Exercising with Chronic Conditions for Senior Citizens

Fitness, flexibility, and strength naturally decline with age. To stay strong, fit, and agile, you need to fine-tune your body, and that requires regular exercise and strength training. At the same time, what happens if you have a chronic condition that makes it difficult to visit the gym, lift dumbbells, and perform even the most basic exercises?

Should you give up entirely? Of course not. You can still exercise and it’s essential that you do. You just have to make a few changes and take things easy.

How Common are Chronic Conditions?

More than 80% of US adults have at least one chronic condition and 68% have two or more. That may sound like a disproportionately high number, but it’s worth noting that this term covers everything from high blood pressure and high cholesterol to arthritis and diabetes, which become increasingly common as we age.

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

Official recommendations, structured with consideration to overall health and wellbeing, include one of two of the following things:

  • At least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise a week
  • At least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise

They also note that if this activity is increased to at least 5 hours of moderate weekly exercise the benefits increase substantially. In addition, experts recommend that you perform strength training at least twice per week, covering between 8 and 10 sets of exercise each time.

What are the Benefits?

Exercise is closely associated with weight loss and muscle building, but while these are certainly two genuine benefits, it goes much deeper than that. Even if your weight is well within the “normal” range and you have no intention of growing muscle, you still need to exercise.

Aerobic exercise improves your cardiovascular health, greatly reducing your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Research also suggests that the risk of dementia is lower in people who perform regular aerobic exercise.

Strengthening exercises force the muscles to work, keeping them active and allowing them to grow. Research suggests resistance training can reduce the risk of injury in older individuals. It strengthens the core, making falls and trips less likely to cause harm and ensuring the body is better equipped to deal with such an incident and to heal effectively afterward.

The compounds released during exercise also exhibit an anti-inflammatory response, which may help to reduce the risk of many chronic conditions.

How to Exercise with a Chronic Condition

There is always something you can do to get your heart pumping and your muscles working. Take a look at the following steps:

Speak with Your Doctor

As tempting as it is to just hit the gym, hire a personal trainer, and let them guide you, that’s not the best way to get started. 

Your personal trainer probably knows the ins-and-outs of fitness and muscle growth; they can show you how to work all the machines and even recommend the best exercise regime and diet plan. What they don’t know is how all of these things interact with your condition and whether or not it’s even safe for you to perform certain exercises.

As a result, your first step is to speak with a healthcare professional. If your condition is so bad that you can’t perform any exercises safely, they will tell you, but it’s unlikely. 

Physicians will encourage you to exercise, as they understand just how beneficial it can be. They’ll tell you what’s safe based on your condition and your medication and can also provide recommendations concerning when you should exercise and for how long.

Start Somewhere

“Moderate exercise” is anything that gets your heart pumping fast and leaves you slightly tired afterward. For the average person, it can include a slow-paced spinning session, some light dancing, or even a brisk walk.

The idea of doing that for 2.5 hours a week may seem daunting if you’re suffering from a chronic condition and are stationary for most of the day, but you don’t have to force yourself to meet that target straightaway.

Build up to it, start slow, do something that you feel comfortable with, and, over time, you’ll reach a point where you can comfortably perform 2.5 hours of moderate exercise a week without feeling drained.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Always fuel yourself for your workouts. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, make sure you consume a balanced diet, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

These days, many strength and fitness athletes choose to exercise on an empty stomach, believing it can boost weight loss. However, the jury is still out on this and as an older adult with a chronic condition it’s not recommended. Your body needs energy to help you through the workout, so always eat beforehand and allow at least an hour for the food to settle.

Be Careful with Your Medication

Some medications can make you drowsy and lightheaded and they may increase your risk of fainting and suffering a serious issue.

This is something you can discuss with your doctor, and generally, they may advise you to take certain medications later in the day and always after your workout. If you take strong painkillers or sedatives, for instance, you’ll want to avoid taking them before or during your workout and leave them for much later in the day.

Can Exercise Help with Chronic Conditions?

The most common chronic condition in the United States is hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Physical activity can make this condition worse, but if it is controlled and performed under guidance from your physician it could help you in the long-term.

Depression and anxiety are other common chronic conditions that can be remedied with regular exercises and, in these cases, assuming you’re not taking any medications, they won’t impact your ability to exercise. Your body releases endorphins when you exercise and these “feel good” chemicals can boost your mood. 

Those experiencing high cholesterol, similar to high blood pressure, can benefit from regular exercise. As always, though, it’s important to be careful and consult with a medical professional first.