Physical Fitness in Senior Living

shutterstock_185901305Physical fitness plays an essential role in the long and healthy lives of seniors. Those who reside in senior living communities should take advantage of the various physical fitness activities and opportunities available to them.

Why Exercise Is Important

Neglecting physical fitness can lead to many detrimental effects. Lack of exercise is associated with a higher risk of coronary artery disease (CAD), diabetes, high blood pressure, and other adverse health conditions. Additionally, inactivity diminishes flexibility and often leads to weight gain, which can put pressure on aging knees and other joints.

According to the National Institutes of Health, inactivity compromises older people’s mobility and ability to function. It can also lead to more doctor visits, hospitalizations, and illnesses. Conversely, staying physically active helps older adults maintain health for longer, and it can even improve the health of those living with disabilities or chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis.

Physical exercise can be a great mood lifter as well. Just the action of physically moving around can help elderly people manage stress and reduce feelings of depression.

Appropriate Amount of Exercise

Just how much exercise do seniors need? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week (for people sixty-five years of age or older who are generally fit and have no limiting health conditions). An example of moderate-intensity aerobic activity is brisk walking. If you can upgrade to a vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as jogging or running, you can reduce the amount you need to 1 hour and 15 minutes per week. The recommended muscle-strengthening activities should work all major muscle groups—i.e., legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.

shutterstock_290586977On the plus side, seniors can follow these CDC recommendations just about anywhere, including a senior living community. Just taking a thirty-minute walk around the grounds five times a week will meet the moderate-intensity aerobic activity recommendation.

Many senior living communities offer a wide variety of physical fitness programs as well: aerobics, tai chi, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, line dancing, aquatic exercise, weight training, resistance training, and more. Typically these communities employ a physical fitness staff whose job is to lead exercise classes and show residents how to use fitness equipment appropriately. They’ll also work with individual residents to ensure that their physical fitness regimen suits their individual needs and ability levels. For seniors who may have mobility issues, for instance, the physical fitness instructors can lead them in chair exercises to keep their muscles healthy.

In the case of strength training, residents should start slowly. The National Institute on Aging recommends starting out with light weights of one or two pounds and adding more as your strength improves. It’s also wise to increase the number of repetitions gradually over time, building up to ten or fifteen per exercise.

The Power of the Group

Camaraderie among senior living residents can be a real motivator in keeping an exercise regimen going. Taking a yoga or tai chi class with a group of friends can be a lot of fun, and you’re less likely to skip it if you know others will participate with you. Similarly, you’re much more likely to take a fitness walk if others count on you to show up.

Regardless of the specific fitness regimen you or your loved one adopts, the important thing, of course, is to get moving!

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