Outdoor Exercise For Seniors
Exercise is a key piece of the puzzle for a healthy, active lifestyle, especially for older adults. When summer comes upon us, it can be a real challenge for anyone to get outside and exercise, even more so for seniors, due to the intense heat.
Exercising inside might be an easy fix, but not everyone has access to a gym or a fitness space in their home. Plus, the health benefits of exercising outside versus inside are well-documented. Fortunately, there are options for exercising safely outside, just make sure you understand the risks involved and work to ensure your safety.
As with any exercise regimen, if you aren’t already exercising regularly, consult with your physician before you begin any exercise routine just be make sure your body’s up to the task.
The greatest concern for exercising outside during the summer months, especially July and August, is the risk of hyperthermia.
Hyperthermia, as opposed to hypothermia, is abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the temperature regulating mechanisms of the body to adequately counter heat associated with the environment.
Everyone is susceptible to hyperthermia, not just seniors, so it’s in your best interest to ensure your safety when exercising at any level during summer months.
Symptoms of hyperthermia can include:
• Stiff muscles
• Nausea or vomiting
• Fast or shallow breathing
Light clothing and staying hydrated are essential when outdoors during summer months. If you feel like you might be experiencing heat-related illness or you see someone who is, get indoors or under shade, lie down and drink water if you’re able. Call 911 if symptoms are serious. It’s always better to err on the side of caution for your welfare or the welfare of others.
Exercising outside can be more than just physical activity, it’s also a great opportunity to connect with others. Exercising with others is also a great way to build it into your daily or weekly routine, because friends can inspire you to get up and get moving when you might be less than motivated.
Whatever activities you decide to pursue, during the summer months it’s best to engage in exercise in the morning hours or late in the afternoon. You might be a heat warrior, one who enjoys a good sweat, but any physical activity in the heat of the day isn’t the best choice. The coolest parts of the day are really the best for everyone.
While safety is important, once you understand what you can do to reduce risks of exercising outdoors, it’s time to get moving!
Here are a few exercises that are perfect for seniors, though movement for everyone is simply good sense. All of the exercises listed are considered low-impact, meaning they won’t create undue stress on joints and muscles. One main rule of thumb for any exercise regimen: listen to your body. If you aren’t able to distinguish between a muscle that’s complaining because it hasn’t sufficiently warmed up versus one that’s sustained an injury, it’s always better to slow it down and walk it off.
My yoga mentor used to say, “The best yoga pose is the one not done.” If you aren’t sure it’s safe, don’t do it and consult a pro.
The CDC recommends adults age 65 and older need at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week, or 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week of moderate intensity activity, such as brisk walking. Or, if you want to reduce the time, 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity such as hiking or jogging.
Walking is without a doubt the easiest, most accessible form of exercise you can do, at any time of the year. Not only is it easy, it’s one of the most socially accessible activities, you can walk AND talk to others at the same time. There are all manner of walking groups in the area, some paired with birdwatching as well.
Biking, while a little more strenuous, is nonetheless a superb activity, with the added benefit of coasting if you decide in the moment to stop pedaling to take a momentary break. More of a workout, you’ll also benefit from the breeze, which will offset the warmer temperatures and reduce your risks or overheating. Just make sure to carry a bottle of water or sport beverage.
Golf has been maligned for being too slow moving to be of consequence as an aerobic exercise, but that’s simply not true! Not only do you get the exercise of walking from green to green (if you aren’t using a cart), it helps to maintain coarse and fine motor skills, strength and flexibility. It also places you squarely amid greenspace, a major health benefit, provides opportunities for socializing with others, and there’s plenty of shade if you need to get out of the sun.
Tai Chi is one of my personal favorites. Tai Chi focuses on breathing, motor control and strength training through slow-motion movements. What’s more, it can be tailored to your specific athletic abilities. It takes some time to learn the routines, but once muscle memory kicks in, you’ll be amazed at just how much benefit you’ll see from it.
Another personal favorite, yoga’s emphasis is on muscle strength, stability and core strength. There are many flavors of yoga, from slow yoga, restorative yoga and Hatha yoga to hot yoga, Bikram and Iyengar. Check them all out, find one that works for you and make it your own.
Don’t let the name fool you, gardening is a marvelous workout. From carrying potted plants to planting, weeding and mulching to watering and raking, every facet engages some part of your body to one degree or another. Course and fine motor control, muscle strength, cognitive focus, movement, it’s all there. An added benefit (with the right soil), gardening exposes you to a soil bacteria that stimulates the production of serotonin, in essence gardening can improve your mood. If you’re interested, the bacteria is called Mycobacterium vaccae.
I love to kayak, and it can be strenuous, depending on the body of water you’re on. Upper body strength isn’t a requirement unless you’re going long distances, but be prepared for a workout. Make sure you choose a kayak that suits your skill level, sit-ins are faster but less stable, whereas sit-on-tops are very stable and much slower. Either way, kayaking is a joy.
Yes, fishing is great exercise. Coarse and fine motor skills are required for baiting hooks, casting and reeling-in, capturing and releasing, or into the bucket for supper. If you’re fishing from the shoreline or in a boat, more than likely you may be sitting, but if you’re into fly fishing it adds the benefit of working your core while you’re standing in moving water.
Pool workouts can’t be beat. Swimming works out all the major muscle groups, as can group exercise classes or just walking wall-to-wall. Pool exercise is low-impact but with high returns.
Working out during the summer months doesn’t have to be worrying, it can be safe, fun and infinitely beneficial to your health and wellness. Exercise is a key element of any healthy lifestyle, get out there and care for your body today.