Looking for a Simple Way to Improve Your Health? Move More!

April 21, 2023

If you spend most of your time sitting, you probably already know that’s not good for you. Research shows a sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, depression and other conditions.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is even small increases in physical activity can add up and make a difference in your health and wellness.

The American Heart Association designated April as Move More Month to encourage people to get up and go.

If the thought of exercising sounds like drudgery to you, then do something else that keeps you moving but that you enjoy. Gardening, playing games like bocce ball or pickleball and walking the mall are all good options. Or, better yet, put on some upbeat music and dance!

And if it helps, think of staying (or becoming) active as one of the keys to aging well.

It’s Good for Your Brain, Too!

Along with being good for your heart, muscles and bones, physical activity can help you think and learn, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can also improve memory and mood, reduce stress and help you sleep better.

If you’re still not convinced, this might do the trick: Being physically active on a regular basis can lower your risk for cognitive decline, including dementia.

Break It Up!

You can still binge on your favorite TV shows or spend the afternoon with a good book. Just take active breaks throughout.

Try these moves during commercials or after you’ve read a few chapters:

  • Walk around the room several times or walk around the house.
  • March in place (you can also do this while you’re watching or reading).
  • Do a few sets of sit-to-stand exercises (see the Helpful Exercises for Seniors section).
  • Work on your balance by standing on one leg at a time. You can hold on to the back of a chair to steady yourself.

If it’s safe for you to do so, you could also get a stationary bike or treadmill and ride or walk while you watch or read. Cycling, whether inside or outdoors, is a good cardio workout, and it moves the hips and knees without causing a lot of stress on the joints.

Remember, the main idea is to move more. Just five minutes of movement every two hours during the day and evening can make a difference. Every little bit helps!

Step Up Your Routine

Another way to add more movement to your day is to increase the number of steps you take during your usual activities. For example, you could:

  • Go a little farther when you walk the dog. You’ll both benefit.
  • Park farther away from your destination and walk the extra distance.
  • When shopping, walk around the store a while before getting what you need.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • For nearby errands, leave your car at home and walk instead. Or, if you have several errands to run in the same area, park in a central location and walk to each place.
  • Rather than (or in addition to) meeting a friend for lunch or drinks, get together for a walk or a dance class.

A Crucial Reason for Older Adults to Be Active

While physical activity is important no matter what age you are, there’s one reason in particular for you to stay physically active if you’re an older adult.

It can help you remain independent longer.

When you’re retired, it’s tempting to sit back and take it easy — and there’s nothing wrong with doing that as long as you alternate being leisurely and being active, at least on most days.

If you know you’re only going to devote so much time and effort to being physically active, then focus on exercises that will help ensure you can continue to perform activities of daily living. These include movements designed to improve or maintain your balance (to prevent falls), strength and mobility.

Helpful Exercises for Seniors at Home

These are some simple exercises you can do at home without any special equipment. To see how to do them correctly, do an online search and you’ll find plenty of videos.

It’s a good idea to start with a few repetitions for each exercise and then increase the number of repetitions or sets as you get stronger. You can also add small hand weights (soup cans or filled water bottles will work nicely) or use a resistance band to make the movements more challenging.

If you have joint pain or limited mobility, check with your doctor before trying these.

Sit to stand: This is exactly what it sounds like. You rise to a standing position from being seated, and then you sit back down again. That counts as one repetition. The key is to do this exercise without using your hands to push yourself up from the chair or to brace yourself while lowering back down again, if possible.

If this is easy, or it gradually becomes easy, then switch out the chair you’re using for one that’s lower to the ground. Eventually, you may be able to graduate to doing squats.

Lunges, reverse lunges or chair lunges: To do a basic lunge, you begin standing and then step one foot out in front and lower your body toward the ground while remaining upright. Then, you step that foot back where it was and do the same thing on the other side.

If this seems too risky because your balance and lower body strength aren’t what they used to be, then reverse lunges or chair lunges may be a safer option. Look for videos (try YouTube) to see how to do these.

Single-leg stand: It might seem simple to stand on one leg at a time (without leaning to the side) — and if this is easy for you, that’s great! If it’s not easy, protect yourself by holding on to the back of a chair or a wall until your balance improves. If it’s too easy, try raising the lifted leg, either straight-legged or with a bent knee. You can lift it to the front, to the side and back behind you.

Do each leg several times as a set and then switch to the other leg. Or, do each leg once as a set and then do several sets.

Wall pushups: These are done the same as traditional pushups on the floor but are usually easier for older adults. Start by facing the wall in a standing position, and place both hands on the wall at shoulder height but slightly farther apart than shoulder distance. Walk your feet back away from the wall while keeping your body straight. Tighten your core and your buttocks. Then, bend your elbows and bring your chest toward the wall. Finish by straightening your arms and moving your body back to where it was. The farther you step back from the wall, the more challenging these will be.

You can also use the edge of a sturdy table or countertop to press against instead of a wall.

Other suggested home exercises for seniors are shoulder rolls, standing toe and heel raises, seated rows, arm raises and a variety of stretching exercises. Look for instructions and videos online.

Classes You Can Take at Home

If the thought of taking an exercise or wellness class is appealing but you aren’t able to attend in person — or if you want to practice on your own first — you’ll find a variety of videos online. You might also want to check out tai chi, yoga and Zumba® videos.

Another option is to attend a live class from home via Zoom. Search for virtual or online exercise, fitness or workout classes for seniors. You’ll be surprised how many choices there are!

If you have a pool at home, you could also try some water aerobics after watching a video to see how to move. Exercising in a pool can reduce the impact on your joints, and you still get the strengthening and cardiovascular benefits.

Points to Keep in Mind

  • Small amounts of activity add up.
  • Set realistic goals so you don’t get discouraged.
  • Ease into new physical activities to avoid injuries.
  • Choose activities that are safe for your capabilities.
  • Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, particularly if you have ongoing knee or hip pain.
  • The best workout for you is one that’s based on your abilities, not your age.

How We Help Seniors Stay Active

Our Zenergy wellness program at The Variel is designed to enhance the active lifestyle residents expect to enjoy in our community.

With a focus on integrated wellness, the Zenergy program encompasses fitness (e.g., classes and personalized wellness routines at our state-of-the-art wellness gym and yoga studio), nutrition, lifelong learning, social activities, opportunities for personal fulfillment and a whole lot more.

We invite you to learn more about Zenergy and wellness at The Variel. We’re happy to arrange a visit so you can experience our community in person.

Featured Image: Angell Marketing / The Variel