Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to Indianapolis

Senior Fitness
Ready, Set, Move!

Seniors display a wide range of health and fitness levels. Individuals of the same chronological age can differ dramatically in physiological age and response to exercise (ACSM, 2008). Although aging is inevitable, staying physically fit through exercise and physical activity can combat gradual muscle loss.

A combination of physical activities and exercises can contribute to the recommendation that seniors accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most or all days of the week (ACSM, 2008). Physical activity includes everyday activities such as gardening, shopping, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, pushing a stroller, or using the stairs instead of the elevator. Exercise, on the other hand, is a planned and structured activity as seen in rowing, canoeing, swimming, dancing, cycling, jogging/running, Wii Fit, hiking, and yoga. The activity you choose does not have to be vigorous and nonstop to provide health benefits (ACSM, 2008). As you begin an exercise routine, gradually add activity into your workout by dividing the session into 10 minute sections throughout the day. Over time, you can gradually add time to each segment and progress to 30 or more consecutive minutes of exercise.

Cardiovascular Fitness
Cardiovascular fitness is the ability to perform continuous activity using the heart, lungs, and muscles efficiently. You achieve improvements in these systems by regularly challenging the body with more intense activity. Active recreation such as walking, gardening, stationary cycling, aquatic exercises, and house and yard work can add additional benefits whether in a group or individual setting.

To start a cardiovascular program, begin at a low intensity level and gradually increase how hard you feel you are working (ACSM, 2008). How hard you feel like your body is working is based on the physical sensations you experience during physical activity, including increased heart rate, increased respiration or breathing rate, increased sweating, and muscle fatigue (Borg, 1998). Advanced age is often associated with low functional capacity, deconditioning, and muscle weakness that can lead to a loss of independence (ACSM, 2008). Incorporating cardiovascular fitness into your routine can improve self-esteem, increase aerobic fitness, reduce body fat levels, and return your maximum oxygen uptake levels to those seen in younger populations.

Resistance Training
Now that your cardiovascular fitness is underway, let’s challenge your muscles with resistance training! A resistance training program can combat the natural loss of muscle strength as seen in the aging process by maintaining or increasing muscle mass. This allows seniors to remain independent in the activities of daily living (ADLs) as well as achieving other competitive activity goals. Resistance training is also known to improve self-esteem, muscle strength, and lean body mass.

To begin a resistance training program, start with low resistance to allow for neurological efficiency and connective tissue adaptations for the first 8 weeks. After this, continue with lower weights and more repetitions (ACSM, 2008). For example, one session could consist of 1-2 sets of 10-15 repetitions with slow and controlled movements that target a pain-free maximum range of motion in the major muscle groups. You want to use a weight that challenges you to be at a somewhat hard Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE). The RPE scale has to do with how hard you feel like your body is working based on the physical sensations you experience during physical activity, including increased heart rate, increased respiration or breathing rate, increased sweating, and muscle fatigue (Borg, 1998). With this in mind, work up to 2-3 days of strength training per week in a year round resistance training program.

As the resistance workouts progress, increase the number of repetitions first before increasing the weight and perform multi-joint exercises before single joint to avoid muscle fatigue (ACSM, 2008). For example, do the Leg Press machine before the Leg Curl or Leg Extension machines. In general, resistance machines require less technique and protect the back and stabilize your body position (ACSM, 2008). This allows you to have more control over the range of motion. If you are new to resistance training, then resistance machines could be a good way to start versus using free weights.
It is not uncommon to feel sore right after or even a few days after a resistance training workout. This is due to your muscles rebuilding and becoming stronger. If the soreness lasts for several days, however, allow adequate rest before returning to your training routine and decrease the weight that you used in your last workout.

Flexibility
As the body ages, it naturally loses range of motion. Remember that spot on your back that you used to be able to scratch? Therefore, a stretching routine is important for seniors to maintain flexibility, agility, and balance in ADLs, not to mention it can prevent injury such as falls, sprains/strains, and back problems. A well-rounded program that includes the major joints such as the hip, back, shoulder, knee, upper trunk, and neck regions is recommended a minimum of 2-3 days per week, ideally 5-7 days per week (ACSM, 2008).

Prior to stretching, warm up for 5-10 minutes to increase muscle temperature and reduce the likelihood of injury. Then hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds for 2-4 repetitions of each stretch (ACSM, 2008). Practice a static or dynamic stretch that avoids bouncing and exercises the major joints and muscle that have a reduced range of motion. Practicing yoga or tai chi can help achieve these recommendations (ACSM, 2008).

Ready, Set, Move!
Before beginning an exercise program, it is important to check with your physician about the amount and type of activities that are best for you, especially if you have a chronic health condition such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, or other symptoms. These should be considered when developing a fitness program’s cardiovascular endurance, resistance training, and flexibility components. Are you ready to begin a routine? A 1,000 mile journey begins with a single step so go ahead, ready, set, move!

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