As the body ages, it naturally loses bone density and muscle mass. Endurance exercises help maintain and strengthen muscles, reduce the risk of falls in older individuals and can help reduce symptoms related to depression, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, and back pain, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Before starting a new exercise routine or helping someone do exercises, consult with a physician to make sure it does not pose a health risk.
The Benefits of Endurance Exercises
- Maintain, build or restore muscle mass, which helps improve balance
- Increase flexibility, which helps prevent injuries when an individual falls
- Build muscle and combat muscle fatigue so muscles do not tire or give out as quickly
- Boost energy because muscles use oxygen more efficiently
Endurance exercises increase your heart rate and breathing. The National Institutes of Health recommends that seniors build their endurance gradually. Start with as little as 5 minutes of exercise per day and build to 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week.
Endurance Exercises for Seniors
- Walking: Walking is a low-impact exercise that helps improve ankle strength, walking speed and balance. Walk at a comfortable pace on flat surfaces, such as sidewalks or at the mall. Instead of trying to walk faster as you improve, try to walk for a longer period. DontFall.ca recommends that you avoid wearing bifocal glasses while walking.
- Tai Chi: Tai Chi is a low-impact exercise that focuses on slow movements and concentration. The movements help tone core, leg and arm muscles while increasing coordination, balance and stability. You can adapt many Tai Chi movements into chair exercises. The Fall Prevention Task Force shares that the martial art may help reduce the fear of falling in elderly individuals. Check local community centers for available classes.
- Swimming and aqua aerobics: Swimming and moving around in the water helps build muscle, but is gentle on the joints. Like walking, swim at a comfortable pace and aim to swim for longer periods. If you do not know how to swim, walk laps in the shallow area of a pool.
- Stand on one foot: Balancing on one foot tones leg and core muscles. Lift one foot and hold the position for 10 seconds; repeat with the other foot. Do this 10 to 15 times with each leg. The National Institutes of Health recommends holding onto a chair, if needed, for balance.
- Balance while marching: After mastering standing on one foot, pause between each step as you walk. To do this, walk with one foot in front of the other, but bring your knee up, as if you are marching. Hold the knee in place for a second and then step forward.
- Heel-to-toe walking: Walk with one foot in front of the other, but position your feet so the heel of the front foot almost touches the toes on the back foot.
- Leg raises: Strengthen your core muscles, legs, hips and buttocks by doing simple leg raises and using a chair for stability. While holding the back of a chair with one or both hands, lift one leg straight back without bending at the knee or leaning forward. Hold the leg in place for a second and repeat the exercise with the other leg. Complete a similar exercise by extending your leg to the side instead of behind your body. Repeat the exercises 10 to 15 times with each leg.
Endurance exercises can help seniors maintain the mobility and independence they enjoy. Before exercising, warm up the muscles with gentle movements to prevent injuries. After exercising, do gentle stretches to keep the muscles limber.