Fitness for seniors is an integral part of healthy senior living and can make a huge difference in the quality of life as you live out your golden years. Getting in shape and/or staying in shape into old age will help you stay healthy, stronger and less likely to get injured from falls etc.
But to get started, you need to choose your starting point so you can chart your future fitness path. The first step for any prudent senior is a full physical by your GP or other licensed professional health care professional. This step is necessary to alert you to pre-existing medical conditions that may affect your exercise program or diet plan.
The second step in preparing for launch is deciding what you want to achieve in the short, medium and long term. Are there areas of your health, current skills, or physical imbalances that need to be addressed first? Is it necessary to get your cardiovascular system in shape before you start lifting weights, or do you have mobility or flexibility issues that need to be addressed before you can start freely strengthening your body?
Building strength, increasing bone density, increasing flexibility and increasing endurance are all reasonable goals in any senior fitness endeavor – but it’s important to remember that this is a lifestyle change, a marathon, if you will, no sprint. It’s best to take small steps forward over time and build into a full-fledged healthy lifestyle over time.
Rushing the process can lead to injury, burnout, and worse, and can be very demotivating if you suddenly hit a training level you’re not ready for.
A word of advice: before beginning any exercise routine, even a simple senior starting routine, make sure you address issues related to your sleep patterns and diet. Do you get 7-9 hours of sleep a day? If you’re having trouble sleeping more than 4 or 5 hours a night, try napping every afternoon to make up the difference. Your body does most of its healing while you sleep, so this is a great first step toward true senior fitness.
Once this is under control and becomes routine, do a little research online or at your local library to plan a healthy diet to follow, both for overall health and for optimal recovery from your upcoming workouts. The main concern here is getting enough protein, as it is believed that not enough protein due to decreased appetite in seniors is one of the factors behind the age-related muscle wasting known as sarcopenia.
Once sleep and nutrition settle in, starting your exercise routine is as easy as going for a walk every day, weather permitting. Stop short of exhaustion, but work on getting that little bit further each day, whether it’s another half block downtown or another telephone pole on a country road. Track how far you go each day – you’ll be amazed at how quickly your range increases as your body gets used to it.
The next step is to start your resistance training – working with weights is possibly the most important part of any senior strength training program. Start lighter than you think you need – remember that your body is not used to engaging every single muscle every day and it will take a little time to get used to it. The next day after your workout, you may feel a bit sore, in large part because a full range of motion stretches the muscles and ligaments more than they’re used to.
Use bands or dumbbells, choose one exercise per body part to start, and use compound exercises whenever possible. (A compound exercise is one that affects more than one joint, such as your shoulder and elbow or your hip and knee.) On day one, do a set of 8-10 reps of each exercise, keep them very light and see you how you will feel the next day. If everything is fine, add a second set of each exercise to your routine on day three, and a third set on day five if everything is fine.
For the next month or 6 weeks, stick to the 3 sets per exercise and train every other day or 3 non-consecutive days a week. If you find it easy to finish the third set of an exercise, try increasing the weight for that exercise slightly on your next workout, and slowly work your way back up to complete 8-10 reps for 3 sets.
At this point, you’ve chosen your starting point and your senior fitness routine can begin in earnest. Depending on your goals and what feels right to you, your path will vary over time. You might want to start adding cardio sessions to your workouts or days off if you’re looking to reduce body fat, you can add a second or third exercise per body part if you’re focusing on building and strengthening muscle, or You can safely work your way up to heavier and heavier weights if strength building is the current goal of your plan.
But whatever your strategy, know that you are building a happier, healthier life into your older years and increasing the likelihood of waking up each day ready to take on the world. Senior fitness is in many ways the best investment you can make in yourself!
Thanks to D. Champigny