The older we get, the more we tend to put our physical health on the backburner, often turning our attention primarily toward our families, careers and personal responsibilities. While these areas are undeniably important, neglecting to carve out time for physical activity isn’t just a detriment to your health, it can be deadly.
For decades, research has studied the connection between loss of mobility in aging individuals and mortality, including an eight-year study conducted by Hirvensalo, Rantanen and Heikkinen with more than 1,100 participants at ages 65 to 84.
Published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2000, the study found that in both men and women, “the relative risk of death was two times greater in Impaired-Active and three times greater in Impaired-Sedentary groups than in Mobile-Active groups.”
Nearly two decades later, the conclusion remains the same. In their 2017 BMC Health Services research article “Mobility as a predictor of all-cause mortality in older men and women,” Bergland, Jorgensen, Emaus and Strand found in their near 12-year study that there was a strong association for men and women over age 65 between a low mobility test score and mortality.
Not only do mobility difficulties negatively impact one’s physical health––causing issues with weight, balance, musculoskeletal pain, cardiovascular disease, and more––but it can take a great toll on one’s emotional well-being. As noted in the 2001 study “Mobility Difficulties Are Not Only A Problem of Old Age,” individuals with self-reported mobility issues over age 18 were nearly 10 times as likely to additionally report feelings of depression and anxiety compared to those without mobility issues.
The sooner you recognize any loss of mobility, the better your chances are of stopping or reversing its effects. The solution lies in being physically active. And this doesn’t necessarily have to mean hitting the gym––for senior citizens, recent research conducted at the Univeristy of Florida found that a mere seven minutes of daily movement “can prevent major mobility disabilities and enhance physical function.”
Obviously, the time spent exercising can increase based on your own health restrictions––seniors with no mobility issues should attempt to hit at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, according to NHS Choices.
Whether you’re looking to prevent a loss of mobility or looking to gain some back, here is our list of the best low-impact exercises for seniors:
1). Walking: It may not seem like much, but just taking a walk around the block holds a host of benefits for both physical and emotional health and seniors. To start, walking can help to reduce bone mass loss, lowering the risk of osteoporosis and other issues related to frail bones. It additionally helps to strengthen leg and ab muscles while improving circulation. And who doesn’t enjoy a good walk on a sunny day? Even if you walk on a treadmill, though, you still reap the mental and emotional benefits often associated with getting outside. A University of California Study found that by just walking .25 of a mile each day, men lowered their risk for Alzheimer’s by approximately 50 percent. Now that’s a happy thought!
2). Yoga: This ancient practice has been improving bodies and minds for years, taking a holistic approach to improving flexibility, balance, muscle strength and cardio––all areas key for preventing falls and ailments in elderly individuals. Don’t be discouraged by pictures of people bending themselves like pretzels; there are tons of beginner’s yoga classes out there, and even ones geared toward specific anatomical focus or providing a gentle, restorative practice.
3) Cycling: Perfect for those with knee or other joint problems, cycling is a great way to build leg and cardio strength while maintaining a low-impact form that protects your body from injury. Like walking, cycling gives you the option to explore the great outdoors, but if you prefer to stay home, there’s always the option of utilizing a stationary bike. This may be the pick for you if you’ve had any recent injuries––there’s no chance of dealing with any uneven terrain that could cause a fall. And you can use it year-round!
All three of these exercises offer an additional benefit: social interaction. Keeping seniors socially active plays a huge role in maintaining mental sharpness and overall happiness, and it’s always nice to have a friend around when trying something new.
So go ahead, invite a friend to take a nature walk or bike ride with you, or sign up for a yoga class together. Not only does it give you a sense of camaraderie, but it’s a wonderful feeling knowing that you and someone you care about are taking the time to prioritize your bodies so you can be happy and healthy for many years to come.