Exercise is often prescribed for patients of all ages to reduce complaints about pain in muscles and bones, but some feel it gets harder to exercise as they get older. “For seniors, exercise can also be an incredible way to be social,” says Scott Bautch, DC, president of the American Chiropractic Association’s Council on Occupational Health. “The social aspect of exercise is huge. Pilates is becoming more and more popular among older adults. Seniors can interact with each other while they exercise at their local gyms. Nowadays, many gyms have hours of operation that are friendly to seniors.”
Health and social benefits aside, many seniors still have questions about exercise:
I’ve been inactive for so long. Won’t it hurt to exercise?
You can always become as physically fit as possible, given your current health status and limitations. When you commit to a physical fitness program, you will move toward enjoying life more fully.
First, pick an activity that you enjoy doing and perform it regularly. Make your exercise program as pleasant as possible. If you feel exercising is a chore, you will be uncomfortable with the program and will quit. If you can, ask a friend to exercise with you so you can support each other.
Second, begin your exercise program gradually, starting with five minutes of exercise each day. As you become more comfortable with the routine and notice the positive effects of fitness, you may increase the exercise time.
If you have been inactive for some time, you may feel some small aches and pains. They will fade with time. Be sure to tell your doctor if you experience any unusual pain or other symptoms during or after your exercises. Check with your doctor of chiropractic before starting any exercise or physical fitness program. While exercise is beneficial to your health, the type of exercises you perform can be affected by your health status.
How do I start?
Develop a plan for an exercise program and stick with it. Make your exercise program an integral part of your normal daily activities – or use normal daily activities to help your muscles and bones become as healthy as possible.
- Research shows that “functional exercises”— those that mimic actual daily activities, such as walking up and down stairs and getting in and out of a chair — can be quite effective.
- Some research suggests that people who live in two-story houses are less prone to certain types of heart disease. Repeatedly climbing a flight of stairs or rising from and returning to a seated position helps build leg strength and aerobic fitness. If you hold a weight during these exercises, you can increase your level of physical activity even further.
- Household chores, such as vacuuming, loading and emptying the dishwasher and moving wet laundry from the washer to the dryer can increase strength and flexibility. Lift with your legs, when necessary.
I don’t feel as strong as I used to. Can I still exercise?
As we age, we lose muscle mass. Some healthcare providers suggest that weight training will help prevent strength loss and keep patients feeling younger. Unfortunately, many seniors find they can’t lift the heavy weights necessary to actually build muscle mass, but don’t be discouraged. Recent studies show that while muscle strength diminishes with age, muscle endurance does not. It means that, as we get older, we may benefit from switching strength exercises to endurance exercises, working muscles with lighter weights for a longer period of time.
Exercises that emphasize endurance, such as dancing, walking or bicycling, may be not only more beneficial but also more enjoyable. Many senior citizens have neighborhood areas where they can get together to walk. Walking with a family member or friend helps your physical fitness — and helps build relationships. These exercises are also aerobic and will benefit your heart health. For people who cannot walk or ride a bike, there are endurance- and flexibility-enhancing exercises that can be performed in a chair. Set goals for yourself that can be tracked and make exercise a part of your overall health plan.
I have arthritis. How can I exercise safely?
Physical activity actually decreases arthritic pain. Many people with rheumatic conditions are physically inactive. There is oftentimes a fear factor for seniors when it comes to activity and arthritic pain – a social fear, a fear of pain, a fear of falling, etc. However, for those with arthritis, the worst thing they can do is stop moving. In most cases, you can — and should — exercise.
In fact, recent research has shown that older people with arthritis gain modest improvements in physical function, pain, general mobility and flexibility, when participating in long-term exercise programs. Water-based exercises, such as swimming or “water walking,” can work on joints without putting them through the stress of weight bearing. If necessary, your doctor can show you how to use a cane, a walker or other assistive devices to help prevent falls and injuries while you are physically active.
Which fitness program will help me most?
The best exercise program should be tailored to your individual health status. Your doctor of chiropractic can help you plan the fitness program that is right for you. Typically, low-impact activities that keep joints moving and minimize pain, such as walking, swimming and water-based exercise, are effective. Research has shown that exercise can reduce joint stiffness, pain and inflammation associated with arthritic conditions, which affect most of us as we age.
Doctors of chiropractic can not only help restore muscle and joint function that have been affected by injury, illness and age-related conditions, but they can also maintain the health and flexibility of your muscles and bones. They often prescribe exercise to prevent and treat many of these conditions, helping older patients to remain active and independent.
For more information on prevention and wellness, or to find a doctor of chiropractic near you, visit www.HandsDownBetter.org.
Reviewed by the ACA Editorial Advisory Board. The information in this post is for educational purposes. It is not a replacement for treatment or consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have specific questions, contact your doctor of chiropractic. To find an ACA chiropractor near you, click here. Please note, chiropractic is regulated by state law, and the scope of what chiropractors may treat may differ from state to state. Check with your state licensing board to learn more.