That’s my story when it comes to exercise for seniors. If I'm tired, exercise refreshes me. If my head is thick and woolly, it clears my mind. If I’m gloomy, it makes the world fun again. So why not exercise to feel good yourself?
exercise for seniors - heel raises using a chair Photo courtesy of Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging, Western University

While I’m no expert on exercise for seniors, I’d like to think experience counts for something. I’m an 80-year-old guy who has exercised since his pre-teen years(Confession: I was a skinny kid with thin arms and shoulder blades that stuck out.

I wanted to beef up.) I’ve been exercising on and off ever since, mostly because it just plain makes me feel good (Full disclosure: It’s also helped my heart recover from congestive heart failure.)

Sure, I have health goals. Keeping my heart strong is one. Helping keep my weight under control is another. And I now know that exercise can help keep my brain healthy, as well as my body. But the real motivator? I want to feel good and look good!

Who doesn’t want to feel good?

Dr. Michelle Segar, who directs the Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center at the University of Michigan, says in her No. 1 Amazon best-seller No Sweat, “…discover why you should forget about willpower and stop gritting your teeth through workouts you hate. Instead, …become motivated from the inside out and start to crave physical activity. You’ll be hooked!’

O.K., the gym is not for you. How about your chair?

I like the self-imposed discipline of the gym. But I understand that there are many reasons people don’t want to, or can’t go to, a gym or club. So I’ve found a couple of fitness programs that anyone can do at home.

Learn more about “exercise for seniors” and programs developed by the University of Western Ontario’s Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging – exercises for seniors. 

exercise for seniors - squat exercise with a chair

Photo courtesy of Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging, Western University

This squat exercise, which strengthens the thigh muscles and helps stabilize the knees, is typical of what you’ll find in Western’s sample of the exercises done at its 
Centre in London, Ontario.

The Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging has also developed series of exercise videos for their Active at Home, home support exercise program which is worth a look. The program was developed specifically for  “homebound” seniors.

The University of Georgia Department of Foods and Nutrition website also has a comprehensive set of chair exercises at “Chair Exercises for Older Adults.”

When you exercise to feel good, more than your muscles will benefit.

A University of Kansas study revealed that as little as 75 minutes a week of walking was enough to improve cognitive scores.

Performance continued to improve for those walking up to 225 minutes per week (about a half hour per day). The test subjects with the best aerobic fitness showed the biggest boosts in cognitive scores. That’s good news and another great reason for seniors to exercise.

Scientists have long known that our brain can change itself in response to experience. We use that plasticity to compensate for brain damage, to rewire as we learn and even to build up gray matter. But once again, that ability declines with age.

Now University of Pisa neuroscientist Dr. Claudio Lunghi and her associate, Dr. Alessandro Sale of Italy’s National Research Council’s Neuroscience Institute, have shown that even moderate exercise can kick-start plasticity in our brain’s visual cortex. They published their findings in the journal Current Biology. Moderate exercise could contribute to a greater ability to adapt and learn as we age.

Exercise for seniors is about feeling good, just as much as it is about staying in shape.

Exercise to feel good both physically and mentally. I do. Almost anybody can. Give it a try and see if you get hooked!

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