Keeping healthy as a senior is incredibly important and while diet is one component of maintaining your health, an even more important one is exercise. Trying to find the right exercise for you is based on a lot of different factors, and it often takes trying lots of different things to figure out what’s right for you.
The first step in picking the right exercise is eliminating any that will definitely not work — think of it as a reverse process of elimination in some ways. For some people, running is a no-go due to leg or knee issues while others may not be able to do strength-based exercises. Once you have identified which ones won’t work, you can spend more time researching on which ones are the best for you and start slow.
Look at it as a way to ease into the habit of exercising, and you can ramp up your activity as you become more comfortable.
Here are some easy and safe exercises to get you started:
1. Chair Squats
All you need for this one is a chair and this is aimed at strengthening your lower body. Stand in front of a chair, feet apart at hip-length. While keeping your shoulders and chest upright, bend your knees. Lower your bottom as if you were sitting down, and then push your body back up into a standing position.
You can start with a set of these (i.e. 5-10 depending on comfort level) and work your way up.
2. Single Foot Stand
Geared toward improving your balance, this is a pretty simple exercise with no equipment needed.
Stand behind a sturdy, unmovable chair and hold on to its back. Then, pick up your left foot and try to keep balance on your right for as long as you can without feeling discomfort. Then place your left foot down, and repeat the same process with your right foot to improve balance on both feet. Ideally, you should be able to stand on one foot without needing to hold your chair for at least a minute. However, hold this position for as long as you feel comfortable, and time yourself initially so you can track your improvement.
3. Toe Lifts
Another balance exercise, this helps to strengthen your legs and ankles as well. Using either a counter or a chair, place your hands on its surface for support. Then push yourself up to your tip-toes as high as you can, and return back to firmly planted feet. Repeat at least 5-10 times.
4. Tai Chi
A popular exercise with seniors, tai chi can help you regain a sense of balance, strengthen core muscles without needing high-impact activities. A form of meditative exercise, Tai chi is all about focusing on your breathing technique while doing slow and low-impact movements.
There’s no equipment needed, and beginner exercises can be found here and here as a start while you work your way up. There are many more videos out there on Youtube for all skill levels so don’t be afraid to try different channels until you find the right one for you.
5. Bicep Curls
If you are interested in trying something a little different, bicep curls are a great way to maintain your strength while also challenging yourself a little. While it is best to have 2 lb. dumbbells for this, many people also use items around the house that might weigh approximately the same (for e.g. cans of soup, small bags of rice etc. Here is a good resource for some inspiration.)
Aim to do around 10-12 reps with your chosen item. Start by sitting in a chair, a dumbbell in each hand. Your palms should face forward, and elbows should be kept close your sides. Bend your arm at the elbows to lift the dumbbell about ¾ of the way to your shoulders. However, your elbows should not move away from your sides. Repeat with the other arm.
6. Marching in Place
Simple and easy, why not try this the next time you are cooking or waiting for something? Holding a counter or chair for support, stand straight and lift your right knee as high as you can without feeling discomfort. Lower it, and repeat this step with your lower leg. Start by doing this at least 15 times, and steadily work your way up.
If you find that after a while, you want something a little more challenging, why not consider joining a gym? Many of them offer discounts and/or subsidized memberships and classes for seniors that can prove to be pretty budget-friendly. You could also work with a personal trainer to develop a personalized plan. Another option might be to do Youtube workouts designed for seniors, such as the Dartmouth-Hitchcock channel.