We’ve found the best, most this-doesn’t-feel-like-exercise ways to get your muscles moving for a happier you in the New Year.
Does reading about “active seniors” drive you to the freezer for your last pint of Ben and Jerry’s? Do you roll your eyeballs when you drive by buildings with the word “recreation” or “fitness” in the name? Then this article is for you!
Everyone Has to Start Somewhere
Many older adults bemoan the annual January tradition to start an exercise program as a New Year resolution. There are plenty of excuses: It’s too cold. My knees hurt. I tried it once and I hated the class/instructor/music. I’ve always been fat. I’ll look like an idiot. It’s easier to stay the way I am. By age 75, about one in three men and one in two women engage in no physical activity.
You’ve probably heard of SilverSneakers but you may not know it’s a comprehensive program to encourage older adults to participate in physical activity and stay social. The free program is available across the country to adults 65 and older.
Original Medicare Part A and Part B won’t cover SilverSneakers, but your Medicare Advantage plan might. To find out if your plan covers the program, contact your health plan provider or check online. SilverSneakers online health plan finder If you want to switch to a plan that includes SilverSneakers, use the eHealthMedicare comparison tool to find one in your area.
Membership grants access to any participating gym or recreation center. You get unlimited access to more than 13,000 locations. Weights, treadmills, and pools are included, as well as fitness classes for all abilities led by certified instructors. The new FLEX addition offers yoga, dance, and other classes outside of the usual network.
Every location that offers SilverSneakers has an advisor to help you get started. You can track your progress with HealthwaysFIT.com, and you’ll be invited to health education seminars and fitness events.
But ask yourself: If you could buy a new body, toned and strong, how much would it be worth? Would you pay $50 a month for it? How about if it were free? What would it feel like to wake up every day full of energy? What If exercise was fun?
We’ve searched to find the best, most innovative ways to get you moving. No two people will tread exactly the same path to better health. The only thing fit people have in common is that they don’t quit working out, whether they are salsa dancing or swimming. So find something on the list that looks interesting and give it a try.
Exercise Has Side Benefits
Are you hoping to age in place? There’s nothing like good health to help you stay at home. Regular exercise reduces your risk of falling and breaking bones. Do you struggle with depression? Exercise improves mental well-being, and relieve your stress.
Older adults can benefit from aerobic endurance activity, as well as muscle-strengthening activities that can stabilize joints and your body’s core. Amazingly, exercise reduces your risk of dying from coronary heart disease or getting high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes. If that’s not enough, exercise helps control the pain and swelling associated with arthritis.
In addition, exercising as part of a group can give you a sense of belonging and purpose. Working out on your own leaves you with time to think, listen to a podcast, or enjoy your favorite music.
It Doesn’t Take a Lot
It’s surprising how a small amount of daily exercise can make a big difference in your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that more intense activity, such as climbing stairs, can be shorter than less intense activity, such as walking on a flat surface, for a similar benefit. However, more benefit can be gained by exercising longer, more intensely, or more often.
Consult with your doctor before increasing your activity level. If you’ve been sedentary, start with short intervals of activity five to ten minutes long, and work up to longer sessions gradually. Now, find something on the list and get started!
- Spy on your neighbors. Take a stroll around the neighborhood and check on who hasn’t taken their holiday decorations down (tut-tut), whose car is pulling into the Smith’s driveway, and pet Mr. Brown’s new dog out for a walk. This is especially fun when dusk has fallen and you can be a secret voyeur, using lit interiors to critique interior decorating. It’s worth a drive to the toney part of town to see how the other half (one percent!) live.
- Embrace the great outdoors. Make it a goal to walk every inch of every trail in your suburb, town, or county. You could change it to irrigation ditches in farm country, or it may be easier to hit the sidewalks on city streets. How about walking through historic cemeteries, or logging miles at a local high school track?
- Make tracks in the snow. The white stuff is a built-in shock absorber when you snowshoe or ski cross country. Rent equipment and try it out before you decide to buy. Make your own trails or find a Nordic center for groomed paths. You can learn the basics in minutes; no expertise required.
- Square dance. Promenade and allemande left. You can wear a short, bouncy skirt or bolero tie just like the real cowboys and cowgirls with no pushback! Get the basics down with a video lesson, then sashay on over to your local club to get started.
- Go window shopping. Hit the local mall and check out window displays as you walk your way to better health. Bring your cell phone for a podcast or music that will make the time fly by. Many malls cater to senior walkers by opening the doors to them before shops are open, so there’s no fighting crowds.
- Find your splash zone. Many recreation centers have modern lap lanes that are not meat-locker cold, and waist-deep lazy river lanes for walking against the artificial current. That’s right: you can exercise in a pool even if you don’t know how to swim. Snap on a flotation device (you may be able to borrow one from the facility) and hold on to the edge all you want.
- Become a biker chick or guy. No, a motorcycle is not going to raise your heartrate unless maybe you’re oogling the latest model from Harley. Quit the drooling and get your hands on a real bike! Take your pick from sleek road bikes, rugged mountain bikes, city-slicker cruisers, or low-slung recumbents. You can find a bike made just for the beach or one that will take you home on a country road, all in return for a little leg power.
- Plant your own plot of paradise. Does the thought of a ripe heirloom tomato make you smile? Do your daydreams wander to an iris the color of a summer sunset? Make a raised bed garden to get your heart rate up, then tend it. Weeding, watering, and mulching are all exercise in disguise.
- Volunteer at an athletic event. Local races need people to hand out packets, dispense water and cheer on competitors. Being around athletic people encourages you to picture yourself as part of an active group. You’ll see that these athletes are old and young, fast and slow, first-timers and veterans of the sport.
- Give Yourself a Reward. Walk a thousand steps every day for a month, and rent a VRBO in the mountains for a hike. Bike twenty-five miles a week for three months, and join a local cycling group for special weekend rides. Snowshoe a mile a day for three weeks, and treat yourself to a cup of extraordinary hot chocolate goodness at the local coffee shop.
- Tai Chi your way to health. It’s okay if you don’t know what it is. Tai Chi, Taekwondo, yoga… all are Eastern practices are great for improving your balance. Brain research during yoga shows reduced stress and enhanced cognition. Chair yoga modifications make it accessible to just about anyone.
- Make your favorite room the ballroom. Dancing, that is. Tango, foxtrot, and waltz your way to better balance, rhythm, and new friends. You don’t need a partner to start classes. Get a little intro lesson before your first class and impress the teacher.
- Lurk in the alley. The bowling alley, that is. Most bowling alleys are not the smoky habitats of yore, but family-friendly lanes where you can practice your strikes. Lift one of those bowling balls a few times and you’ll know it’s a workout! Join a league and get social benefits, too.
- Play with a bucket. Golf has decreased in popularity, but it’s still a lot of fun to hit a bucket of balls, even if you’re not a good shot. Some ranges have heated stalls to make it a year ‘round activity. If the thought is just too intimidating, head to your local minigolf course for some fun.
- Get in touch with your inner child. And what better way than to play with the grandkids? Wear clothes that can get dirty, then build a fort, go on a treasure hunt, or save Moby Dick (times have changed!). Jump rope for aerobic fun that is roaring back as a popular competitive event.
- Play Wii Fit. Novices can review this Wii Fit primer before starting their first game with this Nintendo gaming console that promotes movement. You can try virtual tennis, bowling, yoga, skiing or more, and the device will track your weight and general fitness level.
- Donate time at a shelter, rescue, or equine therapy barn. Whether you’re walking dogs, scooping poop, or leading a horse with a disabled rider, you’ll be getting more than you’re giving when you offer the gift of your time. Each of these options will get you moving and socializing. There’s no research study to prove it, but rumor says your heart muscle will grow bigger, too.
Did you notice that not one of the options listed above requires you to go to the dreaded gym? Woohoo! And we didn’t even get into summer activities like croquet, snorkeling, or beachcombing. Or Midwestern favorites like corn hole! Once you get into active mode, you’ll realize how many activities are doable.
Your exercise plan is easy. Start now, and do something every day for the rest of your life. Happy moving!
“5 Fun Ways For Seniors To Stay Active,” Alert1.
“11 Fun Ways Older Adults Can Get in Shape,” Everyday Health.
“Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“What Yoga Does to Your Brain,” NBC News.
“What is SilverSneakers™? Does Medicare cover this program?,” eHealthInsurance Services, Inc.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors