May Is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, which gives all of us a chance to focus on our levels of physical activity, fitness and energy. Seniors have a particular need to stay active, since regular exercise supports not just a healthy weight and resistance to certain diseases, but combats the stereotypical frailty that accompanies aging. We know and accept that smoking is deadly, but now that sitting is considered ‘the new smoking’, senior fitness is more important than ever. We bring you stories of medal-winning and record-setting senior athletes all the time, but you don’t need to run a marathon to win this fight. Caregivers, home care aides and loved ones can all benefit from focusing on physical activity and senior fitness.

According to the National Institutes of Health, exercise benefits seniors in several ways, both physical and emotional. Staying active doesn’t just help fit seniors increase their strength and stamina, it can reduce depression, elevate mood, and improve general outlook on life. Seniors who aren’t ready for the decathlon can still improve their balance, manage their everyday activities better, and manage conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease without or with less medication. And the senior brain becomes more agile alongside the senior body, as focus, planning and multi-tasking all improve noticeably.

If Jeopardy is your favorite competitive sport, brace yourself for some bad news. In September 2016, the American Heart Association warned that too much time sitting around can damage your heart and blood vessels, even if you’re appropriately active during the day or week. This means that even if you exercise the recommended amount of time each day – an amount that varies by age and health condition – you won’t avoid the consequences of sitting the rest of the hours of the day. And seniors, who likely don’t commute long hours, or sit at desks all the workday, still have sedentary temptations of their own. Moderation in movement, like in everything else, is the secret.

So what kind of activity is best for you and your loved ones? A nice mix of activities and venues will serve seniors the best. The website lists these four types of exercise, recommended by the NIH’s National Institute on Aging:

  • “Endurance, or aerobic, activities increase your breathing and heart rate. Brisk walking or jogging, dancing, swimming, and biking are examples.
  • Strength exercises make your muscles stronger. Lifting weights or using a resistance band can build strength.
  • Balance exercises help prevent falls
  • Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and can help your body stay limber”

The CDC suggests that an adult, 65 and older, with no restricting health conditions and overall good health, should do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of jogging and at least two days of strength training each week. Seniors who want to maximize their health investment can increase that to 500 minutes of moderate or 150 minutes of high intensity aerobic exercise, with the same amount of strength training, each week. Wondering if your trip to Costco counts? If your heart is beating faster, and you can talk but not sing, then you’re hitting the ‘moderate-intensity’ mark. (You may also get tossed out of Costco, so be discreet!) Check out the CDC’s guidelines on how to measure the intensity of your aerobic and strength-training activities.

For more advice, information and free resources on senior fitness, visit the NIH’s Go4Life website. Go4Life offers exercise videos, nutrition advice, tip sheets and DVDs to loved ones who want to stay as active and healthy as possible.