Doing squats in the garden and scooping up grandbabies can be fun ways for Delaware’s 50-plus set to stay active, but if you really want to get in shape, start by finding the right routine for your lifestyle—whether that means hitting the gym, a yoga studio or the trails.
Strong bones are crucial for an active life. One of the best ways to strengthen them and prevent common debilitating conditions like osteopenia and osteoporosis is by practicing yoga, says Maria Di Camillo, yoga director at Hockessin Athletic Club. “Mindful movements and deep, rhythmic breathing bring about a muscle lengthening and overall body awareness that can help to improve balance, flexibility and range of motion,” she says. A certified instructor registered with the Yoga Alliance, Di Camillo suggests that seniors with agility issues try restorative yoga that consists of mindfulness exercises and movements that happen at a more comfortable pace. At HAC, you’ll even find one focused specifically on building strong bones.
Whether it’s laps or pool aerobics, exercising in the water can provide benefits at any stage of life, says Stephanie Kegelman, aquatics director at the Siegel JCC in Wilmington. “In the pool, the body is weightless, making it easy to move around without putting stress on joints,” she says. “At the same time, it provides strength-building resistance and a good cardio workout without the need for heavy weights.” The intensity of the workout—from an easy swim to underwater cardio jogging—can be adjusted to meet the needs of each individual. For those suffering from arthritis or other painful joint conditions, there’s a class for that. “The pool is a peaceful place perfect for clearing the mind,” Kegelman says.
There are many styles of tai chi, but there’s one that’s especially beneficial for seniors, says Jessica Lewis, lifestyle coach and owner of Claymont’s Sculpt Your Life: T’ai Chi Chich. It’s gentler, easier to learn and can even be done from a chair. “Instead of the 108 movements in most practices,” she explains, “this has only 20 movements.” The purpose of the movements is to activate, circulate and balance the body’s chi, or essential energy. Some studies have linked tai chi to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, because it affects the amygdala, the emotion center of the brain. Individuals who practice 20 to 40 minutes per day have also reported relief from arthritic pain, reduced blood pressure and better balance.
Whether you’re a whiz at the waltz, a champion at cha-cha or your forte is the fox-trot, dancing has a three-pronged effect on health: physical, mental and social, says Peter Ennis, owner of Take the Lead Dance Studio in Hockessin, who’s been instructing dance for nearly four decades. “Physically, if you look at people dancing, their shoulders are rolled back and head is held high, which improves posture and increases lung capacity, bringing more oxygen to the blood,” he says. “Mental acuity is also exercised as they repeat the steps of each dance, committing them to memory, and gracefully maneuver themselves and their partners around the traffic on the dance floor.” Socially, there is no distinction between 25- and 85-year-olds, making dancing something that brings generations together in a fun setting. Laughing at one’s own inevitable missteps can also trigger the body to release feel-good endorphins that truly are the best medicine.
Just as important as getting players up and moving, tennis provides a break from daily routines and offers a chance to socialize, both of which contribute to overall health and well-being, says Bobby Hush, owner of Bethany Club Tennis in Bethany Beach. “It also helps improve hand-eye coordination and keeps the mind sharp.” But not all surfaces are created equal, and softer is safer than concrete. “A Har-Tru court is like playing on grass, making it easier on the feet and knees than harder surface courts,” explains Hush, who’s been teaching tennis for more than 50 years. Stepping into the proper footwear is also key to comfort and performance, he adds, especially for the older set. Instead of cross-trainers or any other shoe with a textured sole, opt for flat-soled shoes, which provide the maximum point of contact and most stable surface.
Requiring no membership or equipment, walking is one of the easiest exercises for everyone. A brisk stroll helps build muscles, gets the blood and adrenaline pumping, improves balance and stamina, and enhances sense of well-being overall, says Brenda Cappock, executive director of the Milford Senior Center in Milford. “I recommend walking for at least a half hour, as many times a week as possible, to enjoy the benefits of the exercise,” Cappock says. “For a more intensive workout, try carrying weights.” A walk can also be a great way to clear the mind or socialize with a group of friends.
If you’re an avid mountain biker, hitting your favorite trails is a great way to stay alert, happy and in shape. But if biking is a new hobby and you’re older, stick to smooth terrain, says Catherine Scherer, owner of Catalyst Fitness in Hockessin. “It’s just safer and more comfortable,” she says. Putting mettle to the pedal is easier on joints than most forms of exercise and it increases muscle strength and tone in the legs, burns calories, helps with weight management, and is good for heart and respiratory health. “On an intensity scale from 1 to 10, on which no exercise is a 1 and strenuous exercise is a 10, elder bikers should aim for an intensity of about 7 or 8 on their rides for 30 minutes at a time,” she says. “And for safety’s sake, always wear a helmet.”