5 simple exercises seniors can do at home

The benefits of exercise for aging

If you’re approaching retirement age or older, even if you haven’t been active, now is a good time to start. Exercise at any age can help prevent, limit, and even reverse many age-related changes in quality of life.

According to the Scientific Report of the Physical Activity Advisory Board of 2018, regular exercise by older adults can help prevent falls and fall-related fractures and other injuries, and may help improve physical function and reduce age-related loss of physical function.

In addition, the same report noted varying levels of evidence (from limited to strong) that regular exercise, including strength training, tai chi, and qigong, helped improve physical function in people with cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cognitive impairment, frailty, hip fractures , osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease and stroke.

This is incredibly important information as it highlights the role of exercise in improving health at any age.

Assuming you have the green light from your doctor to follow an exercise program, try to get active consistently. Even a little bit of regular exercise can make the aging process a little less challenging. And that’s something to get excited about.

Get more out of your daily activities

The first thing to keep in mind is that any activity, no matter how small, is better than none.

So while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise per week, with strengthening exercises an additional two days per week, it’s okay to start at a level that seems achievable to you.

(Don’t forget to include stretching! Here are the 5 best stretches for seniors — or anyone who feels pain.)

Start moving more

A big part of achieving the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise is simply getting more exercise. You know those hobbies you love? If they keep you moving, they count towards your weekly total.

If your interests are skewed toward sedentary living (hey, there’s nothing wrong with reading!), think about taking up an active hobby. That could be golfing, gardening, playing outside with your grandkids, walking the dog, or even shopping with friends (assuming you spend more time briskly walking around the store than digging through the racks).

Even “boring” exercise counts – you’d be surprised how many calories you burn cleaning the house.

Make sure your activity counts as cardio

To reap cardiovascular benefits, the minutes you exercise should be done at a moderate or vigorous intensity.

Not sure how to measure your intensity? Use a 10-point scale to rate your personal effort level. A zero on the scale would be the equivalent of lying down and doing nothing, while a 10 would be a total effort. Moderate-intensity exercise falls around a five or six on this scale, while a seven or higher is considered vigorous.

If you can earn about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio a day, five days a week; 15 minutes of intense cardio a day, five days a week; or an equivalent combination thereof, meet the CDC’s proposed cardio guidelines.

Don’t forget to strength train

The only other piece of the puzzle to consider is how to incorporate strength training exercises into your routine.

You don’t have to go to the gym to enjoy a solid strength workout. There are many simple home exercises that you can perform with basic equipment, such as resistance bands or dumbbells. And in many cases you can just use your own body weight.

Most importantly, target each of your major muscle groups at least twice a week. Even a 20-minute strength workout can do the trick.

Jeanette DePatie, a fitness instructor and senior specialist with the workout video Everyone can exercise: Senior Edition, points to the following exercises as a good starting point. Find a clear spot in your house and try them out.

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

squatting chair

Moving from a seated to a standing position (and vice versa) is one of those everyday moves that target your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and even your core. It also requires balance and coordination. The chair squat requires nothing more than a sturdy chair.

Try to perform the exercise without the help of your arms or upper body. Need some extra help at the beginning? That’s all right. You can use a chair with armrests to give you something sturdy to print from.

Stand in front of a chair, with your back to the chair. Place your feet hip-distance apart and check your posture. Shrug your shoulders back, pull your hips forward slightly and bend your knees slightly.

Inhale and press your hips back, bending your knees as you steadily lower your butt toward the seat of the chair. Raise your arms in front of you to help with balance as you lean back. Keep your knees aligned with your toes as you sit.

When your behind hits the chair, rest for a moment and then press through your heels to stand again. If necessary, press the armrests or seat of the chair on either side of your hips with your hands. Make sure to distribute your weight evenly on each side.

The most important part of this exercise is the slow, controlled downward phase, so be extra careful with this step. Perform two to three sets of eight to 10 reps.

(Want to do more? Try these other squat exercises.)

Farming Walking Exercise

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

Farmer’s Walk

The burp gait helps improve balance and coordination for walking movements, while also increasing strength in your lower body, core, back, forearms and grip. Use a set of dumbbells (water bottles also work) to add resistance to the exercise.

Stand up straight and focus on your posture. Engage your core, roll your shoulders back and tighten your abs like a corset (pull them back toward your spine). Hold a dumbbell in each hand.

Begin to walk forward steadily and in a controlled manner, exaggerating with every step. The goal is not to take longer steps, but to lift the knee and foot slightly higher than you normally would.

Take 10 to 20 steps forward. Rest and then repeat two more times.

Exercise with one leg up

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

Balance stand with one leg

Balance exercises are incredibly important to help reduce your risk of falling, while also improving core strength, lateral strength, and proprioception (your ability to sense your body’s location and actions) for everyday movements.

Stand up straight with good posture, feet hip-distance apart. If necessary, place your hands lightly against a wall or firm backrest for balance. Shift your weight slightly to the left and gently lift your right foot off the floor in front of you, pulling your knee forward at a 90-degree angle without moving your torso or changing your posture.

Hold the position for as long as you can, aiming for 20 to 40 seconds. Do two to three sets per side.

Wall Push Up Exercise

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

Push-up against wall or slope

To work on upper body strength, especially through your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core, try wall pushups. They are an excellent option without any equipment.

Stand at arm’s length from a wall. Place your palms flat on the wall at shoulder height. Your arms should be parallel to the floor and your feet should be about hip-distance apart.

Engage your core and pull your abs toward your spine. It is important to keep your abs engaged and your body aligned during the exercise. Bend your elbows and bring your chest and shoulders closer to the wall. Your elbows should bend back at about a 45-degree angle to your body.

When your shoulders and head are almost against the wall, reverse the movement and press through your palms to push your chest and torso back to the starting position.

Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 reps.

The beauty of this move is that it’s easy to progress as you get stronger. Over time, if you find that wall pushups are too easy, you can make the exercise harder by changing the angle of the movement. By using a counter, desk, or the back of your couch, you’ll make the move on a greater incline.

Resistance Band Pull Apart Exercise

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

Pulling resistance band apart

Grab a resistance band for this exercise, which strengthens the back half of your body, including your upper back, shoulders and core.

Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, about hip-distance apart. Check your posture: Your ears should be in line with your shoulders and hips. With both hands, hold a resistance band directly in front of your shoulders so that your arms are parallel to the floor. The band should be tight between your hands, but not tight.

Tighten your abs and pull them back toward your spine. Keeping your torso stable, pull your hands apart and extend your arms out to your sides in a T shape while squeezing your shoulder blades together.

Hold your breath for a moment and then return to the starting position. Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 reps.

If you find using a resistance band too difficult, start with the exercise without a band. Really focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you move your arms into the T position.

Then check out these tips if you need exercise motivation.

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