As a certified personal trainer, 51 year-old Rob Flores is fit and active. But he also knows the challenges that come with age: in recent years, he’s had major knee and shoulder surgery. “I understand the challenges of not being able to get around and do the things that we took for granted when we were younger.”
So as a fitness specialist who focuses on seniors, Rob has become a big believer in keeping workouts simple. “Boot camps and Cross Fit have become really popular, but I’m against all that stuff. Slow and steady wins the race. If you can do a little bit every day, that adds up.”
The other tenet he preaches: Make it enjoyable. “When you do, your success rate goes up tremendously. Do things you enjoy and try to make it fun.”
So with “slow and steady” and “making it fun” as a guide, here are five exercises recommended by Rob and other health experts for those of us over 55. (Remember, always talk to your doctor before you start on a new fitness plan.)
One of Bonnie’s favorites, the New Year’s challenge Rob handed out to all of his clients was to walk more. “I didn’t care if they walked the dog or parked the car further away in the parking lot, I wanted them to do something every day so they were moving.” Walking is a great way to start on the road to being fit. Rob recommends starting with a 10 minute walk every day and adding 5 minutes every week. Scheduling the walk and making it as habitual as brushing your teeth is one way to guarantee success. Walking with a friend (Golden Girls housemates are perfect!) makes the time fly by. “With just that ten minutes a day, you will be amazed at what a difference it makes in your life,” Rob said.
2. Stretching and Yoga
Teri J. Deal is a physical therapist who specializes in balance disorders, and her main goal is to keep seniors moving so they can stay in their homes. And we’re all for anything that allows for aging in place! Balance is a big part of moving, and stretching is a big part of maintaining that balance. For those who are beginning to shuffle and lose their mobility, Teri recommends simple stretches like tracing the alphabet with the foot and heel raises. On the other end of the spectrum is yoga, which has been shown to have health benefits for seniors as long as it’s done right. A recent Washington Post article said that observing a yoga class, making sure the instructor gives clear instruction, and listening to your body are ways to ensure that yoga is beneficial and not too strenuous.
3. Tai Chi
Teri recommends tai chi as a good middle ground between simple stretching and the intensity of yoga. Tai chi’s low-impact, slow-motion movements originated from Chinese martial arts and focus on creating a mind-body connection that help you stay aware of your body while you exercise. Its circular movements are praised for not stressing the body – allowing the muscles, joints and connective tissues to stay relaxed – while increasing a person’s flexibility, balance and muscle strength, according to a 2006 study. Tai chi is a common exercise class at senior centers or you can look online to find an instructor near you.
4. Water Exercises
Whether you’re swimming laps, taking water aerobics, or walking in the water, a pool is a great place to exercise. Exercising in water takes pressure off the joints, allowing a person to work on balance and flexibility, and creating a safe and pain-free environment for those with osteoporosis. The Arthritis Foundation recommends exercising in water because of its ability to support the joints and warm the muscle, allowing a person to exercise with less tension and pain. And you get more bang for your buck exercising in the water: It’s 12 times more resistant than air.
5. Weight Training
Resistant weight training can help increase bone density and muscle mass and can raise testosterone levels in men, said personal trainer Rob. “But I’m not talking about hitting the gym two hours a day,” he cautions. “Form is so, so important, and if you’ve never done exercise like this before, it’s best to have someone guide you.” A good trainer, Rob said, will build a program for your needs and activity level and will assess you — checking your strengths, weaknesses, compensations, medical history, blood pressure and heart rate before you begin. Ask the fitness director at the gym or look around on the web for a trainer in your area who works with your age group. “Guys always have this thing where they want to be lifting a lot of weight, but that’s not important, especially at our age,” Rob said. “When you do things correctly, you are going to get stronger.”