Four Types of Exercises that Improve Older Adult Health and Physical Abilities
Did you know that a well-rounded fitness routine is just as important as a well-rounded diet to maximize an older adult’s health and physical abilities? While older adults who remain active throughout aging reap several health and wellness rewards, research has shown that it’s important to include endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility exercises for the maximum health benefits.
Endurance or aerobic exercise is designed to increase breathing and heart rates, improve health and overall fitness, and provide stamina for everyday activities. Endurance activities improve heart and lung health and can prevent various diseases and health conditions that are common in older adults, such as colon and breast cancers, diabetes, heart disease and others. Aim for at least 150 minutes of endurance activity per week and try to spread activities throughout the day to avoid long stretches of sitting or inactivity. Examples of exercises that build endurance include:
- Yard work (raking, mowing, pulling weeds, etc.)
- Brisk walking or jogging
- Strength Exercises
Strong muscles help older adults remain independent by making day-to-day activities such as climbing stairs, carrying groceries, and getting up and down from a chair easier. Strong leg and hip muscles help with balance and can reduce the chance of falls. Older adults can build strength through weights and resistance training and should aim to target all major muscle groups at least two days per week. Examples of strength exercises include:
- Lifting handheld weights or bottles of water
- Carrying groceries
- Using resistance bands
- Wall pushups
- Gripping a tennis ball or small rubber ball
- Balance Exercises
Falls are a leading cause of injury to older adults. Increasing lower body strength in combination with balance exercises can reduce the risk of falls and help older adults remain confident and independent. When working on balance, it’s important to start slowly and to have a sturdy chair or person nearby to hold onto to ensure safety. Balance exercise examples include:
- Standing from a seated position
- Tai Chi – a form of exercise that involves gentle, flowing movements
- Standing on one foot
- Walking heel to toe
- Side leg raises
- Marching in place
- Flexibility Exercises
Increased flexibility also helps older adults continue to complete a variety of day-to-day activities safely and independently, such as reaching down to pick something up and looking over the shoulder when backing out of a parking space. The best time to do flexibility exercises is after completing endurance or strength exercises because muscles are warmed up. Stretching exercises also help ease stiff joints and provide greater range of motion, making it easier to move. These flexibility exercises can be completed standing or seated:
Overhead stretch – Standing with feet hip-width apart, raise hands overhead and interlace fingers. Gently pull arms to the left, holding for 10 – 30 seconds, and then repeat on the right.
Shoulder stretch – Standing with feet hip-width apart, reach your left arm across your body. Place your right hand on your upper left arm, gently drawing your right arm closer. Hold for 10 – 30 seconds, and then repeat on the right.
Triceps stretch – Standing with feet hip-width apart, raise your arms overhead and bend your left arm so that it is behind your head. Place your right hand on your right elbow and gently pull your right arm in, holding for 10 -30 seconds. Repeat with your right arm.
Hamstring stretch – Place your left heel on a bench or other slightly elevated surface. Extend your leg straight with toes pointed up. Without rounding your lower back, gently hinge forward from the hips until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold for 10 – 30 seconds and repeat on the right leg.
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