By Jessica Kraft
At every stage of life, staying active helps you feel and look your best. Particularly for seniors, regular exercise can improve flexibility, strength, endurance and balance, keeping older adults healthy for a longer time. Many exercises can dramatically improve conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis—and they can be fun and energizing, too!
Even for someone who has been relatively sedentary, starting a gentle exercise regime can improve energy levels, boost mood and promote a wide range of health benefits, said Dr. Greg Wells, a professor in the department of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto
. As a caregiver, you can help support your parent by encouraging them to try Dr. Wells' top picks for healthy senior exercises and giving them these how-to instructions:
Take a walk. By far, the best activity is walking. You can do it any time, any place, and it burns calories and works major muscle groups. “Aim to start with a 15 minute walk, and gradually increase over time," Dr. Wells said. Walks that incorporate hills or slightly challenging terrain can improve fitness, while walking with sticks can also add some upper body strengthening. Walking at a brisk pace (over 3 miles an hour) is great for cardiovascular health, and can also lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. To keep things fun, trying monitoring daily step counts with a device such as the Lively Wearable, a simple pedometer for seniors with built in medical alert.
Do leg raises. Leg raises are a great balance challenge, and they also help build strength in the legs, hips, buttocks and lower back muscles. To perform them with support, hold on to a chair in front. Bring one leg out to the side, carefully maintaining alignment from your heel to your hip. With a straight back, bring your leg back in to touch the opposite leg. Dr. Wells recommends trying to complete two sets of 10 repetitions for each leg.
Try a chair stand. Falls and broken bones become more likely as you age, but building up muscle mass and improving balance can help reduce risk. The chair stand is a great exercise for this purpose. Begin by sitting down in an armless chair. Maintaining a straight back and shoulders, extend your arms out parallel to the ground and begin to rise, relying on your large leg muscles to propel yourself up. Go slowly, and try not to use your hands. Then sit down and repeat the entire exercise 10 -1 5 times. Try to get up to 30-45 repetitions.
Dr. Wells also recommends the "Superman exercise," which helps strengthen your lower back muscles, and gives you a great overall stretch. Begin by lying prone on your stomach with arms outstretched like Superman. Raise your head, neck, right arm and left leg as far as you can off the floor (this part takes coordination!). Then lower and repeat this maneuver on the opposite side. Try to keep your belly button drawn in toward your spine and don't strain your neck muscles. Aim for five repetitions on each side.
Stay motivated. Getting motivated to make the time for exercise can be challenging for anyone. Download a podcast for your parent to help keep them entertained while they complete their daily goals.
If you're worried about a parent and their physical health, sharing these step-by-step exercises from Dr. Wells can be a great way to encourage positive steps toward a realistic exercise regime. Even better, try doing these exercises together to enjoy the health and stress relief benefits yourself, along with some quality time with one another!
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Want more senior exercise ideas? Click here to read about the invigorating benefits of yoga.