The key to healthy ageing is exercise

It’s no secret that a host of benefits -- from improved heart health to a reduced risk of developing diseases such as diabetes -- can be derived just from working those limbs.

Unfortunately, not enough seniors actually take steps to lead an active lifestyle, observes Dr Linus Tan Ren Hao, Senior Physiotherapist at the Department of Physiotherapy, Sengkang Health (SKH), a member of the SingHealth group. “Many seniors feel that they are not able to exercise as they have insufficient strength and endurance. Some are fearful of falling, but most are afraid of over-exerting themselves.”

Dr Tan says that age shouldn’t be an obstacle to exercise. “As long as there are no pre-existing medical conditions where strenuous exercise is not allowed, it is possible to get moving even as you age.” In fact, being inactive may actually worsen your health.

4 best exercises for seniors

The trick is to find an activity that is suitable for your physical condition. There are four main types of must-do exercises for seniors. These are:

#1 Strength-building drills​

Try these: Body weights, elastic bands, functional training like stair climbing and alternating from sitting to standing position

Why do it?
Also called resistance training, these build stronger muscles. They make daily activities, such as carrying heavy grocery bags and getting out of a chair, easier for seniors (especially helpful for those who want to stay independent). Dr Tan adds, “Strength training also helps with fall prevention, through toning of the major muscle groups such as the hamstrings and quadriceps found in the thighs.”

#2 Balance exercises

Try these: Yoga, tai chi and posture exercises

Why do it?
For seniors, a simple fall can result in a major fracture, complicated surgeries and even death. That’s why the ability to keep a good physical balance is critical. A 1997 cross-sectional survey found that one in six Singaporeans aged 60 years or above, reported at least one fall in the previous year. Exercises which improve strength, flexibility and balance can greatly reduce the risk of falls.

#3 Flexibility exercises

Try these: Simple stretching and chair yoga.

Why do it?
The older you get, the more help you need with your daily activities such as tying shoelaces and driving. Incorporating these flexibility exercises into your exercise regimen can help you to stay flexible and independent. These also prevent stiff muscles and aching joints – a common complaint with seniors.

#4 Cardiovascular endurance

Try these: Brisk-walking, swimming, jogging, cycling, climbing stairs and dancing – yes, line dancing works! An added benefit is that you can do these exercises with friends.

Why do it?
You need to get your heart pumping to keep it healthy. When you work the most important muscle in your body, you are not only increasing blood circulation but also lowering your risk of age-related conditions such as heart disease and stroke. With time, you will also feel more alert and less tired.

Before you exercise, visit the doctor first!

Before starting any form of exercise, it is important to tell your doctor of your intention to start an exercise routine. Dr Tan explains, “Get medical clearance before heading to the gym or participating in sports or exercises, especially if you lead a sedentary lifestyle or have pre-existing medical conditions.”

Also ask if there are any activities you should avoid. That’s because your health condition (or existing health concerns) can affect your workout. For instance, an ankle sprain that did not recover properly can easily lead to musculoskeletal injuries; hence exercises where you load the ankle may be painful and worsen the condition. Meanwhile, diabetics may need to consider the timing of their medication before embarking on their daily exercise routine.

“Ask your doctor or physiotherapist to prescribe a set of safe and effective exercises if you have suffered from multiple falls before,” advises Dr Tan. “Most importantly, start slow. Build up your exercise routine little by little – by slowly increasing the intensity of your workouts. This way, you won’t over-exert yourself.”

It is important to stop immediately and call your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Breaking out in cold sweat
  • Pain in the joints

Ref: N18