6 Things Every Senior Needs to Know About Working Out
Thinking about skipping the gym today? Think again, because you’re about to get a major dose of inspiration. 105-year-old cyclist Robert Marchand set a new world record last week when he cycled 14 miles in an hour — and proved that you can work out at any age. “I am not here to be champion,” Marchand told AFP news agency. “I am here to prove that at 105-years-old you can still ride a bike.”
Marchand’s record-setting ride is certainly inspirational — but not every senior is ready to throw on some Lycra and jump on a bike. Inspired to get fit as an older adult? Here’s what you need to know — the risks, the major benefits and the best exercises for you.
The older you get, the more important it is to exercise
If you want to maintain your muscle mass and size, you may need to work out more than you did when you were younger to get the same benefits, according to 2011 research. The 48-week study found that when adults over 60 scaled back on their workouts after an intense training regimen, they lost muscle mass (unlike the younger participants). And remember, it’s not just about muscles — regular exercise will improve your cardiovascular, bone and joint health, too.
The benefits go beyond the physical
Your brain benefits when you work up a sweat, too — research shows that regular exercise is linked to reduced brain atrophy, greater mental flexibility and better memory in older adults. If it’s a mood boost you’re after, try yoga — it’s been shown to decrease anxiety, depression and stress in multiple studies.
Low impact makes a big difference
“As we age, we oftentimes are afflicted by osteoarthritis (wear and tear in the weight bearing joints). Lower impact activities are better for seniors to minimize joint irritation,” advises physical therapist Dr. Karena Wu, owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York City. Break out your swimsuit. “The best non-compressive exercise would be pool-based exercises, either walking or swimming (if they are adept at swimming) as the water creates a buoyancy to help decompress the joints and the water gives sensory feedback to the skin/joints to help reduce the perception of pain.”
Focus on weight training, not weight
Don’t worry about losing a few pounds — research shows that regardless of your fat mass, a higher level of muscle mass will help reduce the risk of death. “Strengthening exercises are important to keep the body strong as well as to reduce the compressive forces that crisscross through the joints,” explains Dr. Wu. She suggest functional exercises like squats, lunges, step ups, pushups, sit ups and bridges. “They mimic body movements and use multiple joints and muscles.”
Flexibility is a must for mobility
You don’t have to twist yourself into a pretzel, but regular flexibility exercises will keep you mobile and reduce compressive forces in the joints, says Dr. Wu. “They allow for the body to move through the available range as well as for reflexive reactions to occur (quick responses to positional changes) so that the body can right itself when perturbed,” she says. And if you’re planning on strength-training, they’re essential. “They allow for muscles to contract appropriately when performing strengthening exercises,” Dr. Wu adds.
There’s no need to overdo it
Not up for a major workout today? Though you should aim for regular exercise as you age, just a few minutes of activity is better than staying put on the couch. A study of older adults 65-94 years old found that even doing a little housework helped them feel emotionally and physically better. In fact, experts caution against jumping into a workout program too aggressively — just 15 minutes of brisk walking is a good start. “Doing exercises inappropriate for your condition, overdoing exercises, not allowing for enough rest in between exercise sessions, and not listening to your body if aches and pains persist” can also be dangerous, says Dr. Wu. And, of course, make sure you clear your health history with your doctor before starting any exercise program, she adds.