Even if you have never exercised before, it is still possible to improve you health, if you start now. Physical exercise is essential to keep the heart healthy, to help the lungs move oxygen to all parts of the body, to help prevent disease, and to slow the aging process. Inactivity does just the opposite. If you exercise regularly at a gym, that is excellent, but you do not need a gym to get fit and strong. Here are some great exercises for seniors.
Walking is a wonderful cardiovascular exercise for anyone, but especially as we get older. Walking is easy, after all we have been doing it our whole lives. No matter where we are, we can walk, and it requires no equipment, other than a pair of shoes. Walking gets the heart pumping, the blood moving, and the lungs expanding. Walking helps control weight, increases endurance, and relieves tension. Every step we take, we are carrying our own body weight, which in some cases is considerable.
Nothing is easier that starting a walking program. No matter how weak or out of shape you may be, get up and get started. If you can only walk a block, or even half a block, do what you can every day. After that block begins to feel very easy, go for another ten steps. Don't push yourself too hard, but do give yourself a gently nudge. Your eventual aim should be to walk for half an hour, every day. When you have achieved this goal, start swinging your arms and pick up your speed. Do so slowly. Remember the tortoise.
Eventually, you may want to consider wearing wrist or leg weights, while you walk. Again, start slow, perhaps with 1/2 pound wrist or ankle weights, and increase only when you are comfortable doing so.
In some areas, there are walking clubs for seniors, which could give your walking some variety. You may also find a like-minded friend to walk with, but do not depend on others to keep you motivated. That you must do yourself.
Dogs are wonderful walking companions, but make sure the dog you walk with is manageable. If you don't have a dog, perhaps you could exercise a neighbor's dog. And now on to....
Swimming is also a great exercise for seniors. You do not have to be a skilled swimmer, just a willing one. Swimming does the same things for the body that walking does.
When you swim, the water supports your weight, which is ideal for people who have knee or back problems.
When you swim you use muscles from all parts of your body.
May pools have exercise programs that are done in water. These are fun and an excellent workout for anyone.
If you have your own home and garden, you are very fortunate. In temperate climates, there is work to be done in the garden, all year round.
Gardeners are constantly lifting, reaching, kneeling, carrying, bending, and twisting. If you do some of your watering by hand, as I choose to do, you are getting some weight training.
If weather shuts down your garden in the winter, you will have to use some of the other exercise options. If you have no garden, perhaps you can help a neighbor or friend with theirs. Gardening is a lot of work, and your offer is sure to be accepted.
I don't mean Tour de France biking, though some adults do bike well into their senior years. I mean biking on a stationary bike. You can do this in a gym, or in the privacy of your own home. I should mention, that many gyms have special rates for seniors, and you will find gyms less crowded, if you go in the off-hours when those lycra-clad beauties are all at work.
The best bikes for seniors, who may be a bit unsteady, are stationary recumbent bikes. If you have the financial where-with-all, I would highly recommend purchasing your own recumbent bike. The recumbent bike seats you closer to the floor in a nice relaxed position. It is perfect for those who want another choice of cardio, but have less than perfect backs or knees. Plus, it is great for reading, which passes the time, and makes you bike onward for longer durations.
Yoga is perfect for seniors. It gives you a great workout; stretches out those tight muscles; and is incredibly relaxing.
If you haven't done yoga before, take a yoga class directed at seniors. You will soon learn all the basic positions and some simple routines that you can practice at home. There are several excellent yoga tapes out there just for seniors. Some are even done sitting. No matter what your physical condition, yoga will be beneficial to you. There are some excellent yoga tapes and CDs for seniors, even some for seated yoga.
Talking about tapes, there are a variety of tapes out there for seniors. They cover all aspects of fitness, and take into consideration that you may want to go a little slower, or even take a break now and then. Check out the internet, and make sure to read the reviews.
A word to the wise. Consult with your doctor before you start any workout program, and tell them about any tapes you are considering purchasing. There may be some exercises that are not right for your unique body.
Ideally, stretching should be done before and after exercising, but any stretching is beneficial. If you stretch on a regular basis, your muscles will remain strong and elastic. Stretching also prevents injuries.
You may be lucky enough to find a class devoted solely to stretching. If not, there are several excellent books and tapes which will help you. Choose one that gives you a variety of choices. Mine has stretches to perform first thing in the morning, before walking, swimming, etc. as well as stretches devoted to specific parts of the body.
Stretching does not have to take long. Learn some stretches that you can perform while watching television.
Being sedentary for long periods of time can be bad for the body, as you know. If you sit for long periods of time, you will find your body feels stiff, and doesn't cooperate as well. Make it a habit, while watching television, to get up whenever an ad appears. Walk about the room, or do a few simple stretches. You'll feel better for it.
WEIGHT BEARING EXERCISES
In order to keep bones strong and healthy, we must do weight-bearing exercises. You can start off with cans and progress from there to one pound weights and then move up slowly. Check out some of the work-out programs on t.v. and observe how they use weights.
As I said, take it slow. If a move causes you pain, try it with no weights at all. If this still causes pain, avoid it. It is more important to repeat the move several times, than to just add weight.
Variety is essential for any work-out plan. Variety ensures that you will exercise all parts of your body, and that you will not become bored.
A WORD ABOUT BALANCE
For a variety of reasons, our balance worsens as we age. Good balance is essential if we are to avoid dangerous falls. Fortunately, good balance can be restored if we work at it.
Start while standing close to a countertop or a chair, that you can grab easily. Lift one foot and see how long you can balance. Try the other foot. Practice this every day. Once you can balance for thirty seconds on each foot, try looking around as you do so. Twist and turn as you maintain your balance. Good balance can save you from disaster.
ONE LAST WORD, OR MORE
Try to integrate physical activity into as many aspects of your life as possible. Walk around, when you talk on your cell phone. Balance on one foot while you wait for the microwave to do its job. Instead of meeting for coffee, meet for a short walk. Walk short distances instead of driving, then walk long distances instead of driving. You can improve your health greatly with just a bit of effort on your part.
These pictures are meant to inspire, not intimidate.