Regular exercise can help control your blood pressure, strengthen your heart and bones, boost energy and even help reduce depression. You are never too old to exercise.
If you have a chronic condition, be sure to get sign-off from your physician. Dr. Deborah Rohm Young, chair of the American Heart Association’s Physical Activity Subcommittee, recommends regular physical activity for every person, including senior citizens.
Rohm Young shares her cardio, strength training and stretching tips for seniors below to help you create a workout routine you can do throughout the week and build upon. “Participating in physical activity will make you feel better almost immediately,” she says. “It is best to exercise 30 minutes per day at least five days per week for the best benefit.”
For overall health benefits to the heart, lungs and circulation, perform any moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity using the following guidelines.
For senior women who’ve led relatively sedentary lifestyles, Rohm Young suggests starting a cardio regimen by simply walking around your yard, apartment complex and/or neighborhood. Start slow and work up from there.
“Just get outdoors and go for a walk,” she advises. “Start with 10 minutes and work up to 30 minutes per day. If you don’t live in a safe neighborhood and you are still driving, go to a nearby mall and walk down the aisles. Find or create a walking club or walking support group or a recreation program in your city and get involved.”
For increased intensity, try walking while carrying light, three- to five-pound hand weights, which can further enhance the cardiovascular effectiveness of your workout.
When you are ready to begin jogging, start by warming up for 10 minutes with a steady walk. From there, try lightly jogging for three to five minutes at a time, then rest. Over time, try to work up to a 20-minute light jog. Make sure to have sturdy athletic shoes for this activity.
Muscle strengthening activities are recommended at least two days each week, according to the AHA. Try these at home to improve your physical strength.
Sit erect in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Hold onto the sides of the chair seat for support if you need to. Lift one leg off the floor until your knee is straight and hold that position for a few seconds. Then, return that leg to the starting position with both feet on the ground. Repeat on the other side. Work up to eight repetitions on each side.
Sit erect in a chair with your feet flat on the ground and arms by your sides, holding light weights (these can be soup cans if you don’t have dumbbells) in each hand. Start by holding your arms straight down by your sides with your palms facing in. Keep a small bend in your elbows and slowly lift both arms out and up until they are perpendicular to your body and parallel to the ground. Hold for a second and slowly go down to the starting position. Pause and then repeat this exercise six to eight times.
Sit erect in a chair with your feet flat on the ground and a light weight in your left hand. Bend your left elbow straight up next to your ear, so it is pointing to the ceiling. Use your right hand to support your left elbow and then slowly straighten your left arm to the ceiling. Hold this position for a second and then lower your forearm to the starting position. Do this six to eight times and then switch to your right side.
Abdominal strength is vital to a person’s overall health. Strengthening exercises, such as seated knee lifts, can be done while sitting in a chair. Start by sitting erect with your feet on the ground. Then, squeeze your abdominal muscles and simultaneously raise your feet off the ground together. Hold for one second and release. Try to build up to six reps of this exercise and hold for a little longer over time.
One of the best ways to increase your balance is by walking heel-to-toe. Start by standing close to a wall for balance. Then walk by placing the heel of your right foot directly in front of your left foot, stopping when it touches your right heel to your left toe. Switch feet and work up to taking at least six heel-to-toe steps.
Without stretching, our muscles tend to contract and tense up, says Rohm Young. By participating in regular stretching sessions, elderly women can decrease their likelihood of falling and remain flexible well into their later years.
“Stretch after you’ve exercised; you want your muscles to be warmed up,” she says. “If you go out and stretch ahead of time, you could end up getting injured or experiencing muscle soreness.”
Rohm Young recommends standing up straight with both feet on the ground. Bend your left leg slightly and then lean your body left without falling over. Hold that stretch for a few seconds before doing the same on the other side. This stretch will lengthen your abductors.
Another great stretch is to stand up straight and put one foot in front of the other. When your feet are solidly in place, gently lean forward and then repeat on the other side.
“You should feel a stretch in the front leg and the back leg,” she says.
Sit up straight in a chair with your feet on the ground and your hands on your knees. Bring both of your arms up and clasp them gently behind your head. As you inhale, try moving your elbows back to the wall behind you. As you exhale, bring your arms back to your knees. Do this exercise three times and then rest.
Read more about heart-healthy exercise on Go Red.