Never Slowing Down: Compression Stockings, Braces & Other Essentials for Active Seniors
Many young people envision their golden years as endless days of sitting around—but your retirement doesn’t have to look like that unless you want it to. In fact, staying active as a senior won’t just help you pass the time, it will also keep your body strong and your brain sharp as you age. In this guide, we cover the benefits of staying active for seniors and explain the gear that older adults need. Then, we conclude by summarizing our favorite activities for seniors.
Benefits of Staying Active
Exercise is good for your physical, mental and emotional health at all stages of life, including your golden years. Here are the five benefits of staying active that all seniors should know:
Exercise improves strength and mobility.
The most obvious benefit of exercise is improving your physical health. Strength
training builds muscles and strengthens your bones and aerobic exercise works your heart and lungs, helping to fight off the natural deterioration of aging. Meanwhile, exercises like yoga and tai chi improve balance and flexibility, decreasing your risk of falls. Combined, these effects will help you stay healthier and more mobile for longer. While you’ll get the most physical benefits the earlier you start working out, it’s never too late to begin exercising, even if you’re already retired.
Exercise boosts your mood.
Exercise isn’t just good for your body, it’s also good for your brain. Working out causes your body to release neurochemicals called endorphins in the brain's hypothalamus and pituitary gland. These endorphins lead to feelings of well-being and decrease stress and perceptions of pain. (It’s called a runner’s “high” for a reason!) Endorphins are also released by other satisfying activities, including eating and drinking. If you’re exercising around others, such as taking a workout class, this social activity can also increase the production of endorphins, further contributing to your good mood.
Exercise can be social.
Some people use exercise as “me” time to recharge alone, which is totally valid. But many seniors suffer from feelings of loneliness and isolation, and exercise offers an opportunity to meet new people and see old friends. Classes are an excellent way to meet others, whether it’s water aerobics, Zumba or weight lifting for seniors. If you prefer less-structured workouts, invite a friend out for a walk or a bike ride. Having someone else to chat with will make the time fly by and give you a gauge to make sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard (you should be slightly winded, but still able to speak clearly).
Exercise increases mental acuity.
Beyond boosting your mood, exercise helps your brain in another way–notably slowing cognitive decline and staving off dementia. Cardiovascular fitness encourages blood flow to the brain as well as other parts of the body, reducing the risk of damage and deterioration. It also stimulates the production of growth hormones, which may further contribute to brain performance. While the exact mechanism of this effect is unknown, continuing research into Alzheimer’s and other age-related cognitive conditions should soon reveal the exact link between exercise and maintaining your brain power.
Exercise aids the healing process.
Your blood carries oxygen and nutrients to all parts of your body. Exercise (especially aerobic exercise) increases the rate of your circulation, meaning that your blood is a) getting reoxygenated with nutrients more frequently and b) delivering those nutrients to your body more quickly and more often. As a result, exercise can speed healing times for injuries and illnesses, though your doctor may instruct you to rest during the recovery period so you don’t exacerbate any symptoms.
Essentials for Active Seniors
Leading a healthy, active lifestyle at any age requires the right gear. Here’s what all active seniors should definitely keep in their closets:
You’ve only got one pair of feet, so you should take good care of them. Orthopedic shoes provide cushy soles and sturdy uppers to give your feet the support and comfort they need as you stay active. For seniors who struggle with arthritis or other conditions that limit their mobility, Velcro tennis shoes are easy to get on and off, making it more convenient than ever to get moving. Diabetic shoes are also a great option for seniors who need the proper footwear to better manage side effects of the disease. If you have corns, bunions or any other foot problems that require custom orthotics, many orthopedic shoes offer removable soles that allow you to swap out the original ones for your own customized inserts.
As you age, your circulation slows down (this is one of the reasons why seniors often complain of feeling cold all the time). Exercise will actually help with that, since physical exertion gets your heart pumping. However, some seniors like to further improve their circulation by wearing compression stockings. These specially woven medical garments provide just the right amount of pressure to keep your blood and other fluids flowing along. As an added bonus, compression stockings can also help prevent and manage swelling in addition to boosting circulation.
Even young, fit athletes in their physical prime wear supports and braces on problematic joints. If one particular area of your body is especially prone to injury—say, you have bad knees or your ankles tend to turn—then a brace can help you prevent injury or recover from one if it’s too late for prevention. Braces restrict excess movement, making sure that you don’t over-stretch ligaments or wrench your joints out of position. Supports and braces are available for many different body parts, including ankles, knees, wrists, elbows and the back. (If you just need the light support, the aforementioned compression stockings might be enough to do the trick.)
If you’re struggling with an arthritic flare-up, an arthritis brace might help soothe your problem areas enough to enable a workout. In addition to offering support, arthritis braces help warm up your joints, dispelling stiffness and increasing your range of motion. Just make sure that your stiffness is actually from arthritis and not post-workout soreness. You’ll want to apply cold therapy to that kind of swelling instead.
People suffering from diabetes need to take special care of their extremities, especially their feet, due to the likelihood of developing a condition called neuropathy. In neuropathy, nerves get damaged and reduce your ability to feel discomfort and pain, which in turn can lead to injuries and infection getting worse. Diabetic socks wick away sweat during a workout, keeping your feet healthy and cool. Some diabetic socks also feature added compression, allowing for better blood flow and reducing the risks of clots.
The clothes you wear will differ depending on what activity you’re doing. As a general rule, you should seek out loose clothing that will give you plenty of room to move around unimpeded—but not so loose that it poses a tripping hazard. Look for materials that will wick away sweat while staying comfortable to the touch. For example, while cotton seems soft, it soaks up moisture quickly and dries slowly, so many people prefer a fabric blend instead. Wear good-fitting socks that won’t chafe and cause blisters, and if your hands tend to sweat, workout gloves can help you keep a good grip on objects.
Your eyes naturally deteriorate as you age, and many seniors have to wear glasses for most of their activities. If you need glasses for working out (not just reading) and you don’t wear contacts, it might be worth it to invest in a pair of sports glasses. These glasses are specifically designed for physical activity and made of rugged materials and shatter-resistant lenses that can stand up to a workout. The frames are also designed to stay put on your face, so they won’t move around during your activities.
Ways to Stay Active
So how can seniors stay active as they age? Here are some of our favorite activities for seniors, from biking to volunteering:
Walking and Running
If you’ve never been particularly active before, it can be intimidating to get started. Thankfully, not only is walking super easy to do, but it’s also really good for your body (not to mention low impact on your joints). Power walking or adding in intervals of jogging will help get your heart rate up without putting you over the edge. If you’re already a seasoned runner, you don’t have to automatically stop when you enter your golden years, but do talk with your doctor about taking good care of your joints as you continue to rack up the miles.
Whether it’s a quick jaunt around the neighborhood or a long ride on the trail, biking is a low impact way for seniors to stay active and get outside. Always wear a helmet and other protective gear in case of a fall, and follow good bike etiquette. If your balance isn’t quite good enough for riding a freestanding bike outside, you can also try indoor cycling on a stationary bike.
Yoga and Stretching
Improving your flexibility and balance is key to preventing falls as you age. Beginners’ yoga classes are an excellent opportunity to develop these skills, and gyms or senior residences may offer yoga classes specifically tailored to older adults. If you’re not up for full-on yoga, stretching will help work out your muscle soreness and improve your flexibility as well.
Playing Yard Games
You can have a lot of fun in your very own backyard with a classic yard game. There are dozens of options to choose from, including horseshoes, bocce ball, lawn bowling and throwing the frisbee. Summer weather is the perfect time to get outside and take advantage of the mild evenings. Just be sure to pack things up as the light begins to fail, since darkness increases the risk of tripping and falling.
Not every idea for staying active falls into the exercise category. While it’s not technically a workout, gardening will get you moving out and about in the great outdoors. You’ll enjoy looking at the resulting beautiful plants and (depending on what you planted) eating the fruits and vegetables of your labor as well. If you don’t have a yard where you can plant, a window box or potted plant will still give you something to care for and add a bit of green to your living space.
Being active and helping others is a win-win situation. There are numerous volunteer options available to seniors, depending on their time and mobility: collecting and distributing food; tutoring, teaching, and/or mentoring; fundraising money for charities; building homes; cleaning up parks; and more. Even though you’re retired, you might also be able to put your professional skills to work doing pro bono projects for nonprofits, raising awareness, offering legal counsel, streamlining operations and more.
Taking Care of Pets
Not all seniors are capable of (or want to) take care of a pet, but for those who have the resources, owning a dog or similar pet can help them stay active. Dogs, in particular, need to be walked several times a day and they also provide companionship and accountability. Animals such as cats don’t really need to be walked and thus don’t encourage as much activity, but they will keep you company.
You don’t have to slow down just because you’re aging, so put on your orthopedic shoes and get moving. Staying active as a senior is good for your physical, mental and emotional health. Follow the strategies in this guide to make the most of your golden years.