Staying active as we age has many benefits, including improved quality of life, better cognitive function, and the ability to continue doing the things we love. While seniors may have a slightly increased risk of injury during physical activity, this doesn’t mean mature adults should avoid it all together. Finding the right types of activities that help improve a variety of systems in the body should be the focus for older adults.
Low-impact activities like walking, the elliptical machine, and swimming all work the cardiovascular system and improve overall activity capacity. Strength training that includes bodyweight and external loads, like dumbbells or machines, helps keep the body strong and upright in addition to improving mobility (therefore reducing the need for assistance when walking and moving around). Avoiding high impact activities like jogging or aerobics removes much of the irritating factors for knees, hips, and the low back.
Getting started with a fitness program is one of the best things you can do for your health. A great place to begin is with loaded walking. Carrying more than your current bodyweight makes muscles work harder than they would normally, and as you get stronger, the amount of time and/or the amount of weight can be increased. Two common forms include farmer’s carries and rucking.
- Farmers carries involve picking up a weight (usually a kettlebell or dumbbell) and carrying it for a specific distance or set amount of time while walking with control.
- Rucking involves carrying a weighted backpack or wearing a weight vest and walking for time or distance.
Both can be done inside and outside the gym and require minimal equipment, but the benefits are huge and help improve strength and cardiovascular endurance. The stronger someone’s full body is, the easier daily activities become.
Swimming and water-based activities are joint-friendly and require minimal equipment. Our bodies become buoyant in water, which removes the pressure from gravity. Exercising in water forces more muscles to work against resistance to create movement. Whether you’re swimming laps or participating in a water fitness class, water-based activities will help improve strength and usually decrease exercise-induced pain.
In addition to low-impact activities, weight training using machines, free weights, and suspension trainers will help with posture, range of motion, flexibility, and strength. Movements involving hinges, rows, presses, lunges, and core training challenge the muscles of the hips, shoulders, and core to keep them strong.
When looking at overall quality of life and health, exercise assists in managing many chronic illnesses like diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis and sarcopenia, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Focusing on relative strength (pound for pound strength) and aerobic capacity should be the focus for mature adults. Lower-impact options like carries and rucking, swimming and basic strength training that are progressed in intensity and duration over time all help achieve those benefits, keeping seniors strong, healthy, happy, and independent.