Staying Active As We Age

February 20, 2019

By: Allison Kauffman

We all have been told that getting regular exercise makes a big difference in our overall health. This applies to seniors too! But what exercise programs are best for older adults? According to the National Council on Aging, regular exercise can help seniors stay independent and prevent many health problems that come with age.  

Taryn Wilk, Community Fitness and Wellness Coordinator at RiverWoods Senior Living Community explained, “Anyone can benefit from working out, but our aging population sees some of the greatest gains in their quality of life from exercise. As you would expect, exercise helps to improve physical health and strength, but it does so much more.” Wilk continued, “Exercise helps to promote cognitive health, which is one of the top concerns for seniors. I love group fitness classes because they encourage social engagement and friendships. I often hear from participants that class is the only in-person interaction they have all day. We have fun, smile, and laugh, which really helps to improve disposition and decrease stress.” Wilk says exercise can also help to improve quality of sleep, endurance for daily activities and helps to decrease the risk of falling, “The benefits are too numerous to count, but a consistent exercise routine absolutely improves the overall wellness of seniors.” 

At Albright Care Services, there are many fitness programs in place on all of our campuses to help our residents and participants achieve their fitness goals.  You can visit  https://riverwoods.org/lifestyle/wellness/ or  https://normandieridge.org/lifestyle/wellness/for details. 

FUNCTIONAL FITNESS
Functional Fitness is one of the choices that many residents can take part in. This is a program that trains muscles to work together and prepares seniors for daily tasks by simulating common movements they may do at home. The program uses various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time and emphasizes core stability.  Functional fitness exercises can be done at home or at the gym, but residents are encouraged to join others and take a class together, for motivation and socialization.  Fitness balls and weights are often used in functional fitness workouts.  According to the Mayo Clinic, as you add more functional exercises to your workout, you should see improvements in your ability to perform everyday activities, thus improving your quality of life.  

STRENGTH TRAINING 
THE CDC says there are many benefits to strength training for older adults. Those benefits can include improving bone density, reducing your risk of falling, improving balance and coordination, improving strength and maintaining independence in performing activities of daily life. Strength training requires little time and minimal equipment and it is safe for people with health conditions. However, a doctor should be consulted before starting any weight lifting exercises.  Growing older can involve the inevitable loss of strength and energy. This is largely due to muscle loss, which results mainly from inactivity. The CDC says the best ways to keep muscles healthy and strong is through strength training exercises. Done regularly, strength training builds muscle and bone strength. 

AQUATIC EXERCISE 
Another option at RiverWoods Senior Living Community in Lewisburg and Normandie Ridge Senior Living Community in York is aquatic exercise in the indoor heated pools. Experts say aquatic exercise is excellent for seniors who have pain, decreased range of motion, or fear of falling. It is also good for rehabilitation from an injury or surgery. Wilk said, “Water offers a buoyancy effect that minimizes the risk of injury by reducing the impact of exercises on the body. In addition, the buoyancy allows participants to improve flexibility by moving through a greater range of motion than they would be able to on land.” 
The force of water from all directions on the body helps to keep participants upright.  Wilk said often times, people are surprised by how much easier it is to move in the pool.  She added, “Water is denser than air, which means it provides a greater resistance to movement.  This resistance helps to improve muscle mass and endurance.” When it comes to mental health, the benefits of aquatic exercise are just as numerous as the physical ones. Wilk explained, “The warm water feels great on the body and lowers your heart rate. If you talk to someone who regularly exercises in water, you will hear how they need the pool to keep them sane and moving.  In fact, more and more people are turning to the pool to work out, making aquatics a fitness trend on the rise for all populations.”

TAI CHI 
Tai Chi is an ancient form of Chinese exercise, characterized by slow, measured movements and deep breathing. According to Harvard Health Publishing, the level and benefit of aerobic intensity, depending on the type of tai chi, can be similar to taking a fast walk. Health benefits of Tai Chi may include: 

  • Lower anxiety, stress and depression
  • Higher Energy
  • Better balance and flexibility
  • Muscle strengthening 
  • Lower Blood Pressure 

Tai Chi classes are available at Albright Care Service campuses and can be done in a chair or wheelchair. The routines are not designed to burn calories or raise your heart rate. Instead, the exercises can help with circulation, balance, alignment and help restore your energy. Tai Chi is low impact and is an excellent activity for beginners and people with health conditions. Tai Chi targets several areas of the body including your core, arms, legs, glutes and back.  

Tai Chi classes are popular at our LIFE sites. Visit Lancaster.albrightcare.org, Lebanon.albrightcare.org and Lycoming.albrightcare.org  for details. 

YOGA
AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) says there are several reasons seniors should practice yoga regularly. Yoga induces the relaxation response, an alpha state between awake and asleep that helps modulate the way the body responds to stress. When faced with ongoing stress, your heart beats faster, your muscles tense and you start to sweat. Yoga can stop this process, reducing anxiety. Yoga also protects your joints.  AARP reports practicing yoga regularly can help lubricate joints, staving off debilitating disorders such as carpal tunnel and arthritis. Yoga is also excellent for building strength and balance. Yoga’s slow measured movements and strengthening poses can help you achieve better balance and prevent falls. Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults. Yoga also can help with sharpening the mind. As we age, our thought process isn’t as sharp as it once was. As you practice yoga, you are focusing on breathing and synchronizing it with movement, which helps keep your mind engaged, according to yoga instructors. And finally, yoga can boost your mood. Studies show yoga has a great impact on enhancing mood and reducing anxiety. AARP reports yoga boosts levels of the brain chemical GABA, which helps calm nerves.  

JOGGING
Jogging is still a great option for seniors who are able to and have been cleared by a doctor. You can do it anywhere and all you need are a good pair of sneakers. More and more older adults are competing in local races than ever before. Recommendations for those who are interested in jogging including: 

  • Getting fitted for a good pair of running shoes to prevent injury
  • Don’t eat immediately before you go jogging
  • Stay hydrated by bringing a water bottle with you or jogging somewhere near drinking fountains
  • Start with a few minutes of brisk walking to warm up 
  • If you get out of breath, slow down and walk until you feel comfortable to start jogging again
  • Cool down with more walking and stretching after your done jogging
  • Eat a healthy snack after you finish
  • Make jogging part of your regular routine, three to four times a week

Once you get used to regular jogging, you will build up your endurance and be able to jog for longer periods of time. Jogging has many health benefits such as preventing hypertension and heart disease, preventing some cancers, combating stress, helping to control diabetes, controlling body weight and improving mental fitness.  

BALANCE GAMES
At Albright, residents and participants are encouraged to get involved in some of the games and activities planned, which often center around balance and coordination skills. Games such as indoor bowling, ladder toss and mini golf can be loads of fun, but also help with balance and coordination.  Other indoor games such as wheelchair beach volleyball help with hand and eye coordination. According to AginginPlace.com, there are several important balance exercises that seniors should practice regularly. 

  • Tightrope Walk- Stretching out your arms wide while walking along a straight line without stepping off the line.
  • Rock the Boat- Spreading your legs far apart and shifting your weight from left to right by lifting one leg off the ground at a time and holding this for as long as possible.
  • Toe the Line- Placing your heal so that it touches the toes of the other foot and repeating the process with the next foot and continue.
  •  Flamingo Stand- Standing on one leg while placing one of your hands on a chair for support and stretch the other leg forward and then alternate legs.  

STRETCHING
Stretching before and after activity is very important, but stretching in general can make a big difference for aging muscles and bones.  Livestrong.com has a list of the best stretches for seniors.  

They include:

  • Seated Overhead Stretch- This helps you stretch the shoulder muscles.  You should sit with your feet flat on the floor and keep your back straight and your arms straight at your sides.  Lift your arms out in front of you and then upwards towards your head. Then lower the arms to return to the start and repeat 10 times. 
  • Calf Stretches- Stand behind a chair touching it for balance while extending our right foot backward.  Reach the right heel toward the ground.  Hold this for 15 5o 30 seconds and repeat with the left leg.  
  • Side-to-Side Stretch- This helps loosen the back and stomach muscles.  Sit in a chair with your feet shoulder width apart.  Place your hands behind your head and slowly bend at your waist to drop your elbow toward the right side, feeling the stretch in the left side.  Reverse the motion and repeat 10 times on each side.
  • Knee-to-Chest Stretch- This helps relieve knee, quadriceps and lower back tightness.  You should do this lying on the floor and pull your right or left knee to your chest and repeat five times on each leg. 

Stretching allows for greater movement in joints and improves posture.  It also helps to release muscle tension and soreness and reduce the risk of injury. Studies also show stretching may help increase circulation and improve balance and coordination. 

MEDITATION
Wilk also recommends regularly practicing meditation techniques for three important reasons. She says it can reduce stress, reduce anxiety and promote emotional health.  Mental and physical stress cause increased levels of cortisol, which can cause disruption of sleep, anxiety and depression, increased blood pressure and fatigue. In an eight week study done by Healthline.com, a meditation style called “Mindfulness Meditation” reduced the inflammation response caused by stress. The research also shows that meditation may improve symptoms of stress-related conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. Meditation can also lead to an improved self-image and more positive outlook on life. It can also help with lowering blood pressure, improving circulation, lowering the heart rate and achieving deeper relaxation. 
Albright Care Services offers meditation groups at their sites. Meditation involves sitting or lying down comfortably, closing your eyes and completing breathing techniques. You are also concentrating on thoughts and feelings and may repeat words or phrases. There are a number of meditation techniques, such as concentration meditation and mindful meditation. They can be done alone or in a group setting. 

HOW MUCH EXERCISE DO SENIORS NEED? 
Wilk likes to call her seniors who attend her exercise classes “active agers.” She said, “It relays that they play a role in the aging process and can still have a positive impact on their quality of life, by staying active.”  

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends two types of physical activity each week to improve overall health. They are aerobic activity and muscle strengthening. Experts recommend older adults engage in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes, five days a week. They also recommend muscle-strengthening activities for two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups. However, statistics show that less than one-third of Americans 65 and older meet this recommendation.  

With that being said, Wilk believes every person is different and exercise can have a very different impact depending on the individuals overall health, pain levels, and previous level of activity. Wilk explained, “For some active agers, exercise may be stretching, practicing getting in and out of a chair, or taking short walks. For others, exercise is more formal and may include swimming laps, lifting weights or taking an exercise class. I always recommend that my clients talk to their doctor before beginning any new exercise routine to make sure they have no restrictions.”  Wilk recommends speaking with a personal trainer, physical therapist, fitness instructor or other qualified individual who can set up a personalized routine. And she says she has to frequently remind her clients that they need to listen to their own body and if it hurts, don’t do it!

STICKING TO IT!  
You want to improve your health, but everyone has good days and bad days and sometimes, exercise isn’t enjoyable. Here are some tips for sticking to a fitness routine:

  • Mixing up your activities to keep things interesting
  • Do it for yourself to make yourself feel better 
  • Bring a friend or join a group class with people you know
  • Live in the present and if you miss a workout, start fresh the next day 
  • Keep track of your progress and hold yourself accountable
  • Keep it realistic and don’t try to do more than you can handle 

Wilk says improving your activity level now can make a big difference in overall wellness. Exercising and staying active can change your quality of life for the better in a number of ways. You can contact Taryn Wilk for more information at Taryn.Wilk@AlbrightCare.org.