Physical exercise is important for people of all ages. But the form and focus of exercise should change as we age. While today's millennials may flock to the gym to flatten their tummies and define their biceps, their elders have much different concerns as they seek to maintain everyday physical functions.
"It's called 'aging in place,'" explains Jennifer Cordova, manager of the Sewall Healthy Living Center at Sharp Coronado Hospital. "Seniors want to remain active and independent as their bodies change with age. Things that we take for granted — like balance and basic dexterity — become more challenging over time."
Cordova oversees a program at Sharp Coronado that caters to the unique needs of older clients. Like most exercise regimens, attention is placed on strength, conditioning and balance; but instead of setting such goals as losing weight or increasing the number of reps, trainers focus on decreasing falls in the home and increasing agility and well-being. It is a model that very much mirrors physical rehabilitation, adapted to help clients learn new ways of continuing the activities they love. "Climbing stairs, reaching up to pull something from a high cupboard, carrying groceries into the house — these are simple tasks that become less simple if we don't exercise right."
While much training uses the same techniques and equipment that are available in any standard gym, Sharp Coronado offers other activities and assets of particular value to seniors. They can include:
- Gentle fitness classes with seated exercises performed to build strength, muscle tone and flexibility.
- Personal trainers with education and experience specific to geriatric clients.
- Qi gong (which translates to "cultivating energy") is an ancient Chinese healing art that incorporates meditation, controlled breathing and movement. Qi gong's gentle rhythmic exercises help to reduce stress, build stamina and enhance the immune system, and also help to improve posture and balance.
- Simple yoga — in seated and standing positions with a chair — that focuses on proper alignment, balance, strength and breath awareness.
- Strength and balance exercises aimed at preventing falls by improving the ability to control and maintain body position, whether moving or still.
- Vinyasa yoga, a more challenging and dynamic flow of postures that connects the breath to movement. This empowering practice improves strength, balance and coordination while creating an overall sense of health and well-being.
Outside a gym setting, Cordova notes that there are many low-impact exercises that seniors can engage in to stay healthy and limber. "Any activity that increases your breathing and heart rate is good. Brisk walking or jogging, swimming, biking and dancing are good examples. And what better way to keep us young than an occasional dance."
Learn more or register for an upcoming Balance, Strength and Flexibility class at Sharp Coronado Hospital by calling 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277) or using the Sewall Healthy Living Center online registration program.