Seniors’ loss of strength and stamina as they age is partially the result of diminished physical activity. Some seniors lead sedentary lives—which might be due to depression, stiffness from arthritis, or other chronic conditions.
Many elders fear they won’t be able to endure the amount of movement exercise would take. But physical activity doesn’t need to be strenuous to benefit their health. On the contrary, even mild exercise can restore energy and lift their spirits.
Organized senior fitness programs can help. Here, we list seven reasons for the importance of exercise for seniors. Our focus here is on the benefits these programs offer.
1. Senior Fitness Programs Are Engaging
Group fitness classes appeal to many people, especially where and when there are extreme temperatures outside. Seniors are no exception. The chance for them to go anywhere can be pretty motivating.
Watching the instructor or facilitator and concentrating on the activities takes the focus off other concerns, such as aches and pains, missing their families, and financial worries.
2. Senior Fitness Programs Encourage Active Participation
Peer support and peer pressure drive people to work harder at achieving their goals than they would otherwise. This is undoubtedly true of fitness classes. Everyone wants to emulate and keep up with other participants.
Whether they are having a good time or not, many seniors will push their limits to keep up. It’s a lot easier to quit trying when you’re alone at home than with a group!
Achieving goals also comes from admiring those who seem to “get the hang of it.” Other participants might be in sync with the leader. But simply looking confident and involved can also give that impression, making others more eager to participate.
3. Activity Helps Cardiovascular Health
Of course, exercise burns calories, which can lead to weight loss. It also lowers blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar. And it reduces stress and is conducive to healthier, sounder sleep.
Moreover, exercise can encourage arteries in the heart to dilate more readily, thus promoting blood flow over time.
Furthermore, as the Harvard Medical School points out, an “ischemic preconditioning” process can occur with vigorous exercise. This process makes the heart work hard—in a good way.
Activating the metabolic molecular pathways responsible for preconditioning the heart isn’t easy, though. It takes vigorous exercise for the heart to bypass an area of inadequate blood flow.
4. Activity Also Helps Mental Function and Cognitive Health
Research studies have shown connections between mental and physical health. for example, one 2018 study examined the influence of gamification-based physical activity and its mental health interventions.
As with similar studies, these researchers found a positive correlation between increased physical activity and mental well-being.
The findings led to speculation about a role for community-wide, gamification-based physical activity to address mental health concerns. We happen to have seen first-hand how several seniors embraced interactive video games like Wii bowling.
Regular exercise can also help reduce older people’s risk of dementia. A 2019 studycompared the cognitive function and brain size of two groups of sedentary elders 55 and older with memory issues and mild cognitive impairment.
One group did regular aerobic exercise, while the other did flexibility training only. Both groups maintained their cognitive abilities for memory and problem-solving.
However, brain scans revealed that those from the aerobic exercise group lost a little less volume in the hippocampus than the flexibility group. The hippocampus is the brain area that deteriorates as dementia progresses.
5. Exercise Helps Seniors’ Strength and Balance
A quick web search will pull up several sites listing exercises seniors can do to improve strength and balance. They’re worth a try. Still, any exercise can help regain lost strength and balance just by doing it regularly.
As we’ve discussed, senior fitness programs are great for this. Again, this is a matter of peer support and pressure. The more you observe others’ posture, balance, and body movements, the more you build your own muscle and regain balance.
Stronger muscles and a more confident bearing can reduce the risk of falling.
For instance, those with confidence on their feet are more likely to attend to minor housekeeping responsibilities. In turn, the tidier living environment can alleviate depression and reinforce self-esteem.
6. Exercise Builds Confidence
Chronic illnesses like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis can make seniors doubt their capabilities. Could this be out of a displaced fear of worsening their health conditions?
Feeling healthy physically and mentally makes someone want to approach and interact with others. And they feel more prepared to take calculated risks and try new things.
Suppose a senior is at a point with their physical fitness activities where they want more personalized guidance. Then they might consider a personal or small-group trainer.
As the elders build strength and grow more limber, the trainer can help with body movement to avoid injury.
7. Senior Fitness Programs Encourage Social Interaction
This last item, “lucky seven,” is significant today, as people socially distance while weathering a pandemic of unforeseen proportions. Many older adults suffer from loneliness, so this scenario is tough.
Is the importance of fitness for seniors buried beneath the fear of leaving their homes’ comfort and security? After all, avoiding COVID contagion is no less a part of caring for your health than are fitness and human interaction.
Could the best senior fitness program for these times be having none at all? Or, should fitness centers and social directors figure out creative ways to keep seniors fit and engaged in isolated spaces?
We suspect some have already tried—perhaps through computer teleconferencing or closed-circuit TV. Many social activities could continue through these technologies.
Another idea would be seniors working one-on-one with health coaches and trainers from a distance and wearing PPE.
The Many Benefits of Senior Fitness Programs
Our goal here has been to show the many and varied ways the best senior fitness programs keep our elders healthy and happy. Chances are that many live longer and in more fulfilling ways because of them.
We see a senior fitness program as anything from an indoor aerobics class to group hiking to casual sports. Let’s support these programs in every way possible.
If people of any age like what we offer at our facility, we encourage them to sign up for a three-day trial to learn what goes on here.