Exercise for seniors is very important because as we age, we lose both our aerobic fitness and muscle (sarcopenia). Although we can’t stop this loss regular exercise at least slows down the rate at which it takes place.
Cardio exercise uses large muscle groups in rhythmic motion over a period of time. This type of exercise increases your body’s ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues and to remove waste.
The benefits of regular exercise for seniors is that it lowers your risk for a variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and high blood pressure. These exercises are not only good for your health and make you feel better but you will also lose weight and look better.
VO2 max is an excellent measure of overall fitness. It’s frequently used by endurance athletes, but it’s a good indicator for everyone.
It is the maximum ability of the body to transport oxygen from the air to the muscles to generate energy. It combines the heart’s capacity to pump oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, as well as the muscles efficiency in extracting and utilizing the oxygen.
If the arteries and veins are like roads, then doing aerobic exercise is like paving those roads, so the oxygenated blood can get around easier. Having a high VO2 max means your veins and arteries are like a motorway. VO2 max is a measure of how quickly that oxygenated blood can get to the muscles.
VO2 max decreases with age. The average rate of decline is generally accepted to be about 10% per decade after the age of 25.
Cardio workouts are the heart pumping variety. They help to reduce fatigue and improve the ability to do daily activities such as walking, house cleaning, and errands.
Cardio exercises includes walking, jogging, stair climbing, swimming, hiking, cycling, rowing, tennis and dancing. Anything that increases your heart rate and breathing for an extended period of time.
Starting a cardio exercise program
Before starting any exercise for seniors program get a physical check-up from your health care provider.
Start gradually don’t try and don’t try to build your program too fast. Build up your endurance small step by small step, starting with as little as 5 minutes of low-to-moderate endurance activity at a time.
It took a long time to get unfit so don’t expect a miracle quick return to fitness. Listen to your body and depending on how you feel slowly increase both the time and intensity of your cardio exercise. But take it slow – I would recommend that you limit the increase in time to about 10% a week.
Initially I would not be too concerned about drinking water during exercise. Although it is advisable to increase your intake of water as this will help your body remove waste.
Be sensible when doing any cardio exercise for seniors:
- Stretch before and after after your exercise session.
- To prevent injuries (and be a good example to your grandchildren!), use safety equipment such as helmets for cycling.
- Dress appropriately for the weather conditions.
- Endurance activities should not be so intense as to make you breathe so hard that you can’t talk.
- If you experience dizziness or chest pain, stop or slow down until you feel better. The exercise should feel somewhat difficult to you, but not painful.
Recommended endurance exercises
When starting out choose from the following exercises:
- Walking briskly on a level surface.
- Cycling on a stationary bicycle or outdoors on flat roads.
- Rowing on a rowing machine.
- Gardening, mowing, or raking the lawn.
The next moderate to hard stage of exercise for seniors.
As you gain fitness through your cardio program and have increased your endurance to at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes you can the increase the range and intensity of exercise to include:
- Climbing stairs or hills.
- Brisk cycling up hills.
- More physical domestic chores like shoveling and digging.
You can also divide your cardio exercise into sessions of at least 10 minutes at a time. As long as they add up to a total of at least 30 minutes on most, or all, days of the week. Doing less than 10 minutes at a time won’t give you the desired cardiovascular and respiratory system benefits you are looking for.
Vary your routine and think of new activities you’d like to try. Join a group and get your friends involved in your exercise for seniors! Having company is motivating and makes the activity more fun.
If you wish you can add more time, increase the intensity through interval sessions, or try more than one exercise during the same session. If you really become ambitious you could start entering into walking, jogging or cycling races … on the road to your first triathlon?
Retirement Health: A critical element for your enjoyable and comfortable retirement