Best Weight Loss Exercises for the Elderly
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Best Weight Loss Exercises for Seniors

As we age, we naturally lose muscle strength and mass, which can make weight loss more difficult than before. This article will discuss the importance of exercise for seniors, with examples of the best exercises.

As you grow older, you may start to notice that you find it harder to lose weight; you may even experience weight gain and your metabolism could appear to be slower. There are several reasons for this which will be discussed in this article. It’s no secret that partaking in regular exercise is important throughout your life, even as you grow older. However, over time we naturally start to lose muscle mass and strength, which may make exercise seem harder for more senior people. This article will therefore discuss which exercises are most effective for the elderly, particularly in terms of promoting weight loss.

Why does Weight Loss seem more Difficult as we Age?

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Weight loss may seem like a more difficult goal to achieve as you grow older, and weight gain may become more prevalent. Some claim that this is because our metabolism slows down as we age, causing the body to burn fat at a much slower pace. However, this may not be the case. It’s actually said that as we age, we develop a condition called ‘sarcopenia’, which naturally occurs as we grow older, and refers to the loss of muscle mass and strength. Our muscles are believed to grow and build stronger from the moment we’re born, and they allegedly don’t stop until we reach our 30s.

After this, we are said to experience a decrease in muscle mass, and our muscles become somewhat weaker. While this loss of muscle is believed to be more prevalent in those who are inactive, the condition is said to be likely to affect everyone, regardless of their fitness regime and physique. However, individuals that are less active and partake in less exercise are said to lose on average between 3-5% of their muscle mass.

Sarcopenia is claimed to be most evident at the age of 75, where muscles lose mass and strength at a much faster rate, but the condition can accelerate at the earlier age of 60, or the later age of 80; everybody is different. As sarcopenia weakens muscles, the condition is often said to contribute to many falls and fractures in the elderly, and this is why senior people are often involved in many accidents like this.

What are the Benefits of Exercise for Seniors?

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While sarcopenia is a natural condition that occurs in everybody, even those who exercise regularly, this doesn’t mean that elderly people are expected to just say goodbye to exercise altogether. And after all, there are claims that regular exercise may reduce the extent of which the condition affects you, especially as you get older.

Everybody ages differently, but exercise is said to be an effective method of prolonging youth, and is believed to be an activity that ensures that you can live a longer, healthier and much more active life, regardless of your age. As weight loss often becomes harder with age, exercise may be able to help improve and speed up results. As well as having potential anti-ageing effects and helping seniors live an active life, exercise is believed to have a number of benefits, especially for the elderly. For example, our immune systems may start to decline as we get older, making us more susceptible to illness.

However, it’s said that regular exercise may boost the immune system, particularly reducing the risk of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, as well as allegedly improving cognitive function, mood and memory. It’s also said that exercise may improve balance; many older people experience falls as they age due to their muscles becoming weaker. However, appropriate exercises can aid the elderly and make beneficial improvements to their balance, and this may prevent unnecessary accidents and injuries.

Which Exercises are Best for Seniors, and How can they aid in Weight Loss?

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Endurance Exercises

Endurance, aerobic or cardiovascular exercise is perhaps the most standard form of exercise, and includes anything that increases your heart rate, speeds up your breathing and warms your body. It’s said that each week, people aged over 65 years old should aim to complete either 150 minutes of moderate endurance/aerobic/cardiovascular exercise, 70 minutes of more vigorous endurance/aerobic/cardiovascular exercise, or a combination of moderate and vigorous endurance/aerobic/cardiovascular exercise.

However, in both cases they should supposedly be accompanied by strength exercises at least twice a week. These strength exercises allegedly work all the muscles in the body, including the arms, legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest and shoulders.

Examples of moderate endurance/aerobic/cardiovascular exercises include walking, ballroom dancing, line dancing, canoeing, pushing a lawnmower, riding a bike on level ground, water aerobics, volleyball or playing doubles tennis. Examples of more vigorous endurance/aerobic/cardiovascular exercises include jogging, running, fast swimming, more energetic dancing or Zumba, playing singles tennis, uphill hiking, football, martial arts or aerobics.

Strength Training

As mentioned before, strength training is an important technique that will allegedly work all the muscles in the body in attempt to improve their function, and to try and build and strengthen the muscles as much as possible. Not only will this attempt to tackle symptoms caused by the aging condition ‘sarcopenia’, but strength exercises are also said to aid in boosting metabolism and regulating levels of blood sugar in the body.

Examples of strength exercises that older people can partake in include performing one or two sets of weight bearing exercises with 10-15 repetitions two or three times each week. The equipment used can vary from dumbbells to the perhaps preferable resistance bands or weight machines. However, it’s important that people participating in these strength exercises ensure that they’re breathing properly, and should use slow, steady movements.

Balance Exercises

As mentioned before, the perhaps inevitable reduction in muscle strength as we grow older often causes falls and accidents in the elderly. This is because sarcopenia can make older people frailer and weaker, and this can have a negative effect on their balance. It’s said that each year, more than one in three people over the age of 65 is involved in a fall, and the possible injuries that are caused by these falls are said to have the potential to cause long-term damage and immobility.

While strength training and aerobic/cardiovascular, flexibility, stretching exercises are all believed to help improve balance, it’s said that elderly people should partake in exercises that specify in improving balance.

These are easily adaptable and can be completed by most people of different abilities. Some balance exercises include side leg lifts, standing on one leg and walking from your heel to your toe. These can be achieved in your home, and those who struggle particularly with balance can complete them by a wall or chair to hold on to. As the balancing exercises are quick and don’t require too much effort, they could be achieved daily, and the idea is to strengthen leg muscles to essentially improve balance overall.

Flexibility Exercises

As well as the balance-specific activities listed above, flexibility exercises are also believed to help improve balance by increasing motion in the hips, as well as allowing the body’s muscles to recover after exercise, and helping to improve general body movement, ideally preventing frailness. An example of a popular exercise that is said to improve flexibility is yoga, and this may be especially beneficial for the elderly as it’s more gentle, and there are lots of yoga classes available. Yoga is said to aid in fat burning and calories, and more information can be found in our ‘Yoga for Weight Loss’ article.

Stretching Exercises

Much like flexibility and balancing exercises, stretching is also said to be important and can potentially improve your body’s movement and motion, and this can allegedly make you much more active in your senior years, and this may potentially help to prevent weight gain. It’s said that stretching alone won’t improve endurance or strength, but it’s still important to do after exercise, if achieved correctly and if you’ve warmed up sufficiently before.

Clinical Studies

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Using a sample of 30 frail, obese elderly adults aged between 70-75 years old, the following study investigated whether exercise can reduce the loss of muscle mass caused by weight loss. The study lasted for 6 months, and half of the subjects were assigned to a ‘diet group’ which involved behavioural therapy. The remaining 15 subjects were also put on the diet with behavioural therapy, but they were also instructed to partake in exercise that included progressive resistance training.

Measurements such as body composition and muscle strength were taken and results found that both groups saw a similar reduction in body weight and fat mass, although the diet and exercise group saw a slightly smaller weight loss, and instead gained slightly more muscle mass instead. In conclusion, the combination of a hypocaloric diet and exercise in obese, frail elderly people may strengthen their muscles, whilst experiencing fat loss at the same time.

A second study aimed to study the effects that weight loss and exercise had on frailty in a sample of 27 obese older volunteers, although they don’t specify the age range of the sample used. Participants were split into 2 groups: the first group was the treatment group, and they were instructed to take part in weekly behavioural therapy for weight loss for a total of 6 months, as well as exercise training three times a week. The second group were merely used as a control group to emphasise the results found in the treatment group.

A series of appropriate measurements were taken and results found that the treatment group experienced an average reduction of 8.4% – 5.6% of body weight, while the control group saw no significant weight loss. In addition, the treatment group were said to have lost 6.6 – 3.4kg of fat mass compared to the control group who actually appeared to gain fat mass slightly. The treatment groups also showed improvements in strength, walking speed, obstacle course, 1-leg limb stance time and ‘health survey physical subscale scores’. These results indicate that the combination of training exercise 3 times a week with weekly behavioural therapy for weight loss may have caused weight loss, fat loss and improvements physically.

Precautions of Exercising in Seniors

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While of course exercise is an important factor in everyday life, there are some safety precautions that should be taken into consideration, especially amongst the elderly. As older people experience a reduction in muscle mass and strength, they should take exercise slowly and steadily, at a pace that suits them individually. Everybody’s different and we all have different abilities and thresholds. As long as you’re exerting yourself at a safe pace that won’t damage you.

Exercise can take a while to get used to, and it might take a while for you to get used to particular exercises before you can improve your skills and develop the intensity. Endurance and aerobic exercises can be particularly difficult to get used to, and there are often different levels of intensity and skill that can only be developed through experience and practice. Therefore, you should pace yourself and gradually increase the intensity if your body is ready to.

Before making any changes to your exercise regime, it may be advised that you consult your doctor, especially if you have any known conditions, whether they’re age-related or not. Here, they can advise you on which exercises may be most beneficial for you personally, as well as highlighting any warnings or concerns.

Conclusion

In conclusion, exercise may have a number of benefits for the elderly. Evidence suggests that it could have an impact on the immune system, as well as encouraging weight loss and strengthening muscles, depending on the type of exercise you do. There are many exercises you can partake in, all of which are said to benefit the body in various ways, and different exercises are suitable for different people. As long as you’re careful and don’t push your body too hard, then exercise may help to combat weight gain, and it may reduce body weight and build and strengthen muscles so that you can potentially lead a longer and healthier life.

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