

Types of Exercise for Seniors

Aerobic exercise like walking doesn’t have to be exclusively moderate or vigorous. You can do some of both within a single walk or alternate moderate and vigorous walks over the course of a week. With time, you will improve your fitness and a walk that previously felt moderate will start to feel light!

Strength training, which is typically thought of as weight lifting, is particularly important for older adults. It helps prevent and reverse muscle loss, combats declining bone density and preserves the ability to lift and carry things. To improve your strength, use an amount of weight you can lift 10 to 15 times that makes you feel like it requires moderate to vigorous effort.

Stretching your muscles is a key part of maintaining your mobility. It should be done each time you do aerobic exercise or strength training. Stretching the muscles of your calves, thighs, hips and shoulders will keep those areas flexible. Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat it 3 to 4 times for the best effect.

Now, review the specific recommendations for adults that detail how many minutes per week you should perform cardiovascular exercise and what is important to remember for strength and flexibility exercises. I covered this in a previous post.

Exercising and staying active are habits. Remember that habits take time to establish. Realize these recommendations are goals to strive for—and possibly surpass—but any activity is better than none. Make a plan to incorporate exercise that you have high confidence will work for you, and exercise will progressively become a habit.

If you don’t currently exercise, starting now can improve your mobility, your strength and your overall health and well being. Exercise can’t make you young, but it might make you feel younger. It’s the closest thing to the fountain of youth that we have.

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Mike Bento is an advanced trainer at The Clubs at Charles River Park and Massachusetts General Hospital. He holds a master’s degree in human movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a corrective exercise specialist and performance enhancement specialist.