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Fact checked by Andrew Lenau ISSA CPT & Sports NutritionistFACT CHECKED
August 17, 2023
Are you frustrated that your body isn't working as it once did? Do you long for the vitality, overall health, strength, and stability that you had in your 30, 40s, and 50s? Maybe you've been told that exercise is the key to staying healthy and physically active in your senior years. That's great, but unless you know what exercises to do and how to do them, you'll be lost in the wild west that is the fitness industry.
In this article, I'm about to guide you to the best exercises for seniors that can be done both in a commercial gym and in the privacy of your own home to safely and efficiently improve flexibility, strength, and balance. As a personal trainer and gym owner for over three decades, I'll also include some insider senior exercise fitness tips to get the most from your exercise plan.
Here's what we'll cover:
Why Exercise Matters For Seniors.
The Best Exercises For Seniors.
Tips On Exercises For Seniors
Regular physical activity is crucial as people age to prevent the negative effects of aging on the body and mind. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that exercise has a wide range of health benefits for older people, from increased safety and balance to improved functional fitness and physical appearance.
Here are four reasons why exercise for seniors citizens matters:
Keeping their balance and avoiding falls, which can harm independence and health, is one of the most important concerns for seniors.
Research from Harvard Health Publishing shows that exercise and fitness for seniors lowers the risk of falling by enhancing muscle strength and stability, primarily through balance and strength training exercises.¹ According to studies, seniors who regularly engage in fitness programs report a decreased risk of falling, enhancing their safety and confidence in daily activities.²
Exercise can help seniors maintain their independence in daily activities like walking, climbing stairs, and dressing themselves.³ Regular workouts for seniors will benefit cardiovascular health, improve bone density, maintain muscle mass, and promote joint flexibility. As a result, older folks can maintain their independence and lead more rewarding lives without needing continual assistance with daily tasks.
Functional fitness training that mirrors real-life movements and activities is especially important for seniors. Training in functional fitness improves flexibility, balance, and coordination, all essential for carrying out daily duties safely and successfully. With the help of these exercises, senior citizens can keep their independence in daily activities like getting out of a chair, carrying groceries, or reaching for things.
Learn more about functional training in our article: Functional Training 101 - Benefits, Exercises, Equipment.
Exercise can improve the mental and emotional health of seniors.⁴ Working out promotes the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins. These natural mood elevators will reduce feelings of negativity and depression in older adults.
A regular exercise plan has been shown to improve cognitive performance while also reducing age-related cognitive decline.⁵ Memory, focus, and attention are all improved when you adopt an exercise program.
Regular physical activity can enhance posture, build muscle tone, more bone mass and raise total body strength, giving the illusion of being younger and more energetic.
Many of the seniors I've worked with find it quite overwhelming when they decide to start an exercise program. There are so many types of workouts and exercises to choose from that it's hard to know where to start. That's why I've broken down the best exercises for the elderly into sections, each one addressing a key area of fitness:
At home training
Exercise bike training
We lose flexibility, joint mobility, and muscle elasticity as we age. Regular stretching will help you to improve your flexibility, enhance your joint health and reduce the risk of injury. Here are my three favorite stretches for seniors:
Relieves shoulder and neck stress
Increases the neck's range of motion and flexibility
It helps ease neck soreness and headaches
Sit upright in a chair, maintaining a straight back and relaxed shoulders.
Tilt your head slowly to one side, bringing your ear near your shoulder. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds while allowing your side of the neck to stretch gently.
Repeat on the other side.
Do three sets on each side, holding the stretch for 15–30 seconds.
Stretches the quadriceps and hip flexors
It improves hip mobility and relieves hip stiffness
It may ease soreness in the lower back
Sit on the edge of a chair with your back straight and feet flat on the floor.
Slide your left leg back until the knee is bent at 90 degrees. Keep the other foot flat on the floor.
Gently press your hips forward to feel a stretch through the extended hip and thigh.
Hold the stretch for 15 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Do 2-3 sets on each side, holding the stretch for 15–30 seconds.
Increases ankle flexibility
Lowers the incidence of calf injuries
Improves stability and balance
Stand tall, facing a wall, arm's length away from it.
Put both hands at shoulder height on the wall.
Step back with one foot, keeping it straight, and plant the heel firmly.
Lean forwards while bending your front knee slightly. This will cause your back leg's calf to extend.
Hold the stretch for 15 seconds.
Repeat with the other leg.
Perform three sets on each leg, holding the stretch for 15 seconds.
Check out more options with our 13 Simple Stretches For Seniors That Can Be Done Standing Or Seated.
Seniors should do core exercises because they improve posture, stability, and balance, which lowers their risk of injury and falls. The following exercises are the three best core moves for seniors:
Works the lower abs, hip flexors, and lower back
Support better posture and increase core stability
Sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands holding the chair's sides.
Slowly extend your right leg until it is straight out in front of you.
Contract your core as you hold the extended leg position for 10 seconds.
Lower under control and repeat with the other leg
Perform three sets of 10 reps on each leg.
Strengthens the oblique muscles, which are crucial for rotational stability and core strength
Strengthens the lower back and increases spinal mobility
Sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Cross your hands over your chest.
Slowly twist your upper body to the left while maintaining a forward-facing hip and leg position.
Return to the start position, then twist to the left.
Perform three sets of 12 reps (6 reps on each side).
Works the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis
Strengthens the shoulders, arms, and glutes
Start in a plank posture with your forearms on the floor, your elbows just under your shoulders, and your toes flat on the floor. Maintain a straight line from head to heels by engaging your core.
While maintaining steady hips, raise your left knee off the ground and towards the chest.
Kick the knee back to the start position.
Repeat with the other side.
Perform three sets of 10 knee lefts (5 on each leg).
Add greater variety to your core workout for seniors with our 30 Best Bodyweight Core Exercises From Beginner To Advanced.
Stability exercises improve balance and lower the danger of falling, essential for preserving independence and avoiding accidents. Here are the three best balance exercises for seniors:
Increases balance and stability
Works the core muscles, improving balance all-over balance
Strengthens the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings
Stand with your feet together and hands on your hips.
Lift your left foot off the floor, bending the knee slightly. Transfer your weight to the right foot.
Hold this single-leg position for a count of 15 seconds.
Repeat with the other leg.
Perform three sets of 15-second holds on each leg.
Improves ankle and hip stability
Enhances balance and coordination
Stand with your feet together and your arms at your sides.
From the starting position, step forward with one foot, the heel of which should be directly in front of the toes of the other.
Now bring the rear foot through to the front, again placing it directly in front of the toes.
Continue walking straight ahead with each foot's heel and toes in contact.
Perform three sets of 20 steps (10 steps with each foot leading).
Strengthens the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings
Improves balance and proprioception
Place your hands on your lap while sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
Close your eyes and stand out from the chair without holding onto anything.
Maintaining your equilibrium, pause for a moment, then calmly return to your seat.
Perform three sets of 10 repetitions.
Strong stabilizer muscles are vital for balance and stability.
You don't have to join a gym to get a productive workout. Here are three effective strength training exercises using your own body weight you can do right in the comfort of your lounge room:
Builds stronger quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves
Increases functional strength for tasks like getting out of bed or getting up from a chair
Stand with your feet hip-width apart in front of a chair.
Slowly lower your body into the chair.
Pause just before you touch the chair, and then push through your heels to return to standing.
Perform three sets of 10 reps.
Strengthens the chest, shoulders, and triceps without putting too much stress on the joints.
Support optimum arm and postural function.
Stand arm's length away from a wall, facing it with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Place our arms out at shoulder level to touch the wall with palms spread.
Keeping your heels on the floor, bend your elbows to bring your chest toward the wall.
Push through your arms and chest to return to the start position.
Perform three sets of 10 reps.
Low-impact exercise that works the hip flexors, quadriceps, and core muscles
Ideal for senior citizens with reduced movement or balance concerns
It helps to preserve leg strength and mobility
Sit upright in a chair with your hands on your lap. Your feet should be flat on the ground.
Raise your right knee keeping your leg bent.
Lower the right leg and repeat with the opposite leg.
Continue this seated marching action for a total of 40 reps (20 on each leg).
Perform three sets of 40 reps.
Learn more about How To Start Working Out At Home Effectively here.
An exercise bike is an excellent choice for seniors wanting to improve their cardiovascular health and burn calories. Cycling is a low-impact, joint-friendly exercise method that offers a secure and efficient cardio workout that provides heart health, leg strength, and general fitness.
Recumbent bikes are especially well-suited to elderly exercise. The recumbent bikes' back and hips are less stressed due to the reclined, backrest-equipped seating position. Recumbent bikes are perfect for seniors with mobility issues because they are simple to use and provide simple step-through access. Seniors who invest in a recumbent bike can maintain an active and healthy lifestyle and benefit from exercise in the convenience of their own homes.
To read a full list of our top bikes for seniors, read our article the Best Recumbent Bikes For Seniors On The Market.
Based on our exhaustive research and analysis, the best recumbent exercise bike for seniors is Horizon Comfort R, which features a heavy flywheel to ensure a smooth ride, a step-through design for easy access, 16 resistance levels, and ten built-in programs.
Below are some insider tips to get the most out of your exercise routine:
Gradually Increase Intensity: Whether you're a senior whose beginning an exercise program or is getting back into it after a hiatus, you should start slowly and gradually increase intensity. By doing so, injuries are reduced, and the body has time to adjust to the increased demands of aerobic activity.
Focus on Balance and Flexibility: Include activities promoting balance and flexibility to increase stability and decrease the chance of falling. Seniors can benefit from exercises like yoga, tai chi, or heel-toe walking to keep their coordination and mobility.
Use Safe and Appropriate Equipment: Choose safe and user-friendly exercise equipment like stability balls, resistance bands, or dumbbells. Low-impact exercise machines like elliptical trainers or recumbent bikes are best.
Avoid High-Impact Exercises: Such high-impact exercises as running and jumping may put too much stress on your joints. Opt for such low-impact alternatives as rowing, swimming, or using a recumbent bike.
Listen to your body: Modify the activity or get advice from a healthcare provider if you feel pain or discomfort. Give your muscles enough time to rest and recover in between sessions (around 72 hours) to heal and rebuild.
I often get questions from seniors, their families, and other interested parties about the whys, whens, and hows of exercise for the elderly. Here are six of the most common queries:
In general, seniors should avoid high-impact workouts since they impose undue stress on their joints and increase their chance of injury.
Heavy weightlifting, HIIT, contact sports, and activities that entail jumping or quick, jerky movements are a few exercises to stay away from. Seniors should also be cautious while engaging in activities that call for excessive spinal bending or twisting, especially if they already have back problems.
Older folks must exercise regularly to preserve their physical health, flexibility, and balance. Regular exercise for senior citizens promotes independence and a higher quality of life by lowering the risk of chronic diseases, enhancing cardiovascular health, and improving general well-being.
Resistance training exercises that stress your muscle fibers are the best exercises to prevent muscle loss. When combined with a healthy, protein-rich diet, this can lead to renewed muscle growth and strength increases. Resistance exercises may be done with barbells, dumbbells, resistance machines, bands, or your body weight.
The ideal form of exercise for a 65-year-old woman will depend on her personal preferences, level of fitness, and any underlying medical issues. It's crucial to pick activities she enjoys, and that are safe and appropriate for her particular requirements. The following exercise options may be suitable:
Strength Training Exercise
A 65-year-old should aim to achieve 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week or 30 minutes per day. That is the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A 65-year-old should be able to cover 1.5 miles in 30 minutes at a moderate pace.
The most common barrier to exercise for older adults is a lack of motivation. This can be countered by information about the benefits of exercise and providing an enjoyable, accessible workout program.
You've now got an arsenal of a dozen super-effective exercises to get you started on your senior fitness plan.
You can either combine them into a single exercise regimen or perform each as a mini-workout. Plan to do the workout twice weekly, and you will gradually but consistently begin to regain the youthful vigor you thought you'd lost forever.
Take your fitness to the next level with Fitness Tips For Seniors (And Beginners) Who Want To Start Exercising.
Strength and power training for older adults. Harvard Health. (n.d.). https://www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/strength-and-power-training-for-older-adults#:~:text=Studies%20attest%20that%20strength%20training,you%20maintain%20a%20healthy%20weight.
Howe, T. E., Rochester, L., Neil, F., Skelton, D. A., & Ballinger, C. (2011). Exercise for improving balance in older people. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd004963.pub3
Shephard RJ. Exercise and aging: extending independence in older adults. Geriatrics. 1993 May;48(5):61-4. PMID: 8486296.
Sharma A, Madaan V, Petty FD. Exercise for mental health. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;8(2):106. doi: 10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a. PMID: 16862239; PMCID: PMC1470658.
Mandolesi L, Polverino A, Montuori S, Foti F, Ferraioli G, Sorrentino P, Sorrentino G. Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Front Psychol. 2018 Apr 27;9:509. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509. PMID: 29755380; PMCID: PMC5934999.
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