It's no secret that regular exercise is good for body and soul. You already know it can reduce the risk of developing certain health conditions, help you maintain your weight, and improve your mood. But staying fit is especially important for seniors, many of whom want to remain active well into their retirement years so they can keep doing all the things they love, like traveling, or playing with the grandkids. But it can be difficult to know which exercise plan is right for you, especially if you're new to fitness, or have specific health needs that might limit your range of activities. Here's how to find a program and stick with it.
1. Get the green light
If it's been a while since you visited your doctor, the first order of business is to get the go-ahead to exercise. During this visit, make sure to ask any questions regarding health concerns or medical problems that may be exacerbated by specific activities. This is also a great time to ask for advice about senior fitness programs, especially if you qualify for any specialized care or coverage related to a medical condition.
Once you get the thumbs up from your doctor, your next step, says Angela Winks, an ACSM-certified personal trainer and senior fitness instructor, is to contact your health insurance provider. "If you have certain Medicare coverage, you may be eligible for the SilverSneakers program," Winks explains.
As a SilverSneaker, Winks says you can attend any gym or fitness center in the country that honors the program free of charge — you just need to present your membership card at participating facilities.
Most fitness centers and some city parks and recreation programs also offer senior exercise programs. The important thing here is to make sure the personal trainer or instructor has experience with seniors and has knowledge of the this demographic.
2. Choose the right activity for your needs
Before signing up for any class or workout program, make sure the workout is safe for you to do. Winks says programs specifically labeled as being for senior citizens should be fine. But if you're concerned, it's always a good idea to ask a lot of questions when talking with the trainer or instructor, as well as your doctor or health-care provider.
If you have specific health concerns such as cardiac, Winks recommends looking for programs that monitor you during the class. Physical therapy clinics, hospital-based programs, and even some nursing homes offer classes that consist of a supervised cardiovascular workout and exercises to help improve balance and flexibility, all while monitoring blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, and pulse. "Most senior-specific classes will include balance, stability, flexibility, strength training, and low impact cardio," she explains.
Another consideration, says Winks, is the size of the class, especially if the instructor does not properly supervise. And if you're participating in a class that is not specifically designed for seniors, make sure you feel safe doing the exercises, and listen to your body.
3. Find something that excites you
Finding the exercise plan that fits your needs is just the beginning of your fitness journey. To make it sustainable, you'll need to come up with a strategy to stay motivated and stick to your plan.
Remember, fitness is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. If you're doing an activity that makes you dread exercise, it might be time to look at other options. Winks says the best way to stick with a program is to find something you genuinely enjoy doing. Choose from senior fitness classes, cardio and weight machines at the gym, walking, swimming, yoga, or senior sports and games. The goal is to keep trying until you find an activity you look forward to.
4. Look for social opportunities to pair with exercise
The benefits of exercise go well beyond your physical health. "Social interaction is a major factor when it comes to exercise adherence," says Winks, "so if you can find a friend or spouse to join you in a program, you will be much more likely to stick to it long-term." But if you don't have anyone to join you, Winks says the other participants in senior classes and fitness programs are very welcoming and encouraging, which often leads to friendships outside of class.
5. Monitor your progress
Consider using a fitness or activity tracker to record your steps, calories burned, and heart rate. You can also make a fitness journal to keep track of your daily activities. Record things like duration, type of exercise, how you felt, and information from your activity tracker. If you check this journal a few times each month, you'll feel a sense of accomplishment in seeing just how far you've come.