Older adults can be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic without even contracting the virus. Finding opportunities for movement and exercise can be challenging, as the pandemic has limited access to exercise classes, gyms and has overall decreased motivation to stay active. In-home exercises designed for aging adults can help with the new lack of motivation and get older adults moving while staying at home.

The body at any age, was designed to move in order to maintain itself, so exercise is vital to physical and mental health.

What can and should a senior do in an in-home exercise program?

First, the senior or a family caregiver should always consult with a physician before beginning an exercise program. One size does not fit all. For example, seniors with chronic health conditions will need a program that fits with their personal health challenges.

Keys to Effective Exercise

Any exercise program should improve or maintain a person’s fitness level without causing injury or too much fatigue. The program should be one the senior can follow consistently.

Also, the senior must learn what exercises are beyond his or her capacity. Some temporary soreness when first starting an exercise regimen is normal; persistent pain is not.

Finding a variety of exercises is important to make the activity more fun and less susceptible to burn out. Work outs for seniors do not always have to include barbells or treadmills. Gardening, walking, and performing household chores can also count as an activity.

Exercise routines can also be broken up into segments—a few minutes a day of different exercises or activities can help create a regimen, instead of longer sessions that may cause too much fatigue and exhaustion.

Areas for seniors to target, aside from strength and cardiovascular health, include areas like balance and flexibility.

Cardiovascular Exercise

What defines a cardiovascular exercise and how much does a senior adult need?

The World Health Organization defines moderate and vigorous levels of exercise.

However, age is an important factor in determining the recommended heart rate for cardiovascular exercise. As you age, the average beats per minute of your heart rate while you are exercising decreases.

Therefore, many seniors may opt for low-impact exercises like brisk walking or riding a stationary bike. Activities like gardening and performing other household chores that require a level of physical exertion are also exercises of choice.

The American Heart Association provides information about how to determine the heart rate zones for each of these levels of activity.

Remember, optimal exercise intensity and duration will vary from person to person. All seniors may not be able to sustain the recommended levels of activity and several types of medications can lower your heart rate below your target zone. Be sure to consult with a physician about your exercise options.

Strength Training

Strength training is recommended at least twice a week for senior adults. Resistance can be provided by weights, elastic bands, or a person’s body weight. It has been shown to help with fall prevention, muscle mass retention, improved posture and increased bone density.

Some equipment-free, at-home exercises for seniors include:

Squats to a chair. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart directly in front of a chair. Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body to the chair. Then, keeping your back straight, use your legs to push yourself up to a standing position and repeat.

Wall pushups. Stand about two feet from a wall, while facing it. Put your palms against the wall at about shoulder height. Then push yourself away to an upright position. Bend your elbows and lower yourself to the wall for the next repetition.

Calf raises. Stand behind or beside a chair or counter and place your hands on it for support. Raise yourself up on your tiptoes and then lower yourself back to the flat-footed position.

Single foot stand. Stand behind a steady, immovable chair and hold onto the back. Pick up one foot and balance as long as it is comfortable. Switch legs and repeat.

Flexibility and Balance Training

The SilverSneakers senior exercise program lists “7 Simple Stretches for Older Adults” with videos on how to perform each stretch.

Flexibility is important for seniors because they are more susceptible to stiff joints and tight muscles. The site demonstrates side, shoulder, triceps, hamstring, calf, knee and chest stretches.

Balance training for fall preventative measures is vital for seniors as well. SilverSneakers provides six demonstration videos on balance exercises to promote stability.

Exercise Summary

Mix and match exercises to find out what works best for you.

You can combine strength and cardiovascular training on the same day. Although it is recommended you do the strength portion of the workout first, because a cardio workout can lessen your ability to strength train. Try alternating strength and cardio on opposite days, and perform balance and flexibility workouts for a warmup.

The focus for seniors is to maintain the physical ability to successfully perform daily tasks—carrying a bag of groceries, climbing stairs, reaching up for an item on a shelf or taking a walk with a grandchild.

The exercise benefits for senior adults includes:

  • Fall prevention
  • Decrease in pain and depression
  • Increased endurance
  • Better control of chronic diseases
  • Increased bone density
  • Maintained muscle mass
  • Better balance and flexibility

A lack of movement feeds upon itself. The less you move the harder it will be to perform daily tasks, and in the end discourage you from breaking the cycle of inactivity. Try and be active each day, even if it’s a small amount of time. In the end your body and mind will thank you.

To learn more about maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle, check out the Health & Wellness section of our blog.