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Senior in Motion

By: Don VelascoSenior in Motion

The benefits of exercise are undeniable. Most people run, go to the gym, or join spin classes in the hope of losing a little weight, improving their muscle mass, or getting a happy buzz.  Other than these, there is much more to gain from having an active lifestyle. This becomes increasingly important for senior citizens who need to take care of their health even more.

Here are 5 important benefits of exercise for seniors:

Immune System Booster

Exercise in proper amounts strengthens your immune system by providing a boost to leukocytes in your blood. These are cells that are assigned to protect your body from bacteria and viruses. Studies have shown that people who don’t exercise regularly have cells that work more slowly compared to those who do. However, it is important to note that “too much too soon” is also bad as this may depress your immune system rather than giving it a boost.

Bone Packing

As you age, your bones become less dense and more brittle. Calcium supplementation alone may not be enough to counteract the effects of osteoporosis. A stimulus for bone regeneration is needed; this is where exercise comes in. Low impact exercises like hiking, walking, and resistance training helps strengthen your bones because they induce very miniscule skeletal “cracks” that get repaired immediately by the body. This regenerative cycle results in better bone density, hence the term “bone packing.”

Improves Cardiovascular Function

Working out doesn’t just mean breaking a sweat. Oftentimes, maintaining a slightly elevated heart rate for an extended period of time is necessary to elicit improvements in your body’s cardiovascular system. This is often referred to as aerobic exercise and has a plethora of benefits. First, it boosts energy production by making your body more efficient in utilizing oxygen and fat for energy. This results in better stamina and endurance. Second, your heart and lung functions also improve since they are also given a “workout” which helps these vital organs do their job more effectively.  

Finally, blood flow also improves because exercise induces dilation of the blood vessels which results in better blood distribution throughout the body.

Enhances Mood and Sleep Pattern

Exercise has been proven to help people suffering from anxiety or depression because it produces “feel-good hormones.” These endorphins also help calm you down post-workout. This will help counteract insomnia and restlessness.

Ameliorate Coordination

Exercise not only trains your body, it also trains your brain. Participating in exercise routines that require dynamic movement (e.g. Zumba, table tennis, etc.) primes the neurological pathways from your brain to your muscles. This results in better hand-eye coordination, improved alertness, and even better dexterity.

Now that we know all the benefits of exercise, how can a senior citizen start? Here are some examples that are best suited for them given their age and abilities.

Brisk Walking – Sometimes referred to as power walking, it requires you to go slightly faster than your normal stride rate. Hold this for 20-40 minutes at a time. Perceived effort should be somewhere between 5 and 6 out of 10.

Swimming – Swimming is a non-weight bearing sport which can be good and bad. It’s good because it puts little strain on knees and joints, and bad because it doesn’t result in bone packing. Nonetheless, it’s still an important form of exercise for seniors. For more advanced swimmers, it’s best to focus more on the breaststroke and freestyle (front crawl).

Zumba – This doesn’t even feel like a workout because you’re having so much fun. Most gyms offer Zumba classes and are designed to help you break a sweat sans the boring and repetitive movements.  Other dance classes are also just as good. The important thing is that you’re maintaining an elevated heart rate, utilizing your muscles, and using your hand-eye coordination as well.

Spinning – Spinning is just another term for cycling. Spin classes were only previously held in gyms but now, stand-alone spin studios have been popping up left and right. The nice thing about this form of exercise is that there is less strain on your joints but still gives your musculature a good workout. One word of caution though, make sure your bike is set up properly. Ask help from a knowledgeable cyclist before you crank out the miles on your stationary bike.

Resistance Training – There’s simply no substitute for the basics. Resistance training is very important simply because it lays down the foundation of your strength and mobility. Lifting heavy weights is not necessary. Focus on a weight that’s right for you (i.e. you can do 10-15reps). Also, ask for help from an instructor who can guide you when it comes to the proper kinds of exercise and movement.

So what’s the single best workout for seniors? There is none! Incorporating different kinds of exercise into your weekly routine is the best way to go because it helps iron out muscular imbalances and targets different aspects of training (i.e. strength, aerobic conditioning, mobility etc). Most of all, it keeps things fresh and interesting!

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