Factors like limited mobility and pain can make a difference in the types of exercises you're are able to do . Low-impact exercises allow for less strain on the body while still providing a means of staying physically active. Also, low-impact exercises can help older adults ease into a new workout program. Exercising in the water, whether swimming or doing water aerobics, is a good option, as are gentle forms of yoga, Pilates, tai chi, stretching, and light weight training. Remember that many exercises can be modified to accommodate low-impact needs — ask your physician or fitness expert about ways to adapt these activities.
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Walk a straight line: Look for a straight line on the floor (like floor tiles) and try to walk along it. The key here is to land with one foot directly in front of the other and also land on your heel first. Try with arms extended out and then relaxed at your sides. To progress, try walking forward to one end and then backwards to the other. Then try walking forward only with your eyes closed. Walk back and forth 10 times.
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One of the important conclusions of the research is that it's important to select balance-training exercises that are specific to activities you are likely to do during the day. For instance, you might want to do balance exercises on one leg that mimic the act of walking if you are unsteady while you walk (when you walk, one leg is in the air). Tai chi is excellent for this because it involves slow, coordinated movements, and is particularly beneficial for balance since you lift one leg frequently while doing it. (See also the balance exercises at the end of this article.)
Balance decreases as we age, and consequently, falling is a major concern for the elderly. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of every three Americans over the age of 65 falls each year, and among individuals 65-84, falls account for 87% of all fractures and are the second leading cause of spinal cord and brain injury. The good news is that physical activity can improve balance and reduce the risk of falling. The results of a study of 256 older adults (70 to 92 years of age, average age 77) who participated in tai chi for six months found that there were 52% fewer falls in the individuals who did tai chi compared to those who didn't.
Not only do leg raises help strengthen the thigh, hip, buttocks, and lower back muscles, this type of exercise benefits balance as well. For side leg raises, stand behind a chair and hold on for better balance. Lift one leg out to the side, keeping it completely aligned from heel to hip, while maintaining a straight back and a slight bend in the supporting leg, then slowly lower the leg. For back leg raises, use the same chair for balance and slowly lift one leg behind you (without leaning forward), hold for a moment, and lower the leg. Do not bend the lifted leg or point the toes, and keep the standing leg slightly bent. For each exercise, complete two sets of at least 10 reps for each leg, alternating legs between sets.
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Raise your bent legs up so that your knees are stacked over your hips, keeping a 90-degree bend in your knees. Brace your core to press your low back into the floor; make sure to maintain this flat-back position throughout the entire exercise. With your palms facing each other, bring arms up to point toward the ceiling.
I don't think anyone can argue with the idea that exercise is good for you, no matter what your age, and importantly, that it's never too late to start. I started this article with a quote and would like to finish with one as well. It's by Dr. George Sheehan. Dr. Sheehan was a cardiologist, who, in the 1970s, at the age of 45, decided to turn around his health and his life. He caught the running bug and started to train, compete, and run marathons. He quickly became an expert on the subject and started writing weekly fitness columns in local newspapers. He was medical editor for Runner's World magazine for 25 years; he counseled his patients on the virtues of exercise; and he lectured internationally. He wrote eight books about running, fitness, and health, and he played a key role in promoting the running boom of the 1970s. He was philosophical about winning, losing, suffering, meditation, training, and working through pain, and he would quote the likes of William James for inspiration. In 1986, Dr. Sheehan was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to his bones by the time he was diagnosed. He hung on courageously for seven more years, running and competing up until the end of his life. He died in 1993, just four days short of his 75th birthday. Dr. Sheehan had the following to say about his experience with running and with life. "No matter how old I get, the race remains one of life's most rewarding experiences. My times become slower and slower, but the experience of the race is unchanged: each race a drama, each race a challenge, each race stretching me in one way or another, and each race telling me more about myself and others."
One of the most exciting areas of exercise research is the investigation of cognitive function. What scientists have learned so far is that brain neurons, the special cells that help you think, move, perform all the bodily functions that keep you alive, and even help your memory, all increase in number after just a few days or weeks of regular activity. In a study in which researchers used an MRI machine to measure the amount of brain tissue in adults 55 years of age and older, they found results, consistent with other studies of aging and brain volume, showing there were substantial declines in brain tissue density as a function of age in areas of the brain responsible for thinking and memory, but importantly, the losses in these areas were substantially reduced as a function of cardiovascular fitness. In other words, the fittest individuals had the most brain tissue.
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Love treadmills? One con, Smith notes, is that a motorized treadmill can do too much of the work for you. You need to elevate the walking surface a few degrees just to match the effort of walking on flat ground. Your fix: Once you can walk on the treadmill comfortably, don’t be afraid to bump up the incline or intensity. Learn how in our beginner’s guide to the treadmill.
Running: It seems like the most natural way to get into better shape. Bodies are designed to run, right? Yes, but only bodies that are young and relatively lean. For older and generally heavier bodies, the repeated impact of running can cause real damage when you begin late in life. You take more than 2,000 strides per mile, and with each one, you land with a force equivalent to three to four times your body’s weight.
Participate in a senior sports league. Check out the rec center for sign ups or meet-up dates. Most community centers hold organized game play for basketball, volleyball, soccer, and flag football (men, women, and co-ed). Get a group of friends on board and enter the league or sign up individually to be placed on a team. Check for openings on existing teams; church and community groups often have teams