Listening to Your Body: Exercising For Older Adults

by Wellness Editor – MH

No matter well you treat your body, eventually time manages to catch with everyone. Even healthy people eventually realize that they simply cannot do the things they once did, and need to make concessions to their advancing age. This doesn’t mean that older adults need to give up their gym membership; instead, it’s much better to craft a workout that reflects your physical capabilities.

How Age Alters the Body

For many people, the first signs of Father Time’s impact occur in the joints. The reason for this largely involves the condition of the body’s connective tissues. Ligaments, cartilage and tendons all lose their flexibility over time, rendering the joints more susceptible to injury.

Past the age of thirty, the body also begins to lose muscle mass. This process tends to accelerate with age; past the age of fifty, adults lose an average of 1 to 2 percent of their total muscle mass annually, a figure that increases to 3 percent after age sixty. The aging process also saps bones of much of their strength. As with muscle mass, age thirty is the tipping point for bone health; both men and women (but more so with women) begin to lose bone density in their thirties, a trend that gathers steam as the body accumulates years and mileage.

Finally, many people develop serious and chronic medical conditions in middle age. Arthritis, type 2 diabetes and heart disease not only make daily life much more challenging, but can easily limit what the body can accomplish in the gym.

Changing Your Workout

Given the factors outlined above, it becomes obvious that that older adults looking to stay healthy will likely need to adjust their exercise habits. Some tips for remaining physically active without risking injury are listed below:

Keep Exercising Your Muscles – The obvious way to stave off loss of muscle mass is to regularly engage in strength training. Even after the age of fifty, adults are still urged to pump iron for about twice a week. Some good strength training exercises include pushups, tricep curls and bicep curls.

Modified versions of popular exercises can also be useful; for example, a person with knee problems can perform squats with the aid of a chair. Another alternative version of this exercise is known as quarter squats, which involve squatting just a few inches.

A good strength-training session should last between 30 and 45 minutes. When it comes to lifting weights, make sure not to overburden your muscles. After a workout, wait at least 24 to 48 hours before working the same muscle group.

Go Easy on Your Joints – The joints of people in their teens, twenties and event thirties are generally able to absorb a pounding without suffering any ill effects. Older individuals, however, often don’t enjoy this luxury; high-impact activities such as running can do a number on the joints of both middle age adults and seniors alike. Other activities that could prove harmful to joints include jumping rope, jumping jacks and step aerobics This brings up an obvious question – what are some practical alternatives that take it easy on joints?

Don’t Forget (Low-Impact) Aerobic Exercises – Fortunately, there are many aerobic activities that won’t leave you feeling sore afterwards. The term “aerobic exercises” simply refers to any activity that increases the body’s need for oxygen. Given this broad definition, there are plenty of ways to fit aerobics into your workout; some low-impact options for older adults are shown below:

  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Using an elliptical trainer
  • Riding a stationary or recumbent bikes
  • Walking
  • Rowing

If none of these options sound appealing, you could always use an upper body ergometer. As indicated by its name, this machine works the upper body while allowing the user burn off a decent number of calories.

As with strength training, aerobic exercises play a key role in preserving your health. The American Heart Association recommends getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five days a week.

Take Proper Precautions – Some people after the age of 40 or so are reluctant to exercise due to health concerns. While there is no denying the impact that serious conditions and diseases have on the body, such problems do not necessarily prevent people from exercising. For example, someone with heart disease might undergo a treadmill test, which is used to determine a patient’s target heart range when working out. Likewise, people with diabetes should consider wearing medical ID bracelets. These bracelets provide crucial details about the patient to emergency responders, something which could save a diabetic’s life if he or she is incapacitated by their condition.

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