Like everyone else, older adults require adequate exercise to stay healthy. However, they need to be careful because they are at higher risk of mental and physical issues caused by certain workouts.
This article discusses some important guidelines regarding elders and exercises, including the negative impact, activities to avoid, alternatives and essential tips.
The Risks of Exercises for Seniors
Too much exercise isn’t good, especially for elders. Mostly high-intensity workouts put a heavy strain on the body, which can manifest in many ways, including:
The medical term for physical burnout is Overtraining Syndrome (OTS). It is when you work out so much that your body can’t recover, making you feel tired all the time. Especially older adults have higher risks of OTS since their organs are weak and are stimulated more easily. Other adverse effects of physical burnout include depression and hormonal disbalance.
Seniors are more likely to get injured during workouts because of their delicate bones and muscles. Common workout injuries include muscle pull and strain, dislocations, sprained ankles, shin splint, tendinitis, etc. Some of these can cause extreme physical distress and require immediate medical care.
Studies show that high-intensity exercises for extended periods can contribute to heart conditions, including coronary artery calcification, heart damage, rhythm disorders and even cardiac arrest. This is especially a point to note, given that adults aged 65 or more already have elevated risks of coronary heart diseases.
Loss of Appetite
While generally, exercise stimulates hunger, too much of it can cause loss of appetite. Experts give many reasons for this, including changing hormone levels and even increased body heat that reduces your cravings. Whatever be the case, this is a big risk factor for senior citizens as it invites issues related to lack of proper nutrition.
Anorexia is one of the most common mental disorders caused by overexercising. The condition makes you train compulsively without eating enough. Furthermore, physical activities can also cause emotional distress and anxiety if they are hard to do. Meanwhile, exercise addiction is a real thing, and even though it is rare in older adults, it’s still a possibility.
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What Exercises Should Seniors Avoid?
Now that you know some ill-effects of exercising in seniors, here are some workouts that you should avoid as an elder:
Deadlifting is a strenuous activity that puts extreme pressure on the upper and lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Even though it is greatly helpful in building muscles, it can cause severe muscle injuries in elders. Furthermore, as seniors already have bad posture and higher body fat than younger adults, deadlifting requires more physical stress, resulting in pain.
Alternative: Glute Bridge
Glute Bridge is a simple yoga that works on the same areas as deadlifting and requires far lesser stress.
Step 1: Lie flat on your back.
Step 2: Bend your knees, resting your feet flat on the ground and put your hands on your side.
Step 3: Slowly and steadily, push your hip and back upwards. To make the process easier, push from your feet. Feel your core and back muscles getting involved.
Step 4: Hold the position for a couple of seconds and come back, repeating afterwards.
If you feel like the glute bridge is too easy for you, you can try barbell hip thrust, which is essentially the same exercise, but by holding a barbell.
While balance and strength training is highly recommended for seniors, squatting is just overdoing it. Squat involved various muscles, including hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, abductors, calves, quadriceps, and hip flexors. And if your body isn’t able to handle it properly, you will end up injuring your hips, knees, and lower back.
Alternative: Chair Squats
Given that squatting is a highly effective exercise, hardly any workouts match its impact. Hence, the best idea would be to do its easiest version, also known as chair squat.
Step 1: Sit in a chair with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing straight.
Step 2: Keep your spine straight and raise your chest and head, sitting in the right posture. Then, slowly stand without losing it.
Step 3: Bend your knees, and lower your hips down, returning to the sitting position. Stop when your butt slightly touches the chair.
Step 4: Repeat the process, inhaling when going down and exhaling as you stand up.
The chair helps avoid potential injuries if you lose your control without affecting the results much. If you want to make it a little challenging, hold a kettlebell as you do the exercise.
Sit-Ups and Crunches
Sit-ups and crunches are great for strengthening and toning the abdominal muscles. They also help lose fat around the abs, making them a little more counterintuitive for elders.
As you can see, senior citizens need to have more body fat than others to remain healthy as their muscles aren’t that strong. Furthermore, as most human fat is accumulated in the abdominal area, sit-ups and crunches cause senior citizens to lose essential bodyweight. Not to mention, they are intense exercises and carry injury risks.
Planks have an excellent effect on the abs, and also don’t take a lot of energy.
Step 1: Lie your face down with your legs extended and feet together.
Step 2: Place your forearms beside your chest and raise your upper body until your arm is perpendicular to the floor.
Step 3: Raise your body until your head is in a straight line with the back and the spine. Look below, breathe slowly and hold the position for as long as possible, preferably between 15 to 30 seconds.
Step 4: Slowly come down, and repeat the process.
You could do a chair plank, in which you hold on to a chair with your wrists instead of resting your forearms on the ground. But be careful as you could injure the wrist.
Stair climbs can be helpful to build leg muscles while you are younger, but as you age, you’re more likely to lose balance and fall. The risk is significant- every year, more than 3 million elders are treated in emergency hospital facilities due to fall-related injuries.
Not to mention, senior citizens generally have a weaker visual ability, doubling the risk as stairs are the most common environmental hazards for people with visual impairments.
Step-ups target all the major leg muscles and don’t pose the risk of falling from the stairs. They are easy to do and improve stabilization as well.
Step 1: Get a small box or a chair. It should be sturdy and fixed to the ground such that you can easily climb it without having to jump.
Step 2: Place your right foot into the step, and slowly raise your left foot in a controlled motion, placing both of them together.
Step 3: Bring down your right foot first and then your left. Repeat as much as needed.
Remember to do this exercise slow and steadily. Don’t lose balance as you bring either foot up or down. For higher intensity, carry a weight.
Long Distance Running
The story of the superhero Fauja Singh is an inspiring one. Now 111 years old, he is a retired marathon runner who started his career when he was 90 years old and continued running until he was 100. Similarly, many senior citizens have made their own records running long distances, but still, it is one of those activities better left for the pros.
Long-distance running has various risks, including thickening heart tissues, fibrosis, irregular heartbeat, etc. Furthermore, it can cause elders to lose excessive calories and injuries and sprain in the ankle.
Alternative: Power Walking
Study shows that walking is as effective as running in lowering the risk of diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. A more effective way of walking, also known as power walking, is less tiring than running and, at the same time, more effective than normal walking.
Power walking means walking at the highest speed you can. But remember, it isn’t jogging or running- to do a power walk, at least one of your feet must be on the ground at all times. Generally, a good speed is between 4 to 5 miles per hour.
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How Long Should Elders Workout?
As per the World Health organization, adults more than 65 years of age should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise every week.
For more health benefits, they can double on the above recommendations, which means 300 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise.
Examples of moderate aerobic activity include brisk walking and pushing a lawnmower. On the other hand, jogging is a great vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise.
The WHO also recommends senior citizens do at least two days of muscle strengthening and three days of balancing exercises.
When it comes to elders, the key to exercising is not overdoing it. The idea is to maintain some levels of physical activity rather than building muscles or risking injuries. Senior citizens should never push their bodies over their limits, and, most importantly, feel good about the workout they are doing.