Workouts Are In

By Amy Winter

May 16, 2008 5 min read


Fitness activities are exercises in good judgment

By Amy Winter

Copley News Service

Staying active is good for you at any age. Colin Milner, chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging, says fitness is more than staying in shape. For seniors, exercise helps maintain body functions and independence.

"Just move it," Milner says. "Fitness isn't based on age; it is based on attitude."

Sharon O'Brien, senior living writer for, agrees that movement is key. She says the "use it or lose it" idea is true. Older adults with health problems tend to believe they can't exercise. O'Brien recommends moving at whatever level is comfortable. Start slow and know your limits.

"You don't have to become frail and old," say O'Brien. "There is always room for improvement."

Milner classifies seniors in five fitness categories. Elite older athletes (marathon runners and bodybuilders); fit individuals (exercise three to four times a week); independent living (tend to huff and puff going upstairs); frail (don't exercise at all); dependent living (long-term care due to lack of leg strength). Milner says most seniors fall into the independent living group - they need more strength to preserve quality of life. Choose an exercise depending on your strength ability.

The key elements for picking activities include endurance, strength training, flexibility and balance.

Cardio and aerobic exercises build endurance, which increases breathing and heart rate and creates stamina. AARP recommends activities such as hiking, stair climbing, swimming, dancing, bike riding, walking, sports or aerobics. Sports like volleyball, basketball or tennis use oxygen to create energy. Try to complete an aerobic activity five days a week for 30 minutes.

Gabrielle Redford, features editor for AARP The Magazine, recommends beginners start cardio with walking. Swimming is also a great workout due to less impact on joint tissues.

Do exercises with weights or resistance bands to gain strength, according to Try weight machines, cycling, rowing, pilates or martial arts. Lift weights twice a week to maintain the muscle strength needed to keep a level of functionality, according to Redford.

Paige Waehner, exercise writer for, recommends chair exercises such as bench sit and stand, hamstring curls and knee lifts. Use dumbbells for seated biceps curls, triceps extension and lateral raises. AARP suggests machine exercises like leg extension, leg curls, seated row or abdominal curl.

"Progress by adding more sets (with rest in between) and/or increasing the weights each week," says Waehner.

Lack of flexibility can lead to posture instability, according to Anne Pringle Burnell, founder and creator of the Stronger Seniors fitness program. Remain limber and increase your range of motion by stretching. Burnell says seniors need to spend more time stretching the different muscle groups. AARP recommends static stretches, ballet, yoga and pilates.

Perform a static stretch routine each day, working each muscle group two or three times for at least 20 to 30 seconds each time, according to the AARPsite.

Balance helps with posture and aids in eliminating falls. Once you are stable on your legs, you can complete a variety of exercises, according to Milner. O'Brien suggests balancing on one foot. Yoga or tai chi can also improve balance.

Community centers, senior centers or fitness clubs offer exercise programs for seniors. Burnell recommends water aerobics or pilates to gain a better range of motion. Participate in Nia, a slower pace movement like tai chi that emphasizes repetition and coordination. Or try a video at home. Burnell has videos featuring pilates and yoga exercises, which can be done in a chair at a slower pace. Yoga and pilates strengthen the lungs and respiratory system through deep breathing.

Participate in groups to make exercising more enjoyable. O'Brien recommends walking with a group of friends for encouragement and motivation. Join a sport or event in the Senior Olympics. Games are held every odd year and athletes qualify in state games every even year, according to Becky Wesley, director of association relations for the National Senior Games Association. Compete for a medal in a track and field event, or play a team sport like basketball.

"The seniors enjoy the social aspect," says Wesley.

Don't allow your age to slow you down. Redford says active seniors are better emotionally, physically and mentally.

"Even if you have limitations, it is important to keep exercising," says Redford. "Exercise is linked to longevity."

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