Exercise is important at every age but especially for older adults. As we age, our muscle mass decreases, which can make completing daily tasks more difficult. People who exercise tend to have improved immune and digestive functioning, lower blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Exercise can also help decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancer. However, as temperatures drop during the winter months, it can be tempting to abandon our regular exercise habits. Research has shown that just 30 minutes of exercise each day can ward off the health risks related to inactivity.
Risks of Physical Inactivity in Older Adults
It’s not uncommon for older adults to be less active than they were in their younger years. By age 75, nearly one in three men and one in two women engage in little to no physical activity. Physical inactivity can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, obesity, a weakened immune system, poor blood circulation, increased inflammation, and loss of muscle mass. Those who are physically inactive are also at greater risk of losing their independence sooner than those who maintain a physically active lifestyle. While exercising all year long is imperative for overall health, it is important to keep up with wintertime exercises as well.
Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
It’s tempting to call it quits on your exercise routine when it’s cold outside. Working to maintain your fitness even during the winter months will help you live a long and active life. Here are some of the benefits that come with wintertime exercise:
Strengthen your heart
Each time you exercise, you help strengthen your heart and improve cardiovascular endurance. Maintaining a consistent exercise schedule can make your heart muscle strong and help you cope with various life stressors. Exercising in cold weather can make the heart work harder to distribute blood throughout the body. These can enhance cardiovascular health for those who exercise regularly. Be sure to consult your doctor before participating in new exercises, especially in cold weather.
In general, older adults are more at risk of dehydration, but this risk can increase during the winter months. We’re more likely to feel less thirsty during the winter, but our bodies still need to be hydrated. Exercise can cause us to sweat and act as a reminder to drink water and consume more hydrating foods.
Beat the winter blues
As the weather changes and our exposure to sunlight decreases, it’s not uncommon to feel the effects of seasonal affective disorder. However, research has shown that exercise can improve your mood by releasing serotonin and dopamine, which act as natural mood boosters.
Winter weather can make you feel lethargic and lacking energy. Moving the body is a great way to revive you and make you feel more alert.
Improve the quality of sleep
Research has shown that people who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise may see a difference in sleep quality at night. Experts suggest you choose an exercise such as yoga or walking to elevate your heart rate. These also encourage the biological processes in the brain and body that contribute to high-quality sleep.
Boost your immune system
Our immune systems work to help fight off illnesses like the common cold and flu. A consistent exercise regime can strengthen our immune system. Exercise helps to ward off illness and keep us healthy all winter long.
Reduce the effects of cabin fever
Being confined to home during the winter months can make us feel anxious, restless, and disconnected from others. Don’t be afraid to step outside or go for a walk during the winter. Be sure to dress appropriately and avoid going outdoors if there is ice or snow in the walkways.
Enjoy holiday treats
The holiday season is notorious for sugary and high-fat treats such as pies, cookies, casseroles, and other baked goods. While exercise is more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle than burning calories, it is wise to keep a healthy balance while indulging in treats and comfort foods.
Exercises to do Indoors for Seniors
Staying active each day can vastly improve our health. Research has shown that adults who exercised decreased their risk of injury and disability by 25%. The winter weather can present obstacles to exercising, but it shouldn’t stop you from being active.
Cheryl Kearney, Lifestyle Director at Maplewood at Mayflower Place told us, “Our motto here at Mayflower Place is “Senior Fitness for Healthier Living.” Our fitness instructors are awesome! Residents can go to the gym, swim in the pool, have 1-1 room visits, or attend balance classes. It is our priority to make everyone steadier on their feet. They can join a stretching class, yoga, walking groups plus we offer group exercises 3x a day 4 days a week at varied times to accommodate their busy schedules. One of the benefits of exercise is a decreased risk of falls. Exercise improves not only improves mental health as well as emotional well- being but it is also great for social engagement.”
Here are a few easy exercises you can do indoors or from the comfort of your own home.
• Indoor walking. Walking outside during inclement winter weather can be dangerous. Instead, try walking inside a public space like a shopping mall or museum.
• Stretching. Stretching is the most important way to prepare for exercise, but it’s also beneficial by itself. Stretching can decrease the risk of injury and helps increase flexibility and strength.
• Swimming. Swimming in an indoor pool is low impact and is especially beneficial for those with joint pain or osteoporosis. Research has shown that swimming can improve muscle and heart strength and reduce stress.
• Fitness apps and videos. Streaming a workout from your laptop or another smart device is just a click away. Apps like Yoga Pocket and Tai Chi for Seniors offer classes for free or at a low cost. They are easy to do in the comfort of your own home. YouTube also offers a wide variety of free exercise classes, especially for seniors.
• Wii games. The Nintendo Wii makes fitness fun with its virtual games that get you moving into a full-body workout. You can play by yourself or with a friend!
• Strength exercises. Strength Training is an option for active adults who want to exercise and strengthen their muscles. These strength exercises use your body weight to improve muscular strength and mobility. You can find a complete list of strength training exercises specifically for older adults here.
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that practices meditation in motion. These low-impact, slow-paced movements are perfect for seniors who want to improve their balance, strength, and increase range of motion. Tai Chi is known to help improve self-confidence, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Here are a few poses for beginners:
Touch the Sky
• Start by sitting comfortably in a chair
• Place your arms in your lap, palms turned upward, fingers pointing towards one another
• As you inhale, raise hands to your chest, turn palms outward and lift hands above your head
• On an exhale, relax your arms and lower them to your sides
• Return your hands to the starting position
• Repeat ten times
• Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width distance apart
• Raise arms out in front of you
• Flex your hands and feel the stretch, rotate your wrists to the left and then to the right
Stay Moving at Maplewood Senior Living
Health is our number one priority at Maplewood Senior Living. We have many fitness and exercise programs in each of our communities that promote wellbeing and a healthy lifestyle for all residents. To talk more or to schedule a tour, please contact us.