Exercise for Seniors

Exercising can be critical to maintaining your health when you are older. Regular physical activity can prevent a number of diseases, keep you in shape both physically and mentally and extend your lifespan. Older adults should avoid strenuous or intense exercises that may cause injury, but even moderate exercise — like taking regular brisk walks — can make an impact for seniors.

Christian Simmons, writer and researcher for RetireGuide
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APA Simmons, C. (2022, June 22). Exercise for Seniors. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-life-leisure/healthy-aging/exercise-for-seniors/

MLA Simmons, Christian. "Exercise for Seniors." RetireGuide.com, 22 Jun 2022, https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-life-leisure/healthy-aging/exercise-for-seniors/.

Chicago Simmons, Christian. "Exercise for Seniors." RetireGuide.com. Last modified June 22, 2022. https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-life-leisure/healthy-aging/exercise-for-seniors/.

How Can Exercise Improve Your Health?

Exercising regularly provides many health benefits during retirement life. Making time for physical activity is a good habit to get into at any point in life, but it can be especially beneficial to older adults by keeping them active and mobile late into life.

But the benefits of exercise go far beyond just mobility. According to the the National Library of Medicine, regular exercise can do everything from keeping your bones strong to lowering your risk of heart disease and managing your blood sugar. It can even lower your risk of cancer and other serious illnesses, helping to promote healthy aging.

Exercising can go beyond physical benefits as well. Staying physically active can have a tremendous impact on your mental health and overall happiness.

Key Benefits of Exercising For Seniors
  • Prevents disease
  • Helps control weight
  • Keeps your mind sharp
  • Reduces risk of falls

Simply put, exercising can help your body to age better across the board. On the flip side, not getting physical activity can be dangerous for seniors. People who are overweight or inactive are, for example, at a higher risk for several serious health conditions.

Even your mental state and level of awareness can decline if you are not getting regular physical activity.

How Often Should You Exercise?

Seniors can benefit from exercising as often as every day in retirement. This doesn’t mean that you have to be undergoing an intense and prolonged workout every single day. In fact, overexercising can be just as potentially unhealthy as not exercising at all. Your doctor can help you ‌safely tailor your exercise routine to your health needs.

Getting even some moderate physical activity each day can make a major difference for your overall health. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as little as 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity can help you ‌maintain your current weight and keep you healthy. That averages out to just 30 minutes a day, Monday through Friday.

If you need to lose weight, then you will need to exercise more, potentially incorporating more strenuous workouts. You may also benefit from changing your diet, from the ‌food you eat to how much you eat in a day.

It’s important to remember that everyone’s metabolism is different, and people’s bodies react to exercise in different ways. The right amount of physical activity for one person may not make sense for another.

If you’re brand new to exercise, ‌start with some moderate workouts — even as basic as taking a walk — and work your way up to your comfort level.

Exercise keeps you physically active, mentally sharp, and helps prevent serious diseases.

Which Exercises Are Best for Seniors?

Some forms of exercise are more suitable for seniors than others. Exercises that involve highly strenuous activity or heavy weights, for instance, pose injury risk for older adults.

It’s important to remember that even the healthiest seniors probably don’t have the same physical strength or endurance as their younger counterparts.

According to the National Council on Aging, yoga is one form of exercise that can be beneficial for seniors to try out. Yoga can improve your strength and work out your muscles without putting unnecessary strain on your joints or overworking your body.

Some traditional, low-impact exercises can benefit seniors as well. Activities like cycling and walking are smart choices for seniors looking for low-impact options. Workouts involving chair exercises can also be good options for less mobile individuals.

These workouts can help you burn calories, stay in shape and challenge your body, but you control the pace and they don’t strain the parts of your body that are most prone to injury as you age. Simpy going for a brisk walk each day can be beneficial to your overall health.

Another type of physical activity seniors can incorporate are balance exercises. This type of low-impact training is usually simple to perform and is designed to help you maintain your balance as you age. Keeping your balance can help you stay active longer and help prevent falls; even just one balance exercise session a week can have a noticeable impact.

Which Exercises Should Seniors Avoid?

Exercises that you enjoyed doing when you were younger or often hear about may not make sense for you as you age. In fact, there are some common activities that can be outright dangerous for seniors to try.

According to SilverSneakers, one of the most dangerous workouts for seniors is the leg press. It may be a common exercise, but the impact it has on your lower back can create serious injury and can even lead to permanent spinal damage.

Dangerous Exercises for Seniors
  • Crunch
  • Leg press
  • Running
  • Weightlifting
  • Rowing

SilverSneakers also highlights deadlifting — along with several other press exercises — as particularly troublesome for seniors. It’s wise to avoid activities that put significant strain on your body or involve lifting heavy weights, including activities like deadlifts, which invite disc injury.

Running also has the potential to cause long-term injury for seniors. Not only does running increase your fall risk, it’s often simply too much strain on your body to do safely.

Always be mindful of your physical state and mobility level when identifying exercises that might be suited for you. Being aware of your own limitations can help prevent overexertion and injury.

Should You Join an Exercise Program?

Joining an exercise program makes sense for many seniors, especially those who enjoy working out in group settings and appreciate spending time with and getting motivation from others.

Many gyms offer exercise classes, and you can check with your local gyms to see if they offer any senior-oriented programs or groups. When choosing a fitness group, ‌focus on finding one that you will be comfortable with and can safely take part in.

SilverSneakers also offers both virtual and in-person fitness classes and programs across the United States.

According to NBC News, working out in a group setting can help push you farther and encourage you to work harder. Group workouts and exercise programs can also help encourage you not to give up on exercise.

Exercising with a group and having set workouts on your calendar can motivate you and help you form a healthy routine — you’ll be much more likely to get the exercise you need and stay in shape with an established workout routine.

Which Safety Precautions Should You Take When Exercising?

Taking safety precautions is an important part of exercising, especially as you age.

One essential safety precaution is to always warm up before exercise. It sounds simple, but stretching can prevent a lot of potential strains and injuries. Even before a low-impact walk, taking a few minutes to stretch your limbs and ease into your workout is important.

Safety Precautions for Exercise
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water
  • Wear the right clothes and shoes
  • Gradually ease into and out of workouts
  • Know your limits and don’t overexert yourself
  • Be aware that constant or intense muscle pain after a workout is not normal

Always make an effort to exercise safely — preventing avoidable injury is critically important for seniors.

How Do You Build an Exercise Plan?

According to the National Institute on Aging, setting fitness goals or marks that you want to reach can be helpful when building a workout plan. Instead of just assigning how much time you will devote to exercise, you can essentially build backward by identifying a target weight or health goal and then determining how much exercise you’ll need to hit that goal.

There are plenty of aids available that can help you build and maintain a workout plan. Health and exercise apps are often available on smartphones. Devices like Fitbits and Apple Watches can also help you ‌develop and execute a workout plan.

If you are new to working out, experts advise starting with a light exercise plan and working your way up over time to a more strenuous routine.

Even if you have worked out in the past, it may still make sense to start on the lighter side. Consider how your body has changed as you’ve aged, and remember that the workout routines you could pull off even 10 years ago may be unsafe now. Going right into an intense exercise plan not only leads to safety concerns, but can also make you less likely to stick with your plan.

Building an exercise plan can help you ease into a routine and increase your chances of maintaining physical activity. It can also help ensure that you’re getting the right amount of physical activity for your body and not overdoing — or underdoing — it.

Last Modified: June 22, 2022

8 Cited Research Articles

  1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022, April 27). Benefits of Physical Activity. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm
  2. National Council on Aging. (2021, August 30). The Life-Changing Benefits of Exercise After 60. Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/article/the-life-changing-benefits-of-exercise-after-60
  3. Tavel, R. (2021, August 2). A Guide To The Best Exercises For Seniors. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/health/healthy-aging/best-exercises-for-seniors/
  4. National Institute on Aging. (2020, April 3). How Older Adults Can Get Started with Exercise. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-older-adults-can-get-started-exercise
  5. Steinhilber, B. (2017, September 15). The health benefits of working out with a crowd. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-you-should-work-out-crowd-ncna798936
  6. National Library of Medicine. (2017, August 30). Benefits of Exercise. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/benefitsofexercise.html
  7. Schuler, L. (2017, February 28). The 7 Worst Exercises for Older Adults. Retrieved from https://www.silversneakers.com/blog/worst-senior-exercises/
  8. Harvard Medical School. (2010, May 4). 10 tips for exercising safely. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/10-tips-for-exercising-safely