Exercise for seniors
Posted on 17 February 2016
Once you hit the age of 65 to 70, it becomes harder to keep fit and healthy. With the help of a Mediclinic doctor of sports medicine, we find out what exercises seniors can do to stay in shape.
‘Start with cardio,’ says Dr Herman Kotzé, a doctor of sports medicine at Mediclinic Stellenbosch and the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport. ‘But make sure it’s light cardio, not heavy cardio. This could be as simple as a brisk walk, just to maintain your general fitness.’
Weights and resistance
While you won’t be able to lift weights like you did 20 or 30 years ago, you should still do light weight training. ‘Many people neglect this,’ says Dr Kotzé. ‘A little bit of light weight or resistance training will help build muscle mass. Remember that muscle mass decreases with age – and that’s your biggest fat-burning organ. If you don’t have muscles, you can’t burn fat!’
Dr Kotzé adds that weight or resistance training will help release testosterone as well, which is an important element in preserving your muscle mass. If you’re not too keen on pumping iron, use resistance bands instead – they’ll allow you to do slow, controlled exercises that improve your strength, balance, flexibility and range of motion.
Of course, at this age your top priority should be to avoid injury. You may have noticed some older folks working out in the swimming pool at your local gym. There’s a good reason for that, says Dr Kotzé: ‘Swimming, or simply moving in water, is soft on the joints. So this kind of exercise gives you resistance training as well as cardio – and because there’s no loading on your joints it preserves them too.’
The good news is that even patients with chronic illnesses – such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and so on – can exercise safely. In fact, many of these illnesses can be improved with exercise! Your other main concern should be making sure you don’t put too much strain on your heart or on your joints. If you feel any discomfort while exercising, stop immediately and speak to your GP.