Sport in old age – that’s what experts advise

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A long life in good health – who doesn’t wish for that?? Numerous studies prove: People who exercise regularly age healthier. Even those who have been unathletic all their lives can still get started at 60 and quickly achieve success, says Prof. Ingo Frobose. He heads the Center for Health at the German Sport University Cologne.

Improve fitness in old age with moderate training sports

Studies show that even the previously untrained can double their muscle strength in just over a year through sport and exercise – even at the age of 60. A comparison with younger people shows how this pays off: Trained 60-year-olds have the same fitness level as 30-year-olds who don’t do any sports.

Playing sports in old age keeps you healthy and fit – most people know that. But contrary to widespread misconception, this applies not only to young people and adults, but also to seniors, even at an advanced age. Even people in their 70s and 80s can significantly improve their strength and endurance through moderate training.

The best training is a combination of several disciplines: first, endurance training that is easy on the joints, such as cycling or Nordic walking, and second, a gymnastics program of about ten minutes on three to five days a week. In addition, it helps to consistently integrate exercise into everyday life – with walks and climbing stairs, for example.

Sport in old age should be fun

Many seniors are initially reluctant to exercise at an older age for fear of injury or overwork. In addition, there are often physical limitations that may no longer allow the practice of some sports.

Statistics show that with increasing age, most people are less and less physically active: while 35% of all women and 44% of all men do more than 2.5 hours of intensive, sweaty sport every week, only 18% of men over 65 and 13% of women are still physically active at all.
Nevertheless, the basic principle is that you’re never too old to exercise – it’s just a matter of finding the right type of sport and the appropriate level of exercise for yourself. The main focus should be on the fun of exercise and less on the idea of performance.

Because regular physical activity has clear health benefits for most people. Even regular brisk walks strengthen muscles, bones, heart and vessels, mobility and endurance.

Adapt training and sports to one’s age

Of course, the training must be adapted to the current physical condition. In addition to the age of the respective person, this also includes current illnesses, the health of the heart, blood vessels and muscles, injuries or the effects of earlier illnesses. For some people, an extra lap in the nursing home hallway may be enough; frail people are already challenged to get up from their chair and sit down again several times.

Other older people may be healthy and fit enough to jog small laps or take part in aerobics classes. As a general rule, older people, including frail people in care facilities who have never exercised before, can start exercise or physical training with guidance and support. Unfortunately, this happens too rarely in reality.

What are the benefits of regular exercise in old age?

Sports in old age bring numerous benefits for seniors:

  • Physical inactivity is v. a. in old age, one of the main risk factors for increased risk of various diseases and increased mortality.
  • Physical activity increases life expectancy, counteracts obesity, reduces blood pressure and the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and injuries (from falls or accidents).
  • Regular exercise promotes mental and physical health, improves functionality, balance, body control, counteracts the development of impaired glucose metabolism or. diabetes mellitus and significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases and mortality (up to 50%).
  • In addition, sport in old age is beneficial for the prevention of osteoporosis and some joint diseases.
  • Exercise reduces the natural breakdown of muscle mass and the gradual loss of muscle endurance, it reduces loss of physical fitness, it improves balance and body control, which in turn reduces the risk of falls.
  • It reduces the risk of certain types of cancer.
  • Sleep becomes better.
  • Prevents depression, improves overall functioning and boosts self-confidence.
  • A trained heart does more for seniors

X-ray photo of a person with a heart

Jogging, swimming and cycling are optimal sports to train your heart in old age.

Those who regularly engage in endurance sports have bigger and stronger hearts than non-athletes. Instead of about 20 liters, the heart of an endurance athlete can pump up to 35 liters through the body per minute. Oxygen supply is also better in trained persons.

According to the Professional Association of German Internists e.V. (BDI), people over the age of 50 perform best in endurance sports. This includes jogging, swimming, biking, walking and hiking. The German Heart Foundation recommends more intensive, endurance-based exercise four to five times a week for at least half an hour.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also advises people to be active for about 150 minutes a week. This includes exercise in everyday life such as walking, gardening and climbing stairs.

Three sports seniors can use to keep their hearts fit:

Jogging: Jogging is also suitable for older people. As a rule of thumb, you should break a sweat but still be able to converse. Walking is gentler than jogging because the joints are not constantly exposed to shocks. Moreover, walking additionally strengthens the arm muscles. If you’re brisk, walking exercises up to 90 percent of your muscles.

Swimming: Swimming is a good choice for joint problems. Less weight on the joints in the water. Those who like water and enjoy jogging can try aqua jogging. The risk of injury is also low with swimming. Attention: Patients with coronary heart disease should slowly accustom the body to the water at a water temperature below 27 °C. The cold stimulus can cause severe vasoconstriction.

Cycling: Cycling is also easy on the joints. When strength diminishes on inclines, an e-bike is a practical aid. If you like cycling, but prefer to stay at home in bad weather, you can strengthen your heart with an exercise bike (bicycle ergometer). What can additionally motivate: You can watch TV or listen to music while exercising. In addition, road traffic and also the risk of falling are eliminated.

This is what experts recommend for sports in old age:

  • Every week, a total of at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes at a time of intensive sport or exercise. a combination of moderately strenuous and intensive training
  • Adults and older people in particular should additionally do strength training and balance exercises 2 to 3 times/week.

Sports in old age – what must be considered?

In principle, seniors can pursue almost all sports and also practice their favorite sport from the past. Because movement patterns that were learned at a young age can often still be recalled at an older age. If you have been doing regular laps in the park since you were a child, you can still do this now.

However, there are also some sports that, if done incorrectly, can put a lot of strain on the body and joints and often result in injury. Jogging or ball sports with abrupt stop movements and short but strong phases of exertion (for example soccer or handball) are therefore less suitable for untrained seniors. Better then are sports that are easy on the joints and gently strengthen endurance, coordination and strength. It is also important that they are easy to learn, or that they are easy to do. that the return to sport is uncomplicated.

See your doctor before starting your workout

If you suffer from illness, injury or other medical conditions, it may be advisable to first consult your family doctor to find out if there is anything special you need to consider before starting training. Particular caution is required in the case of some heart diseases.

Newcomers to sports should approach this amount of training slowly so as not to overstrain the heart and joints. The most important measure for seniors who want to start exercising is a check-up with a doctor. The Check-up 35, for example, is covered by health insurance every two years starting at age 35.

In addition to the general state of health, the performance of the heart is determined with the help of a stress ECG. Then you can discuss the intensity of training, the frequency of training and the appropriate type of sport to start with.

Important points and basics for sports in old age:

  • No matter which type of sport you choose and which your doctor advises, the important thing is to take it slowly. While your body should be challenged to a certain extent, it should never be overtaxed!
  • Listen to your body, if the sport is too strenuous for you and the load is too high, stop the training. Keep motivated and don’t force yourself to do anything.
  • Do sports only voluntarily and if you also enjoy the exercise.
  • Practice different types of sports to exercise different muscle groups. This strengthens the entire body.

Sports in old age with endurance, strength and mobility

The combination of endurance, strength and mobility make up the ideal sport for seniors. This covers many areas of health. Versatile training can bring about quick results, such as a higher exercise limit, and provide the most powerful training effects. These will also benefit you in everyday life: you will notice that you have more energy and many things will come easier to you, which previously caused you trouble.

Endurance training for seniors

Endurance training helps you have the ability to tolerate effort and let fatigue set in later. In addition, this strengthens your musculoskeletal system, which means prevention of falls for seniors.

Since it takes longer to increase endurance with increasing age, continuous training is worth a lot. To get results, you should do moderate endurance exercise three to five times a week. With motivation, you will succeed in regular training sessions. Make an appointment with like-minded people for long walks or "running groups" – it’s much more fun than doing it alone.

The perfect strength training for seniors

A senior doing dumbbell training

Strength training twice a week helps to stop the decline of muscle mass.

Health strength training is not about building specific muscles for aesthetic reasons. Instead, especially as we age, the health-promoting and preventative aspects of strength training take center stage. Older people can significantly contribute to their health by regular training of muscles. The heart, lungs and circulation work better, elevated blood pressure is reduced and blood lipid levels are also positively affected. In many cases, sporting activity can also curb inflammatory processes, and the risk of osteoporosis can be reduced by applying a certain amount of stress to the bones.

Targeted strength training for seniors keeps the body going and slows the loss of important muscle mass as they age. Fitness training has a positive effect on life expectancy even in old age.

It is enough to train the most important muscle groups with your own body weight or small dumbbells twice a week for about 15-20 minutes. These are in particular the arms and shoulders, the belly, back as well as the thighs. If you want to train your legs, you can also stand next to or behind a chair, hold on to the back and do some effective exercises there.

The best sports for seniors

A senior citizen Nordic walking in the park

Get out into nature: Nordic walking is especially popular with seniors.

Classics among sports for seniors are walking and Nordic walking. Simply put, walking fast in the fresh air gets the whole body moving, improves endurance, and boosts cardiovascular performance. Vibration-free walking is also easy on the joints and is therefore suitable for people with osteoarthritis.

Swimming is also at the forefront of joint protection, because the water provides buoyancy and less weight is placed on the joints. Swimmers don’t feel "weightless" for nothing. Other pluses: Swimming has a very low risk of injury, improves endurance and strengthens the cardiovascular system.

Many clubs and gyms now offer gymnastics classes specifically for older participants. These courses train muscle strength, coordination and endurance in equal measure. The trainers are very familiar with the needs of their course participants and offer exercises for every level of ability. In many fitness studios, the teams are specially trained for seniors and explain in detail how to use the equipment and facilities in a way that is easy on the body.

Those who want to find their moving happiness outside of fixed sports groups can also benefit from increased movement in everyday life or from training at home. Exercising at home has the advantage that seniors are more independent of time and weather. Suggestions for this can be found in numerous guidebooks and information brochures. The doctor or pharmacist will be happy to help.

Where seniors can get exercise?

As you can see, the offer is varied – for sports enthusiasts as well as for beginners. Now it’s just a matter of finding the right facility for regular exercise. Is there a fitness studio near you?? It is best to choose one with a physiotherapeutic approach. Here you can get a training plan for strength and endurance training and for your individual needs.

Does your local swimming pool offer swimming technique or water fitness classes?? Ask and get an explanation of the process. Is there an adult education center in your hometown?? Ask for the current semester schedule and browse for appropriate offerings.

Research nearby sports clubs. These offer several types of sports for a monthly fee, so you can test different ones. Through the clubs, groups of sports enthusiasts usually meet in the fresh air and pursue their hobby together. Maybe you have friends or acquaintances with whom you can meet to train together?

If you want to exercise independently of courses and clubs, consult a general practitioner or sports physician beforehand. Ask to be shown movement patterns and exercises that you can replicate at home. Find a place to do your exercises. Go out into nature and use a bench for stretching exercises or a suitable track for endurance sports.

A straight, quiet path or a slight incline are ideal. If you run on asphalt, you can equip yourself with the appropriate shoes, which cushion your weight very well.

Sports for seniors also at home. With these devices it succeeds:

  • Small hand weights
  • An elastic band
  • An exercise ball
  • Weight cuffs with low weight
  • A good mat or sports mat
  • Balance cushion

How to exercise properly at an older age?

Beginners are advised not to train short and intensive, but longer and with a moderate heart rate. Experienced and trained athletes, on the other hand, who want to increase their performance, should push their pulse up every now and then during intensive training sessions (see maximum pulse above).

Generally, 80 percent of your workout should be in the so-called "aerobic zone". In this form of energy production, oxygen is consumed when burning carbohydrates and fats. The aerobic energy metabolism takes place at low resp. moderate training load instead of. What heart rate this corresponds to varies from person to person.

Here, too, a relatively simple rule can help you find your aerobic zone: If you need four steps to inhale once and four more steps to exhale once while running, you are approximately at the aerobic threshold. If you manage fewer steps per breath, you are most likely already in the anaerobic zone (Source: apotheken-umschau.en).

What is the training pulse?

Take your pulse with your fingers on your wrist

180 minus age = the optimal training pulse for sports in old age

To train in the best possible way and to increase your performance in the long run, it is important to know your optimal training pulse. This varies depending on age, gender and training level. Since you should generally not overexert your heart, make sure that you do not exceed your maximum pulse rate. The maximum pulse rate reflects the highest possible pulse rate, which occurs at maximum load. On average it is at approx. 220 beats per minute minus your age.

For a 30-year-old, the maximum heart rate would therefore be 190. The resting pulse, on the other hand, is on average 60 to 80 beats per minute for healthy adults. The better trained someone is, the lower his resting pulse is. For example, in well-trained endurance athletes, the resting heart rate can even drop to 40 beats per minute.

The reason: Through regular training, the heart gains size and in this way can pump blood through the body with fewer heartbeats.

180 minus age = the optimal training pulse rate

Between resting pulse and maximum pulse is the optimal training pulse. When you exercise and thus strain your heart, it beats more often because it has to carry more oxygen through the body. The training pulse depends on age, training condition and resting pulse and should be measured immediately after the training, because immediately after the interruption the pulse drops again and the result is thus falsified. But where is this optimal training pulse? A well-known rule of thumb says "180 beats minus your age". For a 30 year old this would be a pulse of 150. However, this rule applies more to untrained people, as here it can be ensured that the person in this heart rate range is not physically overstrained or. overexerts.

How to measure the pulse?

There are several ways to measure the pulse. On the one hand, this can be done by means of a pulse watch or manually with the help of the fingers, and on the other hand, you can measure the pulse at different places. In addition to the pulse of the carotid artery (Arteria carotis communis), the wrist pulse (Arteria radialis) is the best choice, as it can be easily felt.

The following is based on the wrist pulse: First, get a watch with a second hand ready, and then place your index, middle, and ring fingers directly below the carpus (the "extension" of your thumb, so to speak) on the inside of your forearm. Palpate the spoke and apply light pressure to the artery with your fingertips. Count 15 seconds or. pulse beats for 30 seconds and multiply the value by four or. with two, so that you finally get the number of pulse beats per minute. You should not measure the pulse with your thumb, because its own pulse can lead to a distorted result. If you have a very irregular pulse, it is recommended from the outset to count the pulse beats for 60 seconds. If the pulse is constantly irregular, you should consult a doctor. Note, however, that the result is only a guide and your own pulse may differ from the guide value.

Conclusion on sport in old age

Sport can be practiced at any age. With low-impact exercise and the right professional guidance, exercise for seniors can effectively support good health. Training endurance, strength and flexibility promotes muscle development, the cardiovascular system and the entire musculoskeletal system.

Decide on a type of sport that you enjoy and that does not overtax you. This is how you keep your motivation for regular exercise, which is the basis for the success of your workouts. Look for like-minded people and drive each other on. Choose a healthier lifestyle now and start exercising for seniors, because it’s never too late to do so!

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