Active seniors reap not only physical, but mental rewards—from stress relief to improved brain function and enhanced social relationships. For these reasons, local physical therapists and fitness trainers recommend regular exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle.“Exercise is important for so many reasons—it makes you feel better, helps your sleep, improves heart and bone health, controls weight and maintains muscle mass—but it is especially important for seniors who want to maintain their independence,” says Becky Woods, lead physical therapist and certified exercise specialist at St. Luke’s Hospital.
Exercise also is correlated with increased longevity and decreased risk of injury from falling or frailty, says Dale Huff, owner of NutriFormance. “Being active lends itself to being more social and being capable of experiencing life when traveling or on vacation,” he adds.
For seniors looking to jump-start a regular workout schedule or maintain a fitness regimen, trainers recommend finding pleasurable activities. “Most people who drop out of exercise programs do so because they are not having fun. People will repeat those activities that are enjoyable,” says Joe Olivastro of J.O.E. Inc. “We have found that clients start exercising for wellness reasons but stick with it for the friends they meet, the improved self-esteem, extra energy gained—and yes, the fun they have.”
A recommended complete fitness routine to maintain a healthy lifestyle involves daily stretching, 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times per week and strength-training twice a week. Olivastro says engaging in multiple different exercises per week when fulfilling those requirements will help maintain enthusiasm for your workout. Sports such as golf, tennis, swimming and biking are recommended for seniors, as well as fitness classes, including yoga and personal training. Whatever your activity preference, Huff says the key is to keep moving. “You should find a way to challenge yourself every day and avoid prolonged sitting and inactivity ruts, such as afternoon naps and watching favorite TV shows in the middle of the day.”
A range of local hospitals and fitness centers offer options for senior exercise. At St. Luke’s Hospital, seniors can join weekly hour-long fitness classes such as yoga for $10 per session. Other workout sessions cater to specific health needs, including classes for those with osteoporosis and diabetes. In addition, the hospital offers supervised exercise programs where participants meet one-on-one with a therapist to formulate and perform a personally tailored fitness routine. “Participants meet with a nurse for education on their individual fitness, then they are guided in supervised exercise,” Woods says. The popularity of the fitness programs—particularly one-on-one training—has grown rapidly, with more than 200 participants attending classes each day, she adds. Classes for specific health needs and personal training range from $15 to $25 per session. Huff’s Nutriformance facility also offers personal training, in addition to other fitness services, such as endurance training and physical therapy, while Olivastro’s boutique personal training studio specializes in personalized fitness training for de-conditioned seniors.
But before rushing into a new exercise program, therapists say it is important for seniors to consult a doctor. Once you have the green light from a physician, trainers recommend building up to the desired activity level to avoid burnout. “Most people don’t stay with an exercise program long enough to enjoy the benefits,” Olivastro says. “Instead, they start out too hard, get sore and quit. In the fitness game, slow and steady wins the race.”