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Misconceptions and biases about moving into later life are all too common. One of the most prevalent is that once you become a senior, the physically and mentally active years of your life are firmly behind you. This is, of course, nonsense. It is not only possible to stay fit well into your later years, but exercise is also instrumental in helping to ensure the ongoing quality of your life.
That doesn’t mean to say that you necessarily have to immediately start running marathons. That’s inadvisable for humans of any age. Not to mention that most people aren’t especially interested in the extremes of activity — at least not straight away. However, developing your personal routine of exercises in a way that is mindful of your own limitations and needs can make certain that you’re able keep your body healthy and mobile, and to age gracefully in a way that enhances your overall happiness. If you have some more ambitious activities planned, it can help you to build up to those too.
It’s not always easy to know where to begin, though. So we’re going to review a few of the primary areas that you can focus on. What types of exercise have the most benefit? How can you approach the process in ways that both maintain your health and enhance your life?
One of the most difficult aspects of optimizing your physical and mental health is simply getting started. A lot of people know how important physical activity is to their mental and bodily health, but getting the motivation is often a challenge. The key is to start small; just get moving.
Make a schedule for short, regular periods of exercise. This helps to improve your mobility, and build from there. This is a particularly important step if you have lived a sedentary lifestyle. One of the risks involved with staying in the same positions over long periods of time is that pressure can build up on the skin, slowing the blood flow to the area, and develop into a decubitus ulcer. These can be common in assisted living facilities, but they also occur in seniors that have had limited mobility. As such, starting a schedule that sees you taking time to get up and gently move around can be key to avoiding such issues.
However, this approach doesn’t just help to avoid serious problems, it also takes a steady approach to building momentum — getting your body and your mind used to and enthused about the additional activity. Starting with a simple daily walk is great for avoiding back pain, improving circulation, and strengthening your muscles and bones. Spend 10-15 minutes a day doing some simple standing stretches and range of motion exercises — shoulder rolls, calf stretches, and snow angels with your back against the wall can all help get you started.
Particularly if you experience limited mobility, the potential for going outside, or to a gym, and engaging in exercise can feel daunting. However, there are activities you can engage in at home, without any specialist equipment. Not only does this provide an easy route to physical and mental wellness, but also empowers you to independently take control of your health.
Some areas for focus here can include:
Indoor exercises with gentle movement of your legs are not just great for general wellbeing. Varicose veins — caused by blood clotting in the leg veins — are a prevalent problem for seniors. While no amount of exercise will cure or prevent them, leg-focused activities can help to reduce discomfort. If you’re comfortable getting on the floor, undertake some leg lifts — laying sideways and gently raising and lowering the top leg. You can also spend 30 seconds engaging in bicycle legs by laying on your back and mimicking a pedaling motion. Then stand and perform a series of squats, using a chair in front of you for support where needed.
Strength exercises can not just ensure that you can continue to perform your daily tasks, but focusing on muscle maintenance can also prevent poor posture and back issues. Push ups can be a challenge at any age, but wall push ups — the same as regular push ups, except standing and placing your hands upon a wall — are both achievable and effective. Deadbugs can also improve your core stability and balance. These involve you laying flat on your back, arms and legs up in the air, and your knees bent. Lower a leg to the floor while moving the opposite arm to the floor above your head. Lift both again, and repeat with the opposite limbs.
Once you’ve spent some time engaging independently with exercise, building your strength and confidence, it can be both important and enjoyable to introduce elements of socialization into it. A recent study found that seniors who joined group exercise classes experienced decreased loneliness and social isolation. Getting together with friends or new acquaintances to exercise can ensure you and your friends can add an added element of enjoyment, and help you all support one another’s health.
Your approach here could include:
For senior men and women, yoga has become a popular part of an optimized exercise regimen. It’s appropriate for people of most levels of mobility, and alongside aiding flexibility it can help to reduce anxiety, and lower blood pressure.
There’s no reason that you necessarily have to stick to formal classes. Gathering a group of friends together to head out to a local park or hiking trail together can be just as beneficial for your physical and mental health. You can gently walk, while enjoying conversation and the surroundings together. Indeed, during the pandemic or the flu season, going outside to exercise rather than an enclosed environment can reduce the potential for exposure.
Old age is inescapable, but that doesn’t mean to say that it can’t be a mentally and physically healthy time of life. Starting off gently can help get you in good shape to move onto other activities, while independent exercise at home can both keep you healthy and build confidence. If you engage actively with friends, or even new acquaintances in classes, you can add a valuable social element to keeping healthy.
Indiana Lee is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, social justice, environmental protection, and more. In her off time you can find her in the mountains with her two dogs. You can follow her work on Contently, or reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @indianalee3