As we age, staying fit may fall to the wayside as we shift focus to other priorities (playing with grandkids and enjoying some well-deserved post-retirement relaxation, for example). But for senior citizens, it’s more important than ever before to stay active. And working out with a community fitness group is a great way to do it.
We spoke to the professionals at OrthoCarolina about why it’s crucial to keep exercising as we age, which bone and joint issues senior citizens may run into while working out, and what community fitness groups senior citizens are loving right now.
Not just the scale: The many benefits of staying active
For senior citizens especially, staying active has a direct correlation to staying healthy.
“As you get older, your immune system weakens. Obviously, COVID has shown us that. But fitness helps improve the strength of your immune system so you’re less likely to get sick,” says OrthoCarolina Physical Therapist Claire Bingham.
Regular exercise also reduces your risk of diabetes, stroke and heart attack, and can even help seniors manage those conditions if they already have them, Claire says.
Exercise can also help prevent falls.
“You can lose muscle mass as you age, which puts you more at risk for falls,” Claire says. “But exercise helps counteract that.”
Common problems/injuries that may arise
Of course, with any physical fitness regimen there’s an inherent risk of injury. But with some advanced preparation and proper attention to form, the risks are far less than the reward.
The best place to start: at the doctor’s office.
“If you’re over 65 and you have any history of cardiovascular disease, it’s a good idea to get screened by your physician to make sure your heart is ready, and they may have to tell you to modify things, Claire says.
So what can a senior citizen expect once he or she starts exercising for the first time in awhile?
“General muscle soreness and fatigue is definitely to be expected,” Claire says. “But a good rule of thumb is if symptoms continue past a couple of days, it’s probably an injury.”
If you or your older family member has a sudden and significant limitation in function after working out, see a doctor (preferably an orthopedist) right away. This could include:
• Inability to reach overhead
• Sudden loss of ability to walk or stand for more than a few minutes
• Increased numbness or tingling
• Significant weakness that wasn’t there before
The best way to avoid injury, Claire says, is to start slow and focus on good technique.
“Gradual progression and intensity can help avoid injury, especially if you stopped working out during COVID,” she says. “We tend to overestimate and go back to the weights we used to use rather than starting lighter.”
Pain in the knees, lower back and shoulders after working out is often a result of poor technique, Claire says.
“That’s why community fitness is so great, because they have someone to show you the proper way to do it,” she says (More on that below).
But if group fitness isn’t your thing, schedule an appointment with a physical therapist who can give you some ideas for exercise and help you learn to use the equipment, suggests Claire.
For example, a physical therapist might recommend a senior citizen with balance issues to use parallel bars so they have something to hold onto.
And although chair exercises can be helpful for some, it’s not true that every senior citizen needs to be sitting down to work out.
“Just because you’re older it doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be sitting. You can move around as long as you’re being safe,” Claire says.
And lastly, some elderly people worry that exercise will aggravate their arthritis. But in fact the reverse is true.
“You might have a slight increase in joint pain with exercise, but when you’re sedentary your joint pain will increase much more than if you’re exercising,” Claire says. “Actually, exercise will help your arthritis.”
Community fitness groups: Friendship and accountability
If you or an older family member are hoping to get back into an exercise routine but are unsure where to start, community fitness groups are a great option. Not only do they provide an opportunity to get some exercise, they also give senior citizens an often sorely needed social outlet.
“For many people, as they retire their friend group shrinks. This can lead to depression. But community fitness helps promote socialization and develop friendships, helping substitute that loss of a friend group after you’re done working,” Claire says.
Many community fitness groups also offer some level of supervision, whether it’s a trainer or physical therapist.
“Supervised physical activity can reduce the risk of injury,” Claire says. “And they’ll be able to help with modifications you can do if you need to.”
Our favorite local community fitness options for seniors
Arguably the best place in the city to find groups of senior citizens working out, the YMCAs offers a variety of different classes for senior citizens of every interest and ability level.
Find a branch near you and drop into a low-impact cardio class, chair aerobics, tai chi or Zumba Gold, a lower-intensity version of the beloved dance workout.
These senior-specific programs offer both virtual workouts and physical locations all over Charlotte. With classes like yoga, stability and more, it’s a great option for beginners and established fitness lovers alike.
“And it’s covered by Medicare so it decreases the costs for your workouts,” Claire says.
Find a location near you here.
Rock Steady Boxing
Developed especially for people with Parkinson’s Disease, Rock Steady Boxing classes are adapted from boxing drills to help members work on agility, speed, muscular endurance, hand-eye coordination, footwork and overall strength.
Body and Soul Senior Fitness
For just $25 a month, seniors can participate in classes like low-impact aerobics, Pilates, yoga and more. Members also meet for lunch meetings, art projects and lecture series.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Senior Centers
The county’s Parks and Recreation Department offers many different fitness options including a walking club, Jazzercise, line dancing and lots more at two different facilities in the city. Find out more here.
The bottom line: get your elderly family members up and active however you can.
“The biggest thing I tell people is ‘I don’t care what you do, you just need to get up and get moving.’ Even if that’s just getting a group of people to walk with,” Claire says. “There’s a correlation in better for senior adults who stay active vs. those who stay at home and are sedentary … the more we can stay active the better.”
Do you know a great place or resource for senior citizens to stay fit? Share it in the comments!