Contrary to what most would assume, one of the tougher challenges of working in healthcare is not so much teaching patients, but actually motivating them to start and maintain positive lifestyle changes. For the elderly, the struggle to exercise comes from something more difficult to resolve than simply not having enough time, equipment, or willpower. The aging body is more prone to musculoskeletal disorders that limit mobility and cause discomfort. For many, the discomfort almost never goes away.
According to a 2012 review of a whopping 85 studies on musculoskeletal disorders among adults 60 years and older, one of the trade offs for the boost in average life expectancy in developed countries is a corresponding increase in the development of chronic conditions, including musculoskeletal disorders, that eventually cause disability. If you or someone you know has osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or basically a bad back that always seems to be on the verge of being thrown, you may be surprised at how much exercise you can still do and greatly benefit from, without harming achy joints.
Walking is the easiest low-impact exercise for seniors. It’s free, you can do it anywhere, and it can be as social as you want. Going out for a walk is not only good for your body, but for your mental health as well. This is especially true when you take your walk outdoors, near nature.
Just a quick reminder: If this is the first time in a long time that you’re going walking, and you think those old Nikes still have a few miles left in them, do consider picking up a new pair. Your muscles’ and bones’ needs change over time. Trust me, you’re not gonna want to stick to your new walking routine if your shoes lack proper support. (You should also talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have health problems.)
Swimming is another low-impact exercise for seniors, is usually free or dirt cheap, and offers great benefits for mental health. Since you’re mostly floating, your joints can take a break, but all your muscles are still engaged. Water adds resistance to every movement underwater, which helps add a cardiovascular and strength training element to a very fun activity.
Have you ever heard of water aerobics and those Zumba classes in swimming pools? Those sound fun!
Cycling is definitely one of my favorite things to do when I’m at the gym. The class is intense, but I can vouch for its low-impact nature. Of course, you don’t need to attend a class, or even have a gym membership to take on regular cycling. Whether you’re on a machine or riding an actual bike, go at your own pace and add just the right amount of resistance that challenges you, but still feels good.
If you find that an upright machine strains your back, try a recumbent one, where you get to lean back. If you plan to bike outdoors, don’t head out without proper protective gear and road smarts!
Yoga is all the rage now – and for a really good reason. Regular yoga practitioners swear by its holistic health benefits. A good chunk of my friends who have gotten into yoga constantly rave about how it made the crick in their neck or back go away, and how much more positive they’ve felt since they made it a habit.
There are several types of yoga offered out there, such as Vinyasa, Hatha, Ashtanga, and Bikram. Personally, I’ve only tried Vinyasa, or “flow yoga,” and I really like it. If you’ve tried yoga before and you didn’t like it as much, give it another go – possibly in another form. Who knows, you may not have liked the amount of movement in Vinyasa, but the meditative pace of Hatha, or the sauna-like effect of Bikram could be right up your alley.