Heart-healthy exercises for seniors are vital, not only for maintaining physical health but also for reducing anxiety, stress, and depression. Whether your fitness level is on the beginner's side or you're an experienced athlete, there are simple everyday exercises that are great for improving cardiovascular health.
Read on to explore new ways of staying fit during your 50s, 60s, and 70s (and beyond), while also ensuring your heart stays in the best shape.
Benefits of Exercise for Heart Health
Exercise is one of the ultimate ‘elixirs’ for health. It strengthens, energizes, and protects the heart, keeping it beating through all stages of life.
The key to maintaining heart health is to make physical activity part of your routine. Just like brushing your teeth or eating breakfast every morning, including some form of exercise in your daily life, will help ensure that you’re staying on the right track.
- Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. Moreover, staying active can improve overall mental and emotional well-being, both of which are essential for maintaining a healthy heart.
- Exercise helps keep the heart and blood vessels healthy by improving circulation and strengthening the heart muscle. This, in turn, helps to pump blood more efficiently throughout the body.
- Exercise can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, which are major risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
- Regular exercise can burn extra calories and help you maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can put additional strain on the heart and increase the risk of heart disease.
It’s never too late to start. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. And there are plenty of ways to keep things fun, so you don’t get bored with your workout routine.
Start by assessing your current level of exercise. Encourage yourself to be conscious of your new plan to move whenever possible. Add movement gradually to your routine by opting for the stairs instead of the elevator, or taking a short evening walk after dinner. Keep in mind that everyday chores, such as gardening and daily housework provide some level of calorie burning, but they cannot substitute taking the time to exercise with intention.
Have a Plan
Creating a structured exercise program tailored to your lifestyle is the next step if you are already active or are looking to become more active. Begin by identifying the best times for you to exercise throughout the day. Next, consider what resources you have available. For example, do you have access to fitness facilities nearby? If not, are you able to exercise at home or walk in a safe environment?
Be sure to pick activities that you enjoy doing. This increases the chance that you’ll actually stick with it in the long run. Set realistic goals and then break them down into small, manageable steps. For example, if your goal is to exercise 5x/week, start by setting a goal to be active three days per week for 30 minutes. If you’re not used to exercising or you have any health concerns, it’s important to start low and slow by choosing activities that won’t put too much strain on your heart.
Heart-Healthy Activities for Seniors
Becoming more active can be achieved through a variety of exercises, including cardio, weight training, and resistance training.
Keep in mind that you don't need a gym or special exercise equipment to build muscle and increase strength. Let’s break down a few simple exercises anyone can implement to improve their cardiovascular fitness:
Add in balance-training
As we age, maintaining good balance becomes increasingly important. Not only can poor balance lead to falls and injuries, but it can also make daily activities more difficult. Below are a few of the best balance training exercises for seniors.
This ancient Chinese martial art is known for its slow, flowing movements and emphasis on balance. Tai Chi is often taught in classes, and many senior and community centers offer Tai Chi specifically for older adults.
Many yoga poses, such as the tree pose and the warrior III pose, require balance and stability.
This exercise is simple but effective. Start by standing behind a chair or against a wall for support. Slowly raise one foot off the ground and hold for 10-15 seconds. Repeat on the other side. As you get more comfortable, try doing the exercise without the support of the chair or wall.
This exercise is great for improving flexibility in the hips and legs. Start by standing behind a chair or against a wall for support. Slowly swing one leg forward and backward, making sure to keep your balance. Repeat on the other side.
Get your heart rate up with cardio
Cardiovascular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and seniors can benefit from it just as much as younger adults. Cardio exercise is so beneficial because it helps build up our aerobic capacity (the amount of oxygen our body can use during exercise). This also helps improve circulation, which results in lowered blood pressure and heart rate.
Here are a few of the best cardio exercises for seniors:
Walking is probably the best type of exercise to start with because it’s easy on the joints and can be done mostly anywhere. You can walk on a treadmill, around your neighborhood, or even at the mall. Try to start with at least 20 minutes a day and build up each week as you feel comfortable.
Cycling is another low-impact exercise that can be done indoors or outdoors. A stationary bike is a great option for older adults who may have mobility issues.
Swimming is a great cardio workout because the water provides natural resistance, which can help tone muscles, build endurance, and increase muscle mass.
Dancing is a fun way to get your heart rate up and improve flexibility. Dancing requires balance, which promotes good core strength and reduces the risk of injury. There are many types of classes available for seniors, such as line dancing and Zumba.
Incorporate strength training
Strength training is a crucial aspect of fitness. Aside from increasing your strength and endurance, it also improves your joint flexibility, bone density, and helps reduce the risk of injury, which can be disabling for older adults. Research shows that a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training may also help increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
Here are some of the best types of strength training exercises for seniors:
Squat to chair
Squats are a classic exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, including the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. For older adults, squats are a great place to start as they require no equipment and can be modified to suit different levels of ability.
Instructions: Position your feet hip-width apart facing an average-height chair. Keeping your chest up, push your hips back and bend your knees as you lower your body towards the chair. Gently lower yourself down to touch or sit down on it. Keep a slight forward lean in the upper body, pause, then press through the feet and glutes to rise back up. Balance the weight between your heels and mid-feet (you should be able to move and wiggle your toes). This helps to avoid placing unwanted stress on your joints.
This exercise is a simple, yet effective way to strengthen the upper body and improve overall arm strength.
Instructions: It is best to stand about 2 feet from the wall and place your hands shoulder-width apart at shoulder height. You can move closer if necessary to make the exercise easier. As you lower your chest to the wall, bend your elbows diagonally to your sides. Let your heels come off the floor. Pause, then straighten your elbows by slowly pressing through your hands. Return to the starting position.
Lying Hip Bridges
Lying hip bridges target the glutes and hamstrings, while also opening up the hips. It helps improve posture, strengthen the lower back, and reduce the risk of falls. The hips can get especially tight in people who find themselves spending hours sitting throughout the day.
Instructions: Start by lying flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Make sure your lower back is against the floor, then squeeze your bum and push your hips upward into the air. Press with your entire foot as you move up. Pause, then slowly lower back to the ground. Begin again.
Remember to stretch
As we age, our bodies naturally begin to slow down and lose flexibility, making stretching an effective way to combat stiff joints and maintain mobility and balance.
Best types of stretches for seniors:
This stretch involves sitting on the floor with one leg straight out in front of you, and the other bent with the foot flat on the floor. Reach forward to touch your toes, holding the stretch for 30 seconds.
This stretch involves standing or sitting and reaching one arm across the chest, holding it with the other arm for 30 seconds.
This stretch involves sitting or standing and gently tilting your head to one side, holding the stretch for 30 seconds.
Remember, it's essential to warm up before stretching, and to only stretch as far as you're comfortable. Consult with a doctor or physical therapist if you have any concerns before starting a new exercise program.
Use It or Lose It
Many people of all ages can find it difficult to stick to an exercise routine. That's why it's important to find an activity that you enjoy that also complements your fitness level. Trying new activities, or recruiting friends and family to join in are all great ways to stay motivated. So, let's commit to making exercise a priority in our lives, for the sake of our heart health now and in the years to come.