Plenty of people assume that as you get older, you automatically have to pare back your exercise routine and choose only very gentle forms of movement if you exercise at all. However, exercise for seniors is just as important as it is for younger adults.
Therefore, even if you are well past the age of retirement, if you have been active most of your life, you should absolutely keep it up. Furthermore, if you’re a senior who hasn’t been active for years—or even ever—it is never too late to start exercising.
So, what are the best exercises for seniors? Is there a good workout for seniors who are just getting back into physical activity?
In this article, we will discuss the benefits of senior exercises and the best types of exercises for seniors.
Of course, keep in mind that if you are feeling fit, young, and spry and have been working out your whole life, just keep doing what you are doing!
We will cover:
- The Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
- The 10 Best Exercises for Seniors
Let’s dive in!
The Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
Although exercise for seniors can provide all of the same physical and mental health benefits as it does earlier in the lifespan, there are some additional benefits and goals of exercise for seniors.
One of the top priorities for any type of workout for seniors is that the movement should help improve functional ability and independence for everyday activities outside of the gym or exercise setting, and indeed, according to Harvard Medical School, seniors who are active have better independence and quality of life.
In other words, the best workouts for seniors should help strengthen your muscles, improve your balance of flexibility, and increase cardiovascular fitness to help support activities like walking, carrying groceries, getting in and out of a car or bed, placing things up on a high shelf or retrieving them, lifting grandkids, etc.
Essentially, senior exercise should improve quality of life. The good news is that numerous studies suggest that senior exercise really can improve function and quality of life.
For example, research has demonstrated that senior exercise that involves a well-rounded exercise program with strengthening exercises can reduce the risk of falls by 23%.
Furthermore, exercise for seniors can reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
With that said, particularly if you are a beginner or feel like aging has taken a toll on the strength, flexibility, and aerobic conditioning of your body, or if you have balance issues, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, or other challenges, not all types of exercise may be as safe, appropriate, or approachable, at least at first.
In these cases, consult your healthcare provider before beginning some of these exercises.
The 10 Best Exercises for Seniors
Here are some of the best types of exercises for seniors:
Swimming is one of the best types of exercises for seniors because it is non-impact, making it the most joint-friendly type of movement. If you have osteoporosis or osteoarthritis, swimming can be the safest and most comfortable workout for seniors.
Additionally, the buoyancy of the water, and the compression offered by the pressure of water, can further reduce joint pain, back pain, and stress on the body.
The relative weightlessness can help you move your body more easily, especially if your muscles are weak or you carry excess weight.
Swimming also provides a fantastic cardiovascular workout, and the water resistance helps strengthen your muscles. Depending on the stroke you perform, you can get a total-body workout while swimming.
#2: Aqua Aerobics or Aqua Jogging
Whether you do your own aqua jogging or water walking workouts, or you take a pool fitness class like aqua aerobics or “poolates,” any type of water workout for seniors provides a healthy, non-impact to low-impact form of exercise that reduces stress on the joints.
Depending on the intensity of your workout, these types of exercise can improve cardiovascular fitness and endurance and can strengthen your muscles.
Water workouts can also improve balance, flexibility, and mobility because it’s often easier to achieve extended ranges of motion in your joints in the water because of the buoyancy.
Yoga typically doesn’t provide as much in the way of an aerobic workout or a calorie-torching experience, but there are plenty of benefits of yoga for seniors.
Namely, yoga can help build muscle strength and stability, increase the ability to activate the core muscles, and improve balance and flexibility.
These benefits can be especially beneficial for elderly individuals because poor balance, flexibility, and mobility are often cited to be some of the chief physical limitations for those with older bodies.
Deficits in any of these areas can increase the risk of falling, and falls in senior populations can be disastrous, especially if the person has osteoporosis or poor bone density. In fact, according to the National Council of Aging, a senior is admitted to an emergency room for a fall-related injury every 11 seconds, and an older adult dies every 19 minutes from a fall.
There are also mental benefits of yoga for seniors that shouldn’t be overlooked. Aging can be a difficult process, and loneliness, stress and anxiety, and depression are just as prevalent in seniors as they are in younger individuals (if not more so).
Yoga has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety, ameliorate symptoms of depression, and improve overall feelings of well-being, all of which everyone can benefit from, no matter their age.
It may seem simple, but one of the best senior exercises is walking. Walking provides a low-impact aerobic workout that strengthens the heart and lungs, improves balance and coordination, burns calories, and strengthens the legs.
Higher daily step counts have been associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality, and walking workouts for seniors can increase functional strength, fitness, and mobility for activities of daily living.
#5: Stationary Cycling
If you have poor balance, cycling outside can potentially be dangerous, but using an exercise bike eliminates the need to balance and certainly keeps you out of traffic.
As a low-impact activity, cycling is a good senior exercise for those with joint pain, and it will strengthen the lower body and improve cardiovascular health and fitness.
Calisthenics or bodyweight exercises strengthen the muscles and improve cardiovascular health and fitness. Examples include jumping jacks, marching in place, chair squats, wall push-ups, chair dips, and leg lifts.
Depending on your fitness level, doing these types of bodyweight strength and conditioning exercises can be a healthy, safe way to build functional strength and mobility and reduce the risk of injuries.
However, proper form is essential, so if you aren’t sure how to perform any of the exercises, you should work with a certified personal trainer a couple of times to learn the correct technique.
#7: Strength Training
Just because you are older does not mean that you can’t lift weights or engage in strength training.
Strength training has been shown to be a beneficial exercise for seniors, with studies demonstrating that even adults in their 70s and 80s can build muscle mass and combat sarcopenia through resistance training.
If you are fit and have good balance and body strength, you can use regular weights like dumbbells, but many seniors find that using weight-training machines feels more stable and safe.
Pilates is another one of the best types of exercises for seniors because, like yoga, it is a low-impact way to strengthen the body, improve core strength and control, and improve posture and balance.
#9: Tai Chi
Tai chi is a form of mindful movement that can improve balance, stability, and strength. It is low intensity, so it can be a good beginner workout for seniors who have poor cardiovascular fitness.
Moreover, studies have demonstrated that tai chi can reduce blood pressure, improve blood sugar regulation, and decrease symptoms of depression.
Rebounding is a fun, effective, and beginner-friendly workout that involves performing exercises like jogging and jumping on a mini trampoline.
Rebounding has become a particularly popular workout among older adults or those with bone and joint conditions such as osteoporosis or osteoarthritis because when you land on the trampoline, the springs or bungees that tether the mini trampoline surface to the frame attenuate the shock.
This reduces the impact stresses while still helping build bone density.
Since most high-impact activities that build bone density can be stressful on older bones and joints, rebounding can be a great form of exercise for seniors to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Ultimately, the best workout for seniors is the one you enjoy most. Adherence is always the most important determinant of the effectiveness of exercise.
Find a way—or multiple ways—to move your body that feels good and helps you feel healthy, happy, and strong.
If you are looking for a strength training routine tailored for those over 55, take a look at our guide for strength training for seniors here.