How Seniors Can Exercise with Limited Space

June 3, 2020

As a senior living community, we see first hand how regular exercise helps seniors live fuller lives and enjoy better mental health, among other benefits. But don’t take our word for it. The National Council on Aging says, “Regular exercise can help older adults stay independent and prevent many health problems that come with age.”

Even if you haven’t been much of an exerciser up to now, there’s still good reason to change your habits. A study from the Yale University School of Medicine found that when 1,600 seniors—who were formerly sedentary—started exercising, they spent 25% less time disabled or injured than those who did not exercise.

While living in an independent or assisted living senior apartment has its perks, it can also mean limited space in which to work out. Plus, social distancing practices limit options for group fitness activities or taking part in sports like swimming, golfing, or dancing. But don’t let a lack of space limit your fitness routine. Even in the comfort of your own home, you have a lot of options for fun, convenient exercise. 

What Kinds of Exercise Should Seniors Do?

A complete fitness regimen should include cardiovascular exercise, stretching, muscle strengthening, and balance. Many physical therapists say that balance is, in fact, the most important of all since it can help prevent a fall.

SilverSneakers, the organization that offers Medicare-sponsored exercise programs nationwide, recommends four exercises seniors should do every day, particularly for strength and balance. 

  1. Stand up without using your hands
  2. Stand with feet heel-to-toe
  3. Walk (in place or on a treadmill) with weights
  4. Stand on one leg

Each one may take practice to get comfortable, so use assistance if you need it. For example, when standing on one leg, you might hold onto a wall or sturdy chair with both hands when you first try it. As you get better at it, you may be able to switch to one hand, then hold your arms out, then place your hands on your waist.

You can complete these exercises quietly or while watching TV or listening to music if you wish. If you do all of these and add some gentle stretching, you should be able to cover all of the areas mentioned above.

Where Can I Find Exercise Videos Tailored to Seniors?

One of the simplest ways to workout at home is with a video instructor. Workout programs like SilverSneakers offer an extensive library of on-demand exercise videos for members, along with information to determine whether you’re eligible for membership.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic stopped fitness studios from offering in-person classes, or drastically limited attendance, many of them started offering classes live online. If you have gyms or fitness studios you used to like to go for exercise classes, check their websites to see what they offer online.

You can also find senior exercise videos on YouTube and other places on the web. Many cable providers offer whole networks devoted to exercise programming, often with options tailored for seniors. Another option for aerobic activity is dancing. Many videos for online dance lessons for seniors are available for free on YouTube.

What Workout Equipment is Recommended for Seniors?

It’s a good idea to invest in some light hand weights (one to three pounds) and an exercise mat if you plan to stretch on the floor. When you watch exercise videos, they may recommend other props, like yoga “blocks,” which can make certain poses less strenuous, or elastic bands that help with strengthening exercises.

The trickiest part of exercising with limited space is getting adequate cardiovascular exercise. You can try walking, jogging, or jumping in place to elevate your heart rate into a target zone. According to the American Heart Association, you should aim for 50-70% of your maximum heart rate during moderate-intensity activities, and 70-80% during vigorous physical activities. The AHA’s average maximum heart rates for older adults are*:

  • 55 years – 165 bpm
  • 60 years – 160 bpm
  • 65 years – 155 bpm
  • 70 years – 150 bpm

*Make sure to consult with your physician before starting a new exercise plan.

If working out in place gets boring, you might want to invest in some home cardio equipment. Look for a compact treadmill, exercise bike, or elliptical designed for use in small spaces. 

What if I Get Injured While Exercising?

One fear that some seniors have about exercising at home is that they will get hurt while alone. How to keep older adults safe in their homes is an understandable concern, especially where exercise is involved. First, always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine. Then, know what signs to watch for that may indicate you have a problem while exercising.

Stop the activity if you have pain. It’s normal to feel a slight strain or burning, but exercise should not cause any sharp or intense pain. If you can, stop the painful movement and switch to some gentle stretching. If it hurts too much to continue exercising, apply an ice pack, and consult a healthcare provider. Also, stop right away if you experience nausea or vomiting. One of the most important benefits of living in independent or assisted living is that there’s always someone nearby to call for medical services if necessary. Of course, always call 911 if you feel you have an emergency.

Is it Possible for Seniors to Exercise Too Much?

Yes, the CDC explains how older adults with chronic conditions may have limitations for exercise. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, how much exercise seniors need depends on their age and health. Continual exercise is preferable, and 150 minutes of aerobic activity (such as thirty minutes per day for at least five days) and two days of muscle-strengthening activities is a good weekly goal for most adults 65 years of age or older.

If you have pulmonary issues, you may wish to use an oximeter to keep track of oxygen levels. You will most likely feel a slight soreness in your muscles the day or two after a workout when you first start. If your soreness lasts for several days or is so severe that it limits your activity, you are working out too hard. Likewise, if you injure yourself repeatedly, dial back the intensity.

Exercising at home, even with limited space, can pay off in terms of physical and mental health for seniors. Aviva encourages all of our residents to consider their fitness and to consult our healthcare providers for personal advice so that all of our residents can live their best life.

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