Getting plenty of exercise is important at any age, perhaps even more so for seniors, as the body shows inevitable and increasing signs of age. Regular exercise can slow down this process, however, boosting mental as well as physical health.
Endurance exercise such as cycling, running or swimming are ideal for seniors, says Philip Messerschmidt, a personal trainer whose clientele consists largely of older adults. "The cardiovascular system benefits and all-round physical fitness improves," he says.
Sports scientist Heike Streicher goes so far as to call endurance training a "daily medicine". She suggests that seniors get together with friends for their exercise sessions, ensuring that someone's on hand to summon help in case of a medical emergency. "And it's always more fun when you're not alone," she says.
Cycling is more suitable than jogging for overweight seniors since it puts less strain on the joints, Streicher notes. Thanks to modern e-bikes, you can cycle long distances even if you haven't ridden a bike in years. "But it's important that saddle and handlebars be set at the right height to avoid undue strain on your body," she says.
Cold weather is no excuse to lounge around all day at home. Outdoor exercise is especially worthwhile in cooler climes, according to Streicher, as sunlight is extremely important for the body's production of vitamin D, and exercise stimulates metabolism and lowers stress hormone levels.
Being suitably dressed for the weather is essential. Wind- and water-proof trousers and jacket are a good choice, along with a short- or long-sleeved running shirt made of a breathable fabric.
"It's important to be able to move freely," says fitness training instructor Sandra Gaerttner.
Streicher recommends wearing bright clothing or reflectors during darker months of the year. A cap and gloves are an option, especially for cyclists, and appropriate, good-quality footwear with tread on the soles for traction are a must for joggers or walkers.
If you'd like to improve your flexibility and co-ordination, consider taking a course in yoga, Pilates or the like. "Tai chi and qigong specifically address breathing and body awareness," Gaerttner remarks. To strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, she recommends Pilates above all.
The advantage of such courses is that they're suitable for everyone and they take place indoors, so weather isn't a factor. "Along with the physicial exertion, they calm your mind," Streicher says.
"Your musculature diminishes significantly after age 60 – both in terms of mass and strength," notes Messerschmidt, who says targeted strength training is the best way to slow this process. "If you like, you can work out with dumbbells."
An outdoor gym for seniors or all generations, if set up for circuit training, is a good place for open-air workouts a couple of times a week. You can also work out at home using everyday objects or doing bodyweight exercises. With a bottle of mineral water serving as a dumbbell, for example, you can raise it in front of you, at your side and over your head.
If you work out with dumbbells at home, you should have some previous experience and a good feeling for your body. So it's advisable to first take part in a weightlifting course to see how the various exercises are properly done. – dpa/Bernadette Winter