Taking regular exercise in older age is proven to help with maintaining – or improving – both physical and mental wellbeing.
As we grow older, it’s easy to become more sedentary in our daily lives, especially if we face challenges around mobility, but even gentle exercise done regularly will deliver significant health benefits.
Most people, even those with restricted mobility, can find some kind of exercise to suit them – speak to your doctor or medical professional for advice on what might work best for you and how to get started. Whether you want to exercise in a group setting, as part of a team, or just challenge yourself individually and feel the benefits, here are some popular physical activities for seniors to get involved in:
Swimming is a great way for older people to exercise, providing both a muscular and cardiovascular workout. The water both supports your body mass and provides some resistance as you move through it, meaning your muscles need to work and your heart and lungs have to power them. Swimming is great for anyone with musculoskeletal problems, as it’s very ‘low impact’ in terms of putting stress on swollen or painful joints. If you go swimming regularly you’ll soon make friends at the pool and if you’re competitive, many swim teams have categories for seniors in their regular events. If you’re a nature lover you could get into ‘open water swimming’ in lakes, rivers or the sea, but it’s best to go as part of an organised group.
Walking football is a team sport that’s growing fast in popularity among older people. The rules are pretty much the same as the conventional game except that (as the name suggests) there’s no running or jogging allowed, only walking, and the ball must stay below head height. Throw-ins are replaced by ‘kick-ins’, the mind-boggling ‘offside rule’ doesn’t apply and sliding tackles are a no-no. Teams tend to be five or seven-a-side and the game is normally played on a smaller pitch. It’s great for building fitness and team spirit, with a strong social element. If walking football hasn’t reached your neighbourhood yet, why not get some friends together and give it a go? If you want to learn more, click here.
Volleyball variants: Another team game that’s been neatly adapted to suit seniors or people with mobility issues is volleyball. One popular version is ‘catchball’; the rules are very similar to volleyball, except that the ball is caught and thrown by players rather than hit. Two teams of six usually face each other across the standard volleyball net and the ball can be lighter or softer than a standard volleyball. A maximum of three players on a team can handle the ball before it’s thrown back over the net and the aim is to keep it in play. If it’s fumbled or hits the ground, a point is awarded to the other team. Another version is ‘chair volleyball’ or ‘sitting volleyball’, which again is similar to conventional volleyball except that the players on each team remain seated in chairs. Both versions are great for exercise, stamina, co-ordination and team spirit.
Cycling is another fun activity that will give you an all-round workout while still being relatively low-impact on the joints. It will help you to stay in shape and, if you use it to replace some car journeys, it’s good for the environment too. Participation in cycling, both as a sport and a leisure activity, has grown rapidly in the past decade and many places now have cycling clubs offering everything from races (with senior classes) to group rides in the countryside. Modern bikes have lots of gears which help to make those inclines easier, and if you’re still not convinced, why not try a battery-assisted ‘e-bike’? These now-widely-available cycles will take the strain when you need them to, but also give you some exercise.
Nordic Walking: Just going for a regular walk is a great way to exercise, but ‘Nordic Walking’ takes it up a notch. Participants use two specially-designed walking poles, one in each hand, to help propel themselves along so that Nordic Walking provides an upper body workout too. It can help you burn up to 46% more calories than regular walking and improve your posture and gait, while also giving extra assurance to anyone with balance or stability problems. It’s an activity you can do on your own, with a partner, or as part of a Nordic Walking group – whatever suits you. For more information, click here.
Golf: Many older players enjoy a regular round of golf, which gives a great brain workout as well as one for the body. It gets you out in the fresh air, gives you a good walk between holes and you’ll need to be limbered up for those swinging drive shots which work the torso and upper body. If you carry or pull your own clubs, that’s exercise too. Working out the right shot, taking into consideration the distance, any hazards, wind speed and direction, and which club to use will all test your sporting brain too. If you can’t manage the full 18 holes, you don’t have to – just play as many or as few as you want to. There’s also a great social side to golf, but the financial outlay can be higher than many other sports.
Tai Chi is actually a Chinese martial art, but now far more widely used for exercise and health than unarmed combat! It focuses on gentle, fluid movements and is designed as much for meditation and mental wellbeing as for physical fitness. In addition to improving muscle strength and flexibility, it’s great for balance and agility, reducing the risk of a fall. Despite providing a relatively gentle workout, it has distinct cardiovascular benefits and has even been found to lower blood pressure. You can practise Tai Chi alone, and there are some good instructional DVDs or online tutorials to get you started, but it’s also a very therapeutic group exercise. If there isn’t already a group in your area, why not start your own? If Tai Chi’s not for you, yoga shares many of the same benefits.
Dancing: Okay, so it’s not strictly a sport, but dancing will still give you a good and thoroughly enjoyable workout. Whichever way you do it – from ballroom to jive to line dancing – moving to music will get the heart beating, the blood pumping and the limbs bending. You can dance alone, but it’s much more fun in a group, and learning new dances will stimulate the grey cells too. Of course, you can compete in several styles of dancing, so maybe it is a sport after all?