We all know the importance of keeping fit and strong, at any age. But as we get older, it’s even more important to maintain our fitness level to stay strong and healthy. Working out helps improve your balance, flexibility, endurance, and mental health. Seniors should aim for 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week. And the great news is that it can be done inexpensively and despite the cold temperatures.
For many, it’s hard to get into the habit of regular exercise–there’s so much else to do! But once temperatures turn cold and snow and ice snarl the sidewalks and roadways, it can be almost impossible to get motivated to move. But where there’s a will there’s a way! Here are some great options, both indoors and out, to help you stay fit throughout the winter months.
Walking is one of the best and simplest ways to keep on top of your cardiovascular health. It helps control blood pressure, may prevent strokes and heart attacks, and can help keep your weight where it should be. Walking at a brisk pace provides the most benefit, and walking with a companion will improve your mood and mental engagement. If cold and snow are preventing you from safely getting out for your daily walk, you might try a local mall or other indoor venue to avoid slips and falls. If you belong to a gym, walk on the treadmill or elliptical. Even just walking the halls and stairs of your apartment or condo complex can provide some cardiovascular benefits. Of course, bundling up and enjoying a nice, brisk stroll in the sunshine is the optimum, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when ice and snow clutter your walking path.
Find Your Balance
A good sense of balance is important in preventing falls, especially as we age. Low-impact exercises such as yoga, Pilates and tai chi help maintain and improve your balance without straining muscles and joints. If you’re new to these exercises, you may want to use a chair at first until you gradually work your way up to a standing position. For an added extra boost, try wearing two-pound ankle weights to help strengthen the quad muscles (front of your thigh), which will make it easier and safer when climbing stairs. Here are a few easy moves to help improve balance:
Single Leg Balance
This is a simple exercise for improving balance. You should do this while holding onto a chair if you’re just starting out.
- Step 1: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Step 2: Extend your arms out to the sides and slowly lift your right knee up off the floor.
- Step 3: Straighten your leg out in front of you, hold that position for 30 seconds, and relax.
- Repeat this exercise for both legs at least three times.
- Step 1: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding one hand to your chest and the other on a chair. You can also rest both hands on your chest if you feel comfortable doing so.
- Step 2: Now raise your right leg straight up, turning your foot inward as you do. Gently rest the sole of your right foot against the side of your left thigh.
- Step 3: Hold this position for at least 30 seconds, or longer if you can.
- Do the same on the other leg and repeat this exercise three times.
When you lose your balance while walking, you usually take a step forward or back to regain it. Lunges help you keep this ability strong.
- Step 1: Begin standing straight with your hands on your hips.
- Step 2: Now step your right foot forward, bending at the knee. Lower yourself until your right thigh is parallel with the floor below.
- Step 3: Breathe, hold for 30 seconds, and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for the left leg.
- Do this for each leg about 5 to 10 times.
NOTE: Before going into full stretches, always make sure to warm up. Shoulder rolls, arm circles, hip circles and marching in place for a few minutes before starting exercises will signal the body to wake up!
Although balance exercises are certainly important for older adults, they must be done carefully. Be sure you have something nearby to stabilize you, like a chair, wall, or even another person. If you have any concerns about trying these exercises, talk to your doctor first.
Today’s seniors are more connected than ever. Use of technology has grown, especially during and after the Covid era, with more use of virtual technology to connect with family and friends. Seniors can now use that technology to participate in an exercise class without leaving home. Check with your local fitness clubs or senior center to see if they offer low-impact virtual classes or one-on-one training services using Zoom or other virtual technology. Check with your health insurance company about virtual fitness coverage, as some plans pay for some or all of class expenses.
In addition, there are thousands of exercise videos online. Search for exercise programs specifically created for seniors, and incorporate stretching, strengthening and low-impact cardio.
Remember, a body at rest tends to stay at rest. This seems to be especially true during the cold, icy and sometimes dreary winter months. Try to schedule time for exercise as you would a doctor’s appointment or lunch with a friend. Find an activity you enjoy, this makes it much easier to stick with it over the long haul.
*If you have diabetes, heart disease, a history of falls, vertigo or other chronic health conditions, talk with your health care provider about the types and amount of physical activity that is right for you.