Note: This picture is taken before COVID-19.
At 69 and 62 years old respectively, Wong Sow Lin and Lim Moh Kin are breaking the stereotype of older adults being too old to stay active.
Both ladies are regulars at Punggol Emerald Senior Activity Centre, often participating in physical activities such as aqua aerobics. The regular exercises have benefited their health: Sow Lin feels less lethargic while exercise in the swimming pool helps with Moh Kin’s knee condition. Emotionally, they are happier as well, being able to make more friends at the centre.
Another active senior, Mdm Siti, 83, is not letting age slow her down. She spends her time exercising at Tampines Greenwood Senior Activity Centre and enjoys exercise games such as “ladder toss” as well as a modified version of table tennis; both activities introduced to her by the Active Health for Seniors programme.
Regrettably, many older adults are unlike these admirable senior ladies. Most are still reluctant to start exercising for fear of getting hurt as they believe their bodies will not be able to handle the exertion, especially since they may not have exercised for a long time.
If you are one of these older adults, here is an important message to you: "You are never too old to exercise, and never too late to start!" These ladies are proof that one can stay active at any age, and most of all, the benefits will enhance your quality of life by making you healthier and happier.
► Check out: Programmes specially curated for seniors
Benefits of being active for older adults
Exercise can help strengthen the body for older adults, which will bring benefits such as:
- Reducing risk of falls and maintaining walking ability
The loss of muscle mass associated with ageing is termed “sarcopenia” and this can be worsened by decreased physical activity. This can lead to lower limb weakness and poor balance, resulting in older adults having more falls and injuring themselves seriously. The good news is that exercise programs consisting of strength, endurance, balance and resistance training can help to improve gait, balance and strength, ultimately reducing the risk of falls and helping older adults to maintain a stable walking ability.
- Maintaining bone health
Older adults also experience loss in bone mass i.e. osteoporosis. This syndrome, combined with loss of muscle, function and strength from sarcopenia, greatly increases the risk of bone fractures through falls. Studies have shown that resistance exercise not only helps to stimulate muscle protein synthesis that improves and maintain muscle mass, it also helps increase bone strength and mass through consistent exertion of a mechanical load on the bones. With better bone and muscle health, older adults will maintain the strength to move about freely and independently, such as being able to get up from a chair or bed by themselves. They will also not be held back by bone fractures sustained from falling, which will hinder their mobility for long periods of time as they recover.
- Heart health
Research has shown that exercise benefits heart health. Overall, reports have shown that individuals who are more active tend to develop less cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Even if they do develop such diseases, it occurs at a later age and with less severity. There are 5 main risk factors of CVD: A sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, abnormal values for blood lipids, smoking, and obesity. 4 out of 5 of these risk factors are easily reduced through regular exercise. Exercise promotes weight loss, reduces blood pressure, “bad” cholesterol levels and reduces the time spent sitting down. With a stronger heart, older adults will feel less fatigue and have enough energy to go about their daily lives independently.
Recommended exercises for older adults
To those feeling motivated to start exercising, listed below are some exercises recommended for you to hit different components of physical fitness. But before starting your exercise regime, do bear in mind some tips from our Active Health Coach, Mr Munir:
- Consult your doctor first if necessary. This is to ensure that you are safe to start an exercise program or become more active as some people may have uncontrolled medical conditions or experience side effects of medications.
- Get in touch with our Active Health Coaches if you need help with getting started by clicking here.
- Start at a level that is easy and manageable for you and gradually build up. For example, if you are a beginner, you can start with a light walk before progressing to a brisk walk and eventually a jog or run.
- Sit less and move more. You can stand up during commercial breaks while watching shows, do house chores or dance! Fun fact: Research has shown that there was better blood sugar regulation with “physical activity breaks” after prolonged sitting in both healthy individuals and those with type 2 diabetes and obesity.
- If you like social interaction and exercising in a group, find an interest group and enjoy a good workout together, such as the ActiveSG Masters Club.
- Include strength and balance exercises in your routine to reduce your risk of falls. For balance training to be effective, it needs to be somewhat challenging. Read on for some exercise ideas to get you started!
Aerobic exercise helps to improve overall fitness and stamina, and they include almost any physical activity that gets your heart pumping. Activities recommended for older adults are swimming, cycling, brisk walking, stepping, jogging, water aerobics, and dancing. Older adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week.
1) Sit-to-stand targeting legs
- Position yourself sitting with feet hip-width apart
- Place your arms across your chest
- Stand up straight before sitting back down and repeat the movement
- Do 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions
If this is too challenging, you can start with a higher chair. As you become more competent with the exercise, you can progress to a bodyweight squat.
2) Seated shoulder press targeting shoulders and arms
- Sit straight and keep your feet hip-width apart to ensure a stable base
- Hold the weights and raise your upper arms to about shoulder level
- Keep your palm facing forward and elbows out and bent at a 90-degree angle
- Extend your elbows and push the weights up and above your head
- Lower the weights to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner and repeat the movement
- Do 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions
Start with a weight that is comfortable and manageable. Focus on getting the right technique before progressing to a heavier load. You can use water bottles as an alternative.
1) Single leg balance
- Stand beside a wall or a fixed object for safety and support
- Put your hands on your hips and lift one foot a few inches off the ground
- Try to maintain your balance for 20 seconds
- Repeat with the other leg
- Do 2-3 sets of 20 seconds (each leg)
If this is too difficult, you can reduce the duration that you have to maintain your balance and slowly increase as you become better. To make this exercise more challenging, you can increase the duration for up to 60 seconds or stand on an altered/unstable surface such as a foam board or a small pillow.
2) Tandem walk (heel-to-toe)
- Stand beside a wall for safety and support
- Place one foot in front of the other such that the heel of the front foot touches the toes of the rear foot (heel-toe position)
- Look straight and take 10-15 steps forward by moving the rear foot to a heel-toe position
- Turn around and repeat the movement
- Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 steps
You can adopt a semi-tandem position instead if this is too challenging i.e. the heel of the front foot touches the side of the rear foot. You can challenge your balance further by doing this with your eyes closed. Be sure to ensure safety before you try this out!
1) Standing hamstring stretch
- Place one foot forward while keeping your leg straight and toes pointing up
- Bring your hips back and bend forward slightly until you hit a manageable point (mild discomfort) with the stretch on your hamstrings
- Hold this position for about 10-30 seconds and repeat with the other leg
- Do 2-3 sets of 10-30 seconds (each leg)
2) Shoulder stretch
- Bring one arm across your chest and hold it below the elbow with the other arm
- Hold this position for about 10-30 seconds and repeat with the other arm
- Do 2-3 sets of 10-20 seconds (each arm)