Active senior couple running in the park for healthy life

Top 5 Effective Exercises for the Aging Adult

Maintaining an active lifestyle is essential to remaining independent throughout life. Regular physical activity provides health benefits, including the strength, flexibility, and balance required to keep up with your daily routine while preventing injury. Studies also show that exercise promotes self-esteem, boosts memory, and reduces mental stress. Especially for older adults, it is important to practice regular exercise to achieve these benefits while also reducing the risk of falls. A sufficient program of exercises for older adults will include aerobic activity, flexibility exercises, strength training, and balance exercises. 

What are the best exercises for aging adults?  

1. Walking

As one of the core exercises for all ages, walking can be especially beneficial for an aging adult. Physical activity guidelines suggest each person should practice either moderate-intensity activity for 30 minutes 5 days weekly or vigorous-intensity activity for 20 minutes 3 days weekly. Walking is an excellent way to achieve 30 minutes of moderate-level aerobic activity to elevate the heart rate.

This promotes functional strength and balance, reduces the risk of cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal conditions, increases energy and stamina, and reduces the risk of falling. A walking program with friends can help with maintaining the weekly regimen in a fun and social way. Make sure you dress comfortably, wear supportive shoes, keep a water bottle for hydration, and stay in well-lit areas.  

Walking in the water is another excellent way to keep up an active lifestyle. For those with arthritic joints that experience discomfort when walking on land, walking in the water allows for more comfort and ease. Water aerobics also further promotes strength at the core and upper body due to the natural resistance of the water when walking through it.  

2. Sit-to-Stand

Some simple strength exercises can include sitting to standing. The sit-to-stand exercise builds muscle strength and muscle mass in a functional movement pattern. Practicing repeated sit-to-stands promotes the ability to independently perform other daily tasks, such as getting out of bed and going up the stairs.  

Find a comfortable, sturdy chair and take a seat such that your feet are flat on the floor. Bring the shoulders and knees forward. Using your core and leg strength, stand up from the chair. Keep your weight equally distributed through both legs. At the top of this motion, make sure to stand up as tall as you can to promote good posture and engagement of all involved muscles. Sit back down in the chair, and repeat. Attempt these chair exercises without upper extremity support, such as by keeping your arms crossed in front of your chest. However, if strength or balance is limited, you may use the armrests for support.  

Perform 10-15 repetitions total, taking rests when needed.   

3. Heel Raising

Heel raising is another recommended way to train major muscle groups in a functional movement pattern. Strength training for the calves is important for standing for long periods, going up or down a flight of stairs, or walking through the community safely.  

Stand in an upright position with hands on a stable surface such as a countertop or the back of a chair. Raise both heels off the ground as high as you comfortably can, keeping your weight equally distributed through both legs. Lower back down to the floor. Make sure not to rock the hips or torso backward or forward throughout the motion.  

Perform 20-30 repetitions total, taking rests when needed.   

4. Stretching

Dynamic stretching exercises are also essential for every age group for many reasons including preventing injury. The greatest gains are achieved when practicing a flexibility exercise routine on a daily basis. Stretching is most effective once the muscles are already warmed up, such as by completing a walk beforehand. An effective stretch to perform every day is for the calf, especially to reduce the risk of falls. Calf flexibility is essential to safely go up or down stairs, walk uphill and downhill, and hike across an uneven trail.  

Stand in an upright position with hands on a stable surface such as a wall or countertop. Place the right foot in front of the left foot in a wide stance. Bend the front leg and bring the hips forward to find a pull at the calf of the back leg. Keep the back leg straight and both heels flat on the floor.  

Hold this position for 1 minute. Then switch to perform the same stretch with the opposite leg.   

5. Balance

Balance is a critical component of everything we do throughout the day. Showering, dressing, climbing stairs, walking, carrying bags, etc., all require sufficient functional balance. To maintain independence with all daily activities, it is important to perform balance training in a way that challenges stability while staying safe.  

A simple balance exercise can look like the following: Stand in an upright position with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Place hands on a stable surface such as a countertop or the back of a chair. Bring one foot directly behind the other to stand in a heel-to-toe position, otherwise known as a tandem stance. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then switch to bring the opposite leg forward. Attempt to lift hands off the counter for a few seconds to further challenge the balance system. If this feels easy, attempt to balance in a tandem stance with your eyes closed to further challenge your balance.  

What is the best time of day for seniors to exercise?

The best time for seniors to exercise is whatever time can be habitually used for daily physical activity. It is best to find a consistent time of day that you can reserve for your exercise routine, whether that is in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Physical activity must become a daily habit in order to benefit from those strength, flexibility, and balance exercises. Studies also show that exercise at any time of day significantly improves sleep quality.  

Perhaps your physical exercise program is something you look forward to. In this case, the evening may be the best time so that you have a selected motivator throughout the day. Perhaps completing a workout will elevate your mood. In this case, exercising in the morning can allow for a strong start to the day. It is wise to avoid exercising within the first or last hour of the day to allow the muscles to warm up in the morning or cool down at night before sleeping.  

How Physical Therapy Can Help 

At Ivy Rehab, we can collaborate with you to put together a program of exercises that will address flexibility, strength, and balance. We can discuss the specific functional goals you want to accomplish and identify the most effective exercises to achieve them. Both for the treatment of various conditions and prevention of falls, we can guide you by gradually easing into a safe exercise program that will avoid doing too much too soon. Together, we can create the program that feels meaningful and impactful to you. Physical therapy can be highly beneficial in making safe exercise a lifelong part of the day! Click here to find a location near you.

Article By: Sheena Gopal, DPT 

Sheena began her physical therapy career three years ago. She loves working with the general population and believes in the importance of providing a collaborative space to achieve goals through the power of movement. Sheena enjoys working with dancers and performing artists to reach their full potential. She currently treats patients at Elite Physical Therapy through Ivy Rehab in Providence, Rhode Island. 

The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.

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