An active lifestyle is an important part of staying healthy, no matter what age you are. Physical activity and regular exercise have many long-term wellness benefits for seniors, including improving the well-being for some people who already have diseases and disabilities, as well as proving to be beneficial for brain health.
Although there are many positives for seniors to stay active, it continues to become more difficult as their body ages; Keeping up with the exercises they were once doing and starting a new routine at a different skill level can be challenging or no longer possible for them. At Wentworth Senior Living (WSL), we offer several exercise classes every week, with different activities to choose from based on each resident’s abilities. Our classes mainly focus on maintaining and improving strength, balance, and movement.
WSL residents Pat and Bob Swanson attend different exercise classes seven days a week. “We feel good!” Pat said after one class. “I need to balance out all the delicious calories that I take in with a good exercise routine. And also, exercise class is a happy time being together with other residents. There is a camaraderie at class; the human interaction is so important.”
Bob says that exercise adds to his quality of life. “In my younger adult life, I got most of my exercise by doing work around the house. After retirement, we joined the YMCA because we needed more focused exercise, and now that I don’t have work around the house, I needed a schedule of classes to increase my strength and to help avoid any atrophy of my muscles.”
Exercise Classes for Every Activity Level
WSL offers six different exercise classes seven days a week and two types of yoga classes every week. Here are some details on the variety of classes offered:
- Chair Exercise Class focuses on getting everything moving and stretched, while sitting in a chair.
- Strength Class focuses on upper and lower body muscle toning and growth with residents using their hand weight of choice and is offered twice a week.
- Standing Exercise Class focuses on strength and balance with education in body mechanics, led by an Enrichment Staff member twice a week.
- Chair Dance Aerobics focuses on faster movements and moving to the beat of the music, which increases the heart rate and uses upper and lower body.
- We also offer two types of Yoga Classes – one from a chair and the other standing for strength and balance that incorporates classic yoga poses.
Seated exercises are gentle workouts that can help seniors improve mobility and prevent falls. They can help increase circulation and strength while reducing the risk of falls or injury during the routine. All WSL residents can take part in chair exercise classes.
Our standing classes are for those residents who can stand on their own or may need the assistance of a chair for stability. This class benefits mobility, increasing balance while standing or walking, and helps maintain or possibly improve strength.
Benefits of Yoga for Seniors
Sherry Evans teaches yoga and tai chi at WSL and has advanced certificates in yoga for seniors and yoga for cancer patients. Yoga can be modified for every ability level, even students who have trouble standing and walking.
“[Yoga is about] strength, balance, flexibility, range of motion. Also, because we combine breathing in there with the motions there can be a sense of release from worry, release from anxiety. Community just being together, doing something together, it is very social. I really want folks to walk away and feel like they accomplished something,” said Sherry.
“You take yoga and deconstruct it to be suitable for the abilities of each class I teach. I want everybody to be successful,” she said. Success isn’t about proper positions or form; it’s about how students feel after a class. “What I can see after any class that I teach, is that people do feel better about themselves and do have a better outlook.”
Sherry focuses on making sure every member of her classes can participate, and no one goes beyond their abilities. “That is my main concern, because they want to do their best. There are some that will just move their hands and I know they are doing what they can do. It is still better than being in their apartment and not doing anything. If they’re in the room and I’m in the room, we’ve accomplished a lot already.”
“Sometimes I see tremendous improvements in residents,” she continued. “Especially seeing improvements in someone who just moved to WSL. And after a few weeks they’re moving better, and their frame of mind is better.”
“The Gentle Edge”
Sherry explained that her goal for residents is for them to get out of their comfort zone without going too far, calling it “the gentle edge.”
“It’s a key component of everything. Your gentle edge is that place where if you were to stretch any farther you would be in pain. There is gentle–where you are very comfortable, then there is gentle edge–where you start to feel a stretch. But if you went any farther it would be too far for you,” Sherry said.
The goal should be to get moving but not injure yourself. Listening to your body is very important at this stage of life, but it can also be difficult.
“Listening to your body is really hard for seniors to do, as they may not have a very good relationship with their body, because their bodies are failing them in some way,” Sherry said. “This can be a confusing time their body can’t do something anymore; It’s fighting our way through that to an ‘Okay I can’t do that, but I can do this.”
Seniors who can still walk, but may have trouble balancing, may want to try chair exercises or using a chair to steady themselves while working out. Forgetting to listen to your body can lead to injury, which is one reason to always speak to your doctor before beginning a workout regimen.
The most important thing is to not compare yourself to anyone else in class. “Understand it’s not a competition,” Sherry said. “The body can be in a different place every single day. Don’t look at anyone else. Be who you are, be where you are and do what you can do.”
At-Home Workouts for Seniors
Whether you’re trying to stay active or looking to start, Sherry says there are several exercises you can do without having to go to a class.
“I always encourage and say this is something you can do at home,” she said. “Stretching is one of the biggest things seniors can do, especially if they are wheelchair bound, with walkers or even just lying on their beds. Stretch themselves out, roll their shoulders, very simple stretching would help everybody. And before you go to bed at night, lift your arms up and stretch!”
Here are a few additional exercises you can do at home:
- Leg Raises: Grab a sturdy chair. Stand behind the chair with your legs slightly apart. Hold on to the chair for balance. Take a deep breath in. When you exhale, bend your right knee slightly and extend your left leg out to the side. As you extend your leg, keep your back straight and your toes pointing forward. Hold for one second. Inhale as you slowly lower your left leg. Repeat the motion 10-15 times before switching to the other leg.
- Arm Raises: For this exercise, you’ll need two dumbbells (be sure to use a weight you feel comfortable lifting). If you do not feel comfortable performing this exercise while standing, you can also do it in an armless chair. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your feet flat with your toes facing forward. Hold each dumbbell with your arms relaxed straight down at your waist—palms facing your body. Take a deep breath in. As you exhale, lift your arms straight out to your sides until they are at shoulder height. Keep your arms up and extended for one second. Take a deep breath in as you slowly let your arms fall back to your sides, then exhale. Repeat this exercise 10-15 times.
- Neck Stretches: For this exercise, you can either stand or sit in a chair. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your feet flat with your toes facing forward. Slowly rotate your head to the right until you begin to feel a slight stretch in your neck. Keep your chin straight and try not to let it dip. Hold for 10-15 seconds. Then rotate your neck to the left and hold for 10-15 seconds. Repeat the exercise on both the right and left a total of 3-5 times.
- Dancing: That’s right. Take a moment from your day, turn up the music and twist, shuffle, jitterbug, waltz, or hand jive. Dancing is a great way to get your blood flowing, stretch your whole body and relieve mental stress. So put on your favorite song, get on your feet, and cut a rug.
This is a small sampling of the movements you can begin today. If you’re looking for more exercises to try, the National Institute of Health offers a wide array of simple and effective advice and guidance. Before trying any exercises, be sure to review them with your doctor.
If you’ve been inactive for a long time, getting started may be the most difficult part. One suggestion is to start with a small goal, like one exercise at the same time every day until it becomes a habit. You don’t have to move mountains to see results. Even something as simple as a walk through the garden or to the corner store and back can bring a refreshing sense of activity to your daily routine.
The important thing to remember is to listen to your body and practice an active lifestyle every day. Set a routine that works for you and start on a path to feeling like your best self!