By Jonathan Thompson

Spin Class with Mom

Throughout Canada and all of North America, the senior population is growing. But, thanks to advances in medical technology, many of these older adults are able to stay active as they age. Of course, the choice of activity can have a major impact on the success enjoyed from a given workout routine.

In honor of Canadian National Seniors Day and the International Day of Older Persons – both celebrated each year on October 1 – here are four fun, effective exercise ideas that you can share with your senior loved ones. Keep in mind, though, that these exercises aren’t just for seniors; they’re on this list because everyone can benefit from taking part in these activities together.

1 | Walking

People tend to minimize the usefulness of walking as a workout. Which is a shame, because a brisk walk – one that gets your heart rate up to about 60 to 70 percent of your maximum – is actually an incredibly beneficial way to spend your time. This low-impact workout can boost your mood, improve your balance, increase your strength and help you maintain a healthy body weight – all while reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

While the benefits of walking increase with the frequency, duration and intensity of the activity, the basic recommendation calls for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking every day. Interestingly, the anti-diabetic benefits of walking are significantly increased if you schedule your walks to immediately follow a meal. Of course, the time that’s most convenient for you is the time that’s best.

Walking has the added perk of being a relatively relaxed and easily accessible activity – one that they entire family can engage in. This is a perfect way, then, for your whole family to be active and spend some extra time together building healthy habits.

2 | Cycling

For a little extra speed and mobility, you might consider trading in your walks for a bike ride. While cycling and walking do share many of the same benefits, bikes tend to be more effective at building strength in the legs than regular walking. Of course, increased strength has its own host of perks but this also makes cycling a great way to increase bone density and burn a few extra calories.

Depending on the limitations of your senior parent, though, you may have to make some careful choices when selecting a bike. Since your feet never leave the pedals, cycling is a very low-impact, knee-friendly activity. Other joints, however, might be strained by sitting on a traditional bike. Specifically, the shoulders, back and neck could suffer in this position.

If that’s the case, you might consider a recumbent bike which would allow your loved one to sit back in the seat rather than having to stay upright. These bikes do tend to be a little more expensive, though, and it might take some searching to find one that meets your needs. 

3 | Strength Training

A well-planned weightlifting routine can provide a  huge range of benefits  for both you and your parent, while also giving you the chance to support each other in your fitness journey. Of course, the weight and intensity of the workouts will need to be scaled according to your individual fitness level, goals and needs.

Still, strength training can increase strength, prevent bone lose, enhance balance and improve overall body composition. When selecting exercises, stick with low-impact movements that don’t involve dynamic jumping or bouncing motions. Keep in mind, as well, that compound lifts – like squats and bench presses – that activate multiple muscle groups and cross several joints will provide the maximum amount of benefits from the smallest investment of time. 

Not sure what exercises to do? You can start with a chair squat, wall push-ups, toe stands, and arm curl and overhead arm raise. This set of exercises works on all your muscle group and suitable to any fitness level.

As far as workout structure, start out with the classic 3 sets of 10 reps to offer a balance of benefits without requiring you to deal with extremely heavy weights. Rest about 90 seconds between each set. If you and your parent decide to go this route, emphasize proper form over weight. Do a quick warm up or dynamic stretching to help minimize injuries.

It’s worth noting that many older adults might hesitate to delve into strength training, especially with their children. The activity can be intimidating, especially if they’ve never lifted before. Be patient, then, and understand that it might take time for you to build interest in this workout approach.

4 | Gardening

Granted, gardening isn’t generally seen as a workout but some time spent on light yardwork can build strength, balance and endurance. This is also a great time for you and your parents to spend time together on a project you both care about.

Just be careful to not underestimate the risks of this activity. Depending on the environment, exact details of the project and health condition of your parents, you may have to make some adjustments so that the time spent in the garden isn’t too intense.

Hydration is of particular concern here. Be sure to take frequent breaks and have plenty of cold water on hand. When handled properly, gardening can be a relaxing activity that also sneaks in a fair amount of health benefits for you and your parent.

Jonathan Thompson
Jonathan Thompson

About the Author:

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist who has written extensively on health and fitness since 2009. Thompson is also the author of Weighted Vest Workouts and two science-fiction novels. Additionally, Jonathan has been able to apply his love of storytelling and journalism into the realm of film-making as the director and co-founder of Signal Film Company.