Senior Fitness: It’s Never Too Late to Get in Shape


One of the most important things you can do for your health and to maintain your independence is to get regular exercise—and it’s never too late to start.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that those over 65 get 150 minutes a week (or more) of moderate-intensity exercise, such as walking. Plus, you want to add two sessions of strength training each week, as well as balance exercises to help you prevent falls.

How Exercise Benefits Your Health as You Age

Exercise benefits your entire body, including your mental health and well-being. Each time you work out, you’re:

  • Strengthening bones: Doing low-impact weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, marching, or climbing the stairs helps to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis. That’s because these activities apply stress to your bones, which stimulates the cells that form new bone and spurs calcium deposits that keep your bones strong.
  • Building muscle: As we age, we can lose muscle mass, which is called sarcopenia. This can make it tougher for us to move around and even makes us more prone to falls. Getting regular physical activity, and especially resistance training, can help build muscle and overall strength.
  • Enhancing balance and flexibility: Each year roughly 36 million adults over 65 suffer from falls, which can be debilitating and threaten your independence. Some of the best activities you can do to maintain your balance and flexibility are yoga, Tai Chi, stretching, weight training, and Pilates.
  • Keeping your mind sharp: Exercise doesn’t just benefit your body. Research has shown that physical activity can improve brain health as well. Exercise helps to stimulate the release of chemicals that promote brain health and help to generate the growth of new blood vessels in your brain. Additionally, exercise improves sleep and blood sugar and reduces inflammation, all of which are good for your brain.
  • Boosting your mood: Have you ever experienced a “runner's high?” This feel-good sensation happens when you exercise because your body releases endorphins and dopamine which improve your mood, lower anxiety, and prevent depression.
  • Preventing chronic diseases: Exercising regularly is one of the best ways to ward off and help manage conditions like heart disease and diabetes by lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, and enhancing insulin sensitivity.

Tips for Exercising Safely

If you’re new to exercise, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before you get started. Plus, you want to begin slowly, doing low-intensity exercises such as walking and working your way up to more intense physical activity.

Before you exercise, make sure you warm up your muscles and joints. You can do this by walking or cycling for 10-15 minutes to get your blood flowing, then follow this up with a few gentle stretches to loosen up tight muscles.

While you exercise, be sure to listen to your body. If you feel discomfort or pain, you want to stop and rest since pushing through the pain can cause a more serious injury.

It’s also important to eat before you exercise and drink plenty of water, before, during, and after working out. Thirst is actually a sign that your body is already dehydrated, so your goal should be to drink before your body tells you it needs more water.

After you exercise, make sure you take a few minutes to cool down and stretch your muscles. This is important for preventing stiffness and improving flexibility.

What Are the Best Exercises for Seniors?

Working out doesn’t need to mean hitting the gym. Low-impact activities like walking and swimming are ideal exercises for seniors. They provide a good workout without putting too much strain on your joints.

Playing golf, tennis, or even gardening are also good ways to stay active.

Make sure you also add strength training and balance exercises to your routine. Lifting light weights or using resistance bands can help maintain muscle mass and keep you strong and mobile.

Once you’ve cleared it with your doctor, here are some exercises you can try right at home.

Chair Exercises for Seniors

Don’t let the word chair fool you. You can absolutely get a good workout while you’re sitting down, regardless of your physical limitations or age.

Some chair exercises you can try include:

  • Leg lifts: Sit with your feet flat on the floor, holding onto the sides of the chair for support. Lift one leg straight out in front of you keeping it parallel to the floor and hold it for a few seconds. Then, lower your leg and repeat the same exercises with your other leg. Build up to 10 to 15 repetitions with each leg.
  • Chair marching: As you sit, lift one knee towards your chest and then lower it back down. Alternate each of your legs in a marching motion, while keeping your back straight. Start with one or two minutes of marching and work your way up as you build endurance.

These are also excellent leg-strengthening exercises for seniors, helping to build muscle and mobility.

Balance Exercises for Seniors

Balance exercises are very important as we age. Here are some easy exercises you can try.

  • Single leg standStand with your feet about hip-width apart, holding your arms by your sides. Then, lift one foot slightly off the ground while balancing on the other foot. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds before switching to the other leg. You can use a sturdy chair or wall for support if needed, gradually increasing the duration as you improve.
  • Heal-toe walking: Place the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of your other foot so they’re in a straight line. Keep your arms out to your sides for balance. Then, take small steps putting one foot directly in front of the other. Try this for 10 to 15 steps, then turn around and repeat this exercise in the opposite direction.
  • Standing leg raises: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with your hands resting on your hips. Shift your weight onto one leg while lifting the other foot slightly off the ground. Slowly raise your leg straight out in front of you, keeping it parallel to the ground. Hold for a few seconds, then repeat this exercise with your other leg. Try doing 10 to 15 repetitions on each side.
  • Neck stretch: Sit or stand with your back straight. While relaxing your shoulders, gently tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear towards your shoulder. Hold this gentle stretch for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Be careful to keep your stretch slow and controlled and stop if you feel pain.

Stretching Exercises for Seniors

Stretching is very important, especially as we age. It helps to ease stiff muscles, increase blood flow, and promote relaxation. Here are some easy stretches you can try.

  • Shoulder stretch: Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your arms relaxed at your sides. Reach one arm across your chest and use your opposite hand to gently press your arm towards your body. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch arms and repeat the stretch.
  • Chest opener: Stand or sit with your back straight and keep your shoulder relaxed. Clasp your hands behind your back with your palms together. Then, gently straighten your arms and lift your chest towards the ceiling. Hold the stretch for about 15 to 30 seconds, being careful to avoid overarching your back. Also, be sure to keep your chin parallel to the ground.

Ready to Get Started?

It’s never too late to begin exercising. Not only will it benefit you both physically and mentally, getting regular activity will help you to maintain your health and independence for many years to come.