Exercise is important at every age but maintaining a consistent exercise routine as we get older can help keep us independent for longer. Studies have suggested that physical activity, such as cardiovascular exercise, is the number one contributor to longevity. In addition to helping us live long and independent lives, exercise, in general, helps maintain weight, reduce the impact of chronic diseases, improve immune and digestive functioning, regulate blood pressure, lower the risk of obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and even some cancers. Older adults are more at risk of living sedentary lives, especially as they undergo physical changes that might make exercise seem more challenging. However, by making an exercise plan that fits your needs and modifying exercises to fit your abilities, exercise can be a part of your life at every age.
How Much Exercise Does an Older Adult Need?
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, physical activity needs to change as we age. Older adults need 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours a week, of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as cardio. Just 30 minutes of physical activity can be physically and mentally beneficial for older adults. The guideline also suggests that older adults practice muscle-strengthening exercises two days a week and three days of cardiovascular exercises, such as walking or dancing. As we age, it’s normal to lose muscle mass and bone density, however, physical exercise can help reduce the risk of these conditions.
Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise for Older Adults
While all types of physical activity are beneficial for our overall health, cardiovascular exercises have special benefits for older adults. Exercise can help older adults manage their blood pressure, improve bone and joint health and preserve their long-term cognitive function. Here are a few benefits that come with maintaining a consistent cardiovascular exercise practice:
• Improved Immune Function. Our immune systems help fight off illnesses and protect us from diseases. A healthy immune system will also help heal our bodies from illnesses more quickly. According to Harvard Health, exercise can promote good circulation, which allows the cells that make up the immune system to move throughout the body more freely and more efficiently.
• Enhanced Respiratory and Cardiovascular Function. According to the American Lung Association, regular exercise helps strengthen your lungs and heart. As we exercise, oxygen gets infiltrated into the bloodstream, transporting it to our muscles. As our exercise routines become more consistent, our bodies become more efficient at oxygenating our muscles.
• Increased Bone Strength. Just as our muscles respond to exercise by getting stronger, so do our bones. Older adults are more at risk of losing bone density and developing osteoporosis. However, regular cardiovascular exercise can help strengthen our bones and reduce the risk of losing bone mass and developing osteoporosis. Exercising for bone strength can also help reduce the risk of falls and decrease the recovery time from a fall-related injury.
• Decreased Risk of Chronic Illnesses. According to the Mayo Clinic, aerobic exercise can help decrease the risk of developing a chronic illness and help manage symptoms of an existing illness. Low impact exercises can help improve muscle function for those with lower back pain, while those suffering from arthritis can reduce pain and stiffness through cardiovascular exercises. Also, exercise can help improve the quality of life for those with cancer and lower the risk of dying from breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.
• Improved Gastrointestinal Function. Regular cardiovascular exercise can help boost metabolism, regulate the elimination of waste and encourage overall digestive health. Those suffering from slow digestion and constipation often find relief when implementing a consistent exercise regimen.
Types of Cardiovascular Exercises for Seniors
As our physical abilities change as we age, it’s important to make adaptations in our exercise routines to decrease the risk of injury and promote overall safety. Incorporating cardiovascular exercises into your routine doesn’t have to be as challenging as it sounds. Here are a few cardiovascular exercises that can be added to your fitness routine:
Dancing in general is a great way to get your heart rate up, build muscle and strengthen bones. Ballroom dancing, however, has become popular among older adults because of its ability to strengthen cognitive function. Remembering steps and the fast-paced movements keep our brains sharp and help with balance and coordination, which can protect us from fall-related injuries.
Water aerobics classes can help older adults reap the benefits of cardiovascular exercise without putting much impact on bones and joints. Practicing aerobic exercises in the pool can provide more resistance to add a strength-training element to this exercise as well.
If you prefer independent exercise, as opposed to group activities, swimming laps can be a great alternative. Swimming can help build lung capacity, build endurance, muscle strength, and promote heart health.
Biking is also a low-impact exercise, which is a great activity for older adults. For those who struggle with balance and coordination, or who prefer a safer activity, recumbent bikes can provide all the benefits of traditional cycling without the risk of injury or falling.
Making an Exercise Plan that Fits Your Lifestyle
Establishing an exercise routine can feel challenging, especially for those new to exercise. However, following a few simple steps can make your cardio routine a reality. First, start by choosing an activity that you find interesting, fun, and that will raise your heart rate. Choose the length of your workout, starting with just 20 minutes if you are doing something new or haven’t exercised for some time.
And, lastly, set your workout schedule each week, choosing the days you will exercise and at which time during the day. Sticking to this schedule will help you be consistent and allow you to establish a routine without having to make hard decisions each day. As you get into your routine, you might consider setting goals for yourself such as exercising three days a week or adding a new level of intensity after a month of consistent exercise. As always, it’s important to consult with your doctor before adding a new exercise to your routine or adding levels of intensity.
Keeping Up with Cardio at Maplewood Senior Living
At Maplewood Senior Living, we know how important cardiovascular exercise is to the overall health of our residents. Each of our facilities comes with a robust workout and wellness facility that offers group and private classes. To learn more about our facilities or to schedule a tour, please contact us.