Senior Health

3/1/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

No matter your age, staying active is essential for health; but the best exercises for older adults are different than for younger counterparts. These four types of exercise can help seniors boost energy, prevent falls, and keep heart, lungs, and brains healthy.

How many times have you said that you were just too exhausted to exercise? Well, that tired old excuse won’t hold water anymore. According to the National Institute on Aging, regular exercise promotes the release of endorphins, which will actually amp up your energy level! On top of boosting your energy, exercise can also help you prevent falls, improve your cognitive abilities (studies show it can reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease), and even help you remain independent.

The CDC recommends that all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week (or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise). Finding a balance of exercises that work for you can make this a pleasurable “chore.”

The exercises that kept you fit in your youth may not be the best for you as you age. Needs change, abilities change, and limitations change. We’ve compiled the best exercises for seniors, activities that will help you improve your endurance and aerobic fitness (essential for a healthy heart and lungs), increase your flexibility and balance, and build your strength.

The Best Exercises for Older Adults:

Endurance: Walking or cycling

“Walking is one of the best forms of cardio for older adults and can be modified to match the pace, distance, or time that feels right for the individual,” writes Rachel Tavel. D.P.T. in Forbes Health.

While the popular opinion is that 10,000 steps a day should be your goal, a 2019 study by Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that women in their 70s who walked even 4,400 steps decreased their risk of premature death by approximately 40 percent.

Walking is beneficial for improving cardiovascular health as well as strengthening muscles and bones. Even if you are walking with the aid of a cane or a walker, you can get some steps in around your house or neighborhood or any large indoor space like the mall.

If your health demands a no-impact activity, try cycling, either outdoors or on a stationary bike, which can give your heart and lungs a great workout.

Flexibility and Balance: Yoga and Pilates

Yoga isn’t just for young, bendy people. In fact, a yoga practice can help seniors improve flexibility, while also building muscle strength, core stability, balance, and mindfulness – among many other benefits. And because yoga is weight-bearing, this form of exercise will also help strengthen bones.

Yoga practices are low impact; however, if you prefer to make your practice no-impact, Chair Yoga classes are one of the best exercises for older adults. Sitting while participating takes the impact off your joints while increasing stability.

Pilates is a low-impact exercises, similar to yoga. It can help you develop strength in your core and improve your balance and posture, according to WebMD.

Strength: Body weight and resistance band training

At some point in your 30s, you (and everyone else) start to lose muscle mass. The good news is that you don’t have to lift heavy bar bells or even free weights to strengthen those shrinking muscles, says Dr. Victoria Shin, a cardiologist at Torrance Memorial Medical Center on Silver Body weight training, using your own body weight as the opposing force, can help offset this atrophy.

Easy but effective options include chair squats, single-leg stands, wall pushups, lunges, etc.

Resistance bands (those stretchy bands that you’ve probably used if you’ve had physical therapy) can also help strengthen your core – i.e., the muscles that attach to the pelvis and spine – which helps improve posture, mobility, and balance.

All of the above: Swimming and water aerobics for seniors

Swimming is the perfect no-impact way to improve cardiovascular, heart and lung health while also building muscle, due to the water’s natural resistance, according to Shin. If you’re not a swimmer, try a water aerobics class, which can provide all the benefits of swimming – but in the shallow end of the pool – while also allowing you to work on your balance.

Just as the above exercises are a good fit for older adults, there are others that could cause harm, especially if you haven’t already been doing them. You may want to avoid the following:

  • Weight-training exercises such as squats with dumbbells or weights, the bench press or leg press, deadlift, and power clean
  • Abdominal crunches
  • Stair climbs
  • Upright row

NOTE: Get approval from your physician starting any new exercise program.

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones