Advertisements for workout equipment might feature young fitness buffs, but that doesn't mean home-based workouts should remain the purview of the under-30 crowd. Exercise is key to remaining healthy as you age, although the way you approach it will change with the years.
Creating a safe space to work out in your own home has health benefits, no matter your age. If you're considering downsizing a family home, shifting apartments or moving to a space with support programs, you might also consider whether a home workout space fits in your plan. There are also retirement communities geared toward maintaining an active lifestyle.
Home Gym Equipment: Keep It Simple
Here's the real secret to a home gym: You don't need a lot of stuff.
Joanna Paterson, a certified personal trainer and YMCA Active Older Adult Exercise instructor, says that something as simple as a wooden chair propped against a wall can offer seniors a range of workout options.
A chair can offer stabilization during leg lifts or for modified push-ups–or planks, if you're already in good shape. You want a chair without much padding, near a wall or other support so it won't shift, says the Brooklyn-based owner of the workout business Bodiesynergy.
- A stability ball
- A step without risers
- A set of small hand weights, no heavier than 8 pounds each
- A flexibility band, also known as a resistance band
- A yoga or cushioned mat
“You're looking to continue to add muscle, but not add pressure to joints,” says Paterson, who trains groups of hard-core fitness buffs at a local park daily. They use no gear aside from park benches and playground equipment.
A lot of heavy weight-lifting equipment, she says, can be hard on the joints. They also require a lot of bending over, which can lead to injury in older adults.
Where to Work Out at Home
First, consider the floor. Hardwood can prove slippery and increase injury risk for anyone, at any age. Good athletic shoes help keep feet from slipping. A yoga mat can provide cushioning on a hard floor or better grip for bare feet on carpet.
Next, think of location. Don't despair if your new apartment doesn't have a basement rec room. Or, if you do have a basement, consider moving your home gym elsewhere. Natural light keeps us healthy and perky throughout the day and during workouts, Paterson says.
Finally, consider one of the most important points–safety. Should you fall, how will you call for help? Some seniors already wear medical alert devices. Working out with a cellphone nearby might suffice. Experts also suggest having a workout buddy–someone who knows you are working out and will check on you at a set time to make sure you're OK. This could be a spouse in the other room or a friend down the street.
“We look at prevention of injury,” Paterson says. “It's a huge part of our business, and it should be considered every step of the way.”
Consult Experts: Physical Therapists and Trainers
Physical therapists are a great resource for suggestions for exercise at home, Paterson says. And the truth is, a lot of seniors will end up in physical therapy at some point. A physical therapist may have equipment suggestions, too, and they may know trainers.
Trainers aren't just for the young and fit, either. A good trainer can offer suggestions for workouts at any age. Most importantly, a good trainer will ensure you're exercising properly–good form will reduce your risk of injury. They can also advise you on how to create a workout area that fits your space and fitness level.
There are also a host of video options that can augment your home gym area. Make sure your workout includes stretching, and look for videos that appear professional, are from a certified trainer and focus on safety as well as musculature. If you feel uncomfortable, stop. Part of the benefit of working out at home is never feeling embarrassed in front of other people at a gym.
Taking Home Workouts to the Next Level
If you want to go all out, you could easily sink $20,000 or more into a fitness pool with a motor at one end that creates a current to swim against. You get a workout similar to swimming laps, without needing an Olympic-size pool. At the Endless Pools company, for example, the smallest spa pool option that allows swimming will run $19,900.
For a more reasonable amount, a recumbent bicycle can run under $250 for a basic model. On these bikes, the rider sits lower to the ground with legs stretched forward to pedal, putting less stress on the knees and hips. For a similar price, you could get a basic spin-style exercise bike with a weighted flywheel. Both indoor cycling options offer great cardio workouts without stressing joints.
The only caveat, Paterson warns, is the weight–these machines are heavy. If you live in an apartment, your downstairs neighbors might complain. Or a landlord, fearing damage to the floor.
Of course, there's always walking–it's low-impact and absolutely free.