Getting to the gym and establishing a workout routine can be intimidating and off-putting. Luckily, there are other options that are just as healthy for seniors.
“Seniors do not all need to go out and get a gym membership unless that is something that appeals to them,” said Dr. Jason Fishel, an internal medicine physician with Atrium Health. “A brisk walk in the community absolutely counts as exercise.”
Fishel said the recommended amount of cardiovascular exercise for adults, including seniors, is 150 minutes a week total.
Along with walking, there are many ways to get exercise in the Charlotte area. Fishel said many Medicare insurance plans have an affiliation with a program called Silver Sneakers, which can connect seniors to fitness resources in their area, including gyms, community centers and classes.
The Levine Senior Center, Brace Family YMCA and IM=X Pilates are just some of the places seniors can take fitness classes tailored to their needs, from Zumba and water aerobics to chair yoga and Pilates.
Fishel said there are many benefits of exercising for seniors.
“Clearly, exercise protects the body from heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure by improving the condition of the heart and blood vessels,” Fishel said. “Exercise also improves lung capacity and bone density in a positive way … Exercise also improves walking speed, which has a positive impact on the risk of falling. Likely due to an amalgamation of all of these effects, there is actually study data showing that seniors who exercise regularly live longer.”
Additionally, Fishel said there is a correlation between exercise and mental health, which includes a lower risk of depression in seniors who exercise regularly.
While there are many benefits of exercising, there are also some risks involved that seniors should keep in mind, according to Fishel.
“The incidence of arthritis in large and small joints clearly increases with age, and this can result in an inability to tolerate the recommended movements for some types of exercise due to pain,” Fishel said. “If a senior has been inactive, they may find that their heart and lungs become deconditioned more easily than when they were younger.”
Seniors can also experience balance problems due to neurological issues or fear of falling, Fishel said. Additionally, he said some medications taken for bladder or memory problems can have a negative effect on seniors’ ability to exercise.
Nutrition also plays a role in seniors’ exercise routines.
“Nutritional intake often declines in amount and variety with age for a number of reasons, and without healthy fuel in the body exercise can be a challenge,” Fishel wrote.
Though there are risks, physicians can tell seniors what the best exercise plans are to fit their needs.
“If a senior is unsure how to start or wants advice on exercise safety, they should meet with their physician and they can collaborate to design a safe and effective plan,” Fishel said.