Basic Exercises for Seniors: Fit in 15 Minutes?

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Royal Canadian Air Force Basic Exercises

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Is it possible to get fit with only 15 minutes of basic exercises a day? If so, this is great news for busy seniors who don’t like to spend hours working out in a gym. Basic exercises for seniors in 15 minutes a day may be just what the doctor orders.

The Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Plans are two exercise plans developed for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) by Dr. Bill Orban in the late 1950s, first published in 1961. One is for women, the other for men. The Royal Canadian Air Force basic exercises are time-tested as an efficient way to build strength, endurance, and flexibility. As a side note, it’s what actress Helen Mirren has used off and on her whole life.

In 1956 Bill Orban set out to devise a program which emphasized a high level of fitness, but which would consume only a relatively small amount of the RCAF personnel’s time. The program was intended for RCAF pilots, a third of whom were not considered fit to fly at the time.

Exercise Intensity More Important than Time

While performing research at the University of Illinois in the early 1950s, Orban had noticed, when testing oxygen intake, that long periods of exercise did not necessarily lead to significant improvement. This led him to the conclusion that the intensity of exercise was more important to improving fitness than the amount of time spent on it.

I don’t know about you, but this sounds like what I’m looking for. A way to stay fit without spending more time in a gym! It became very popular at the time, and is credited with the start of a world-wide fitness culture. Today, the trend is for “high-intensity” exercises which is just packaging and marketing of the principal that quality beats quantity when it comes to results.

The plan was innovative in two respects. Firstly, it did not require access to specialized equipment. Many RCAF pilots were in remote bases in northern Canada, with no access to gyms, so it was a means of keeping fit without their use. Secondly, the plan only required that eleven minutes be spent on the exercises per day.

The programs proved popular with civilians. A U.S. edition was published in 1962 under the title Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Plans For Physical Fitness.  The publication was translated into thirteen languages. In total, 23 million copies of the booklets were sold to the public.

Basic Exercises for Seniors

Most of us are already familiar with these movements. We were likely taught them in school gym classes many years ago. They are the basic exercises of most beginning fitness programs.

  1. Toe touching
  2. Knee raises
  3. Lateral bending
  4. Arm circling
  5. Partial sit-ups
  6. Chest and leg raising (lying on stomach)
  7. Side leg raising
  8. Push-ups
  9. Leg lifting
  10. Run and  hop In place

The first four exercises are primarily for flexibility; exercises 5-9 are primarily to improve muscle strength; and exercise 10 is to develop aerobic capacity. Every part of the body is involved, which is what makes it both simple and effective. Each movement has many variations so that you can progress as your muscles adapt and you become stronger. If you want to try the program, I suggest a search on Amazon or YouTube to get instructions.

Celebrity practitioners of the program included the late George Burns, Helen Mirren and the British princes Philip, Charles, William and his wife Kate. The book was republished in 2016.

It reminds me somewhat of the impact of the Jane Fonda aerobics videos in the 70’s.Jane Fonda's Original Workout

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Her programs included many of the basic exercises that can help seniors today. In fact, she’s produced a relatively newer version here: Jane Fonda Prime Time Fit and Strong.

I was a big fan of her fitness programs and I still remember her routine. It’s what started me on a fitness program at age 40 that continues to this day.

So yes, there really are no excuses if you want to keep some of the muscle that disappears with every decade. Get out those oldies and rock your way to fitness with basic exercises for seniors. Forget the spandex and leggings though. Stay healthy!

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