By Karen Weeks
Aging is often associated with frailty, but growing frail doesn’t have to be part of growing old. There’s a lot you can do to maintain your physical fitness and, in turn, your independence as you age. Here’s what you should know about staying fit and healthy in your senior years.
What is sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia is age-related muscle loss that begins in middle age and accelerates in the senior years. While sarcopenia is a natural part of aging, that doesn’t mean frailty is inevitable. Research shows that not only can seniors slow the loss of muscle mass, but they can also continue to gain muscle and strength well into the senior years.
The connection between physical fitness and independent aging
As you get older, you care less about what your body looks like. However, staying trim isn’t the only reason to exercise. Physical activity helps you maintain strength, stamina, and flexibility so it’s easier to do the things you want. Living a sedentary lifestyle, on the other hand, is associated with an increased risk of mobility problems, weight gain, and serious health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Many seniors don’t realize their sedentarism is a problem until they’re struggling to manage the activities of daily living. By the time you’re struggling to care for yourself, it’s hard to return to an active, independent lifestyle. Instead, inactivity leads many seniors to move into assisted living earlier than they would have if they’d maintained an active lifestyle. While assisted living isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is expensive and may not be an affordable option.
Exercising for senior independence
All physical activity is good for senior health, from casual strolls around the neighborhood to intense workouts that get your heart rate up. However, weight-bearing exercise reigns supreme when it comes to staving off sarcopenia and mobility loss.
The benefits of weight training
Weight-bearing exercise might not cause people to break a sweat in the same way as cardio, but it’s still a great workout. In addition to building muscle mass, weight training strengthens bones to decrease the risk of osteoporosis, stabilizes joints to prevent aches and injuries, increases flexibility to reduce fall risk, and increases metabolism so seniors are less likely to become overweight.
3 weight-training exercises for seniors
Getting started with weight training can be intimidating, especially for seniors worried about injury or older women new to weight lifting. However, the benefits of weight training span all genders, and while any new exercise comes with risks, building strength makes you less likely to get injured, not more.
While it’s always wise to talk to your doctor before starting a new fitness regimen, these weight training exercises are a great fit for most seniors:
When weight training, be sure to engage all muscle groups, especially your lower body and core. While many beginners focus primarily on upper body exercise, it’s your lower body that has the biggest impact on mobility.
Staying active at home
Did you know you can exercise and improve your cardiovascular health even while sitting in your living room? An under-desk elliptical allows you to burn extra calories and exercise your legs while remaining seated. Before choosing the right model, research portability, price, and performance and durability reviews.
The role of diet in senior fitness
Exercise is only one part of the equation. In order to maintain and build muscle, seniors also need to pay attention to their diet —, particularly protein intake. It’s recommended that seniors with sarcopenia consume 1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. That can be hard to achieve, especially for seniors with appetite loss. If you’re struggling to eat enough protein each day, try supplementing with high-protein dairy products like whey protein shakes.
Your priorities may change as you get older, but your need for exercise doesn’t. Even if you’re not concerned about your waistline, it’s important to stay physically active and eat a balanced diet as you age. When you make smart choices for your health, you make it possible to achieve your goal of independent aging.