Staying physically healthy as you age depends on a combination of factors, including genetics, health history, diet and your mental well-being. Whatever the status of those may be for your older loved one, there’s no question exercise will make a big difference in so many positive ways as people age into their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond.
If your loved one keeps moving at whatever pace or intensity their body allows, it will only help keep them flexible, mobile and strong as their body reacts to the natural changes due to the aging process. If you’ve thought about getting a home gym for seniors in your family, here are some things you should know about equipment and training tools.
Why is a home gym a good idea for seniors?
A home gym is an excellent way to encourage your senior to get the minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week of exercise as recommended by the CDC. Exercise can help to keep seniors healthy in many ways, including:
- Prevent bone loss: Women, in particular, are at risk of bone loss and osteoporosis as they age.
- Mitigate arthritis pain: Movement helps to reduce pain due to arthritis.
- Improve mood: A bit of cardio and stretching is a mood booster.
- Keep weight under control: Obesity is a factor in many diseases that affect older adults.
- Staying independent: A strong body will keep older adults from growing dependent on others to take care of daily tasks.
Joy Fletcher, a co-founder of Agile 4 Life Fitness and a certified personal trainer, told SeniorsMatter, “The most important thing for seniors to work on is improving core strength for balance and getting stronger leg muscles. This will help to reduce the risk of falls or serious injury if they should fall. As we get older, we tend not to [be able to] lift as heavy, so the mechanism to keep or build strength becomes more about opposing resistance or stabilizing the core as you move.”
Fletcher adds, “The most important piece of equipment for a senior’s home gym is their own body! People have to remember that their body parts weigh something. An arm weighs about 7-14 pounds, a leg about 17-30 pounds, a head weighs 10-12 pounds.”
What equipment should a home gym for seniors include?
You can go as high or as low as your budget allows when building a home gym for your older loved one. For those who are new to exercise, it would be a good idea to spend some of your budget on a personal trainer to come in once a week for six to eight weeks to make sure they’re comfortable with the equipment and know all of the safety rules for using it.
A sturdy chair
The most important thing you will need for a senior who isn’t mobile or able to walk more than a few feet on their own is a good, sturdy chair with armrests. Chair exercises will be an effective way to get less agile seniors the exercise they need.
Elastic resistance bands
Resistance bands are possibly the most versatile and valuable tool in a home gym, particularly for those just starting a fitness program. They can be used by your loved one for stability while doing standing exercises or to create resistance for building muscles on many parts of the body. Resistance bands are commonly used during rehab, so many older adults may be familiar with them. They come with a range of tensions for more or less resistance.
For more advanced exercisers, resistance bands with grips hook to doors to create more resistance that builds core strength and gives just about every part of the body a workout at the same time.
Throwing a ball back and forth is a good way to work on hand-eye coordination and reflex reactions. It can be fun for two people to do together, or if it’s a solo exerciser, he or she can throw the ball against a wall or door.
You can use a larger stability ball as a bench to help work on your core strength while doing other exercises.
Other small pieces of equipment to include in your senior’s gym
- Adjustable hand weights
- Ankle weights
- Yoga mat
- A TV screen or computer monitor for online exercise videos
- Towels to roll up for neck and leg support
What large pieces of equipment does my senior need?
You can include these two items for larger home gyms, especially for older adults who are committed to a regular cardio fitness routine and live in cold climates. You can program the machines for older adults in great shape or seniors just starting their fitness journey.
A recumbent bike works well for seniors because it’s a low-impact exercise focusing on the legs. Seniors need strong muscles to keep from falling and stay mobile. Recumbent bikes are especially good for people with arthritis, which affects 49% of those 65 and older.
Walking is the universally recommended exercise for every age, strength and physical fitness level. A folding treadmill, which can be stored away when not in use, is an excellent option if you want a piece of equipment for your older adult’s home gym. Or you can opt for a treadmill with a built-in video player for taking classes or guided workouts if your budget allows.
Before buying any equipment, make sure to check with your older adult’s physician to confirm they’re safe to start exercising. Talk with their senior about what they enjoy doing or have enjoyed doing in the past. For example, if they love to dance, find a Zumba class they can do at home. If walking is a favorite activity, a treadmill will be a good investment. Or, if they were fans of weightlifting, resistance bands are the best choice. Whatever they do, they should do it consistently to build their muscles, stamina and, ultimately, their self-confidence and independence.