It’s a classic Catch 22. As we age, physical activity can become more difficult. Yet, that’s when we need it most! The best senior fitness programs are built around modifying exercises to make them as beneficial – and as safe – as possible. We share the benefits of well-planned senior fitness programs plus 5 tips for creating your own.
5 Tips for Building the Best Senior Fitness Programs
According to the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA), the best senior fitness programs should include five components:
- Aerobic Fitness: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of moderate endurance activity per week for Americans 65 years or older. That may sound like a lot, but getting the proper amount of cardiovascular exercise can be done with just one or two 15-20 minute sessions per day.
- Muscular Fitness: The CDC also suggests implementing muscle-strengthening activities at least two days each week for seniors. Such exercises include weight lifting or training with a resistance band. However, other activities such as gardening can yield the same muscle-building benefits.
- Flexibility: Stretching exercises help to maintain or increase the range of joint motion, which alleviates stiffness and improves coordination. Flexibility exercises can be easily implemented into the best senior fitness programs, by stretching muscles after a workout. This will also reduce soreness.
- Balance: Balance exercises target the core muscles and can lead to better stability. The best senior fitness programs should incorporate balance exercises at least three days per week, for significant results.
- Relaxation: This component can easily be added to the best senior fitness programs through breathing exercises during the warmup and cool down process of most physical activities. While allowing the heart rate to return to its resting state, relaxation also reduces
symptoms of stress.
Turn Exercise Into a New Experience
Of course exercise is the main focus of the best senior fitness programs, but if you can give senior residents a new experience – that’s even better. One type of fitness activity that’s gaining in popularity is tai chi. Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial arts practice. It’s more about controlled movements, not fighting! For seniors with limited mobility, this can be a great exercise as the movements are primarily performed standing up in one place. Numerous studies have shown that tai chi offers 3 distinct benefits for seniors: improved sleep quality, balance, and even cognition.
More Than Exercise
The best senior fitness programs do not rely on physical exercises alone and recognize the importance of activities and games that promote mental stimulation as well.
Mental stimulation provides a wide range of benefits for seniors, such as improvements with memory, attention and multitasking skills. While residents do need physical activity to build and maintain strength, mental exercises are just as important to their wellbeing.
Forward-thinking senior living facilities are turning to digital gaming options, like trivia, that challenge their residents with mental exercises to keep their minds sharp. Digital gaming is on the rise with seniors, and has been proven to combat dementia, improve social function and build confidence.
Digital gaming also contributes to physical wellness. A recent study by the University of Illinois at Chicago discovered that compared to non-gaming seniors, those who had participated in playing a digital game over ten weeks were able to stand with ease, stay upright and walk better than those who did not partake in the games.
The best senior fitness programs focus on more than just exercise, they look at senior wellness as a whole. Targeting physical activity and mental exercise together can contribute to increased cognitive function and a higher quality of life for seniors.
5 Benefits of the Best Senior Fitness Programs
Even light cardiovascular activity a few times per week can have significant results for seniors. Besides building stronger muscles, heart and lungs, the best senior fitness programs can provide additional benefits.
- IMPROVED QUALITY OF LIFE: Regular physical activity enhances the quality of life for seniors suffering from chronic illnesses and reduces the risk of developing other conditions. The best senior fitness programs focus on exercises that both alleviate and correct common issues that seniors face while also improving their performance of everyday tasks.
- BETTER BALANCE: Physical activity also improves balance and gait for seniors, which reduces the risk of falls and injuries. Implementing exercises that focus on dexterity help to prevent such issues and are incorporated into the best senior fitness programs.
- MENTAL BENEFITS: One aspect that is commonly overlooked is how the best senior fitness programs provide more than just physical benefits. Recent studies show that physical activity can also help slow the cognitive decline of seniors, improving their memory and focus.
- INCREASED CONFIDENCE: As they participate in the best senior fitness programs, seniors will start to see improvements and gain confidence in their abilities to perform tasks that may have been difficult in the past. They will begin to do more and find other activities they enjoy.
- A COMPETITIVE EDGE: This benefit applies to the senior living community itself. By having one of the best senior fitness programs, you can attract more residents. As the baby boomer generation ages, they want to stay active. Senior living facilities that have a well-established exercise program – complete with both physically and mentally challenging activities – will gain a competitive edge.
Who Can Help You Build the Best Senior Fitness Programs?
These components are a great start for implementing the best senior fitness programs at your senior living community. But there are other elements to consider as well. Senior living facilities that provide a wellness program should consult with each patient and determine the best exercises that match their physical abilities while fitting their health needs.
It’s important to keep in mind what residents may enjoy when drafting a fitness program. In fact, that’s what certified recreational therapists are trained to do. If your senior living community already has a recreational therapist on staff, you’re ahead of the game. If not, consider hiring or consulting with a recreational therapist.
The best senior fitness programs provide a variety of activity options that cater to their residents’ interests and keep their exercise options exciting.
While some seniors may want to stick with traditional exercises like stationary biking, others may prefer more recreational activities that still provide health benefits, such as gardening or shuffleboard.
A little creativity goes a long way when developing the best senior fitness programs. Get your residents involved. Hold a brainstorming session and ask them which types of activities would motivate them to be more active.
Above all, the best senior fitness programs are enjoyable. While exercise is necessary for seniors to live their best life, it shouldn’t feel like a chore. From digital games to tai chi, there are endless options for introducing your residents to a new fitness program – and they’ll have fun along the way.