Fitness for older adults
Participating in a balanced fitness program
contributes to your well-being at every age — and regular exercise is vital for
older adults. Regular exercise can help control your blood pressure, body
weight, and cholesterol levels. It reduces your risk of hardened arteries,
heart attack, and stroke. It also strengthens your muscles, tendons, ligaments,
and bones to help fight osteoporosis and lower your risk of falling or other injury.
Keeping your body strong and limber can help you maintain your independence as
you age. It allows you to continue the kinds of activities you’ve enjoyed your
If you haven’t been physically active for a
while, start slowly. Gradually build your endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.
Walking for just five or 10 minutes at a time on several days each week, is a
great way to begin. Once you can walk for 30 minutes at a time, you’ve built a
solid foundation and are ready to add more challenging activities to your routine.
Starting a basic strength routine while you begin your aerobic routine will
help you build the strength you need to support your aerobic workouts.
Always talk to your doctor before beginning a
new exercise regimen. They can help you create a workout plan that suits your
specific needs and goals.
Any activity that increases your heart rate
helps build aerobic endurance. It doesn’t take long to see significant
changes. After just six weeks of consistent exercise, you should feel
noticeably more comfortable while working out and going about your day-to-day activities.
The best aerobic activities for older adults to
begin with are low-impact exercises, such as walking, cycling, swimming, and water
aerobics. Other options include:
- tai chi
- line dancing
- square dancing
- ballroom dancing
If you’re aged 65 or older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) recommend getting at least 150
minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week — or 75 minutes of
vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
Even small changes to your overall muscle
strength can have a huge impact on your life. Carrying groceries, climbing
stairs, and getting up out of a chair all require muscle strength. If you’re 65
or older, the CDC
recommends participating in strength-training workouts at least twice a week.
Start by using small weights, such as 1- and
2-pound dumbbells. Try to complete 10 to 15 repetitions of a variety of weightlifting
exercises, such as bicep curls, triceps extensions, and chest presses. You can
also use your own body weight to provide resistance, while completing
activities such as lunges, squats, and modified pushups. Complete a
variety of activities to strengthen all of your major muscle groups, including
your legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.
For example, try this modified
pushup to strengthen your chest, upper back, and shoulders:
- Stand facing
a wall, with your toes 12 to 18 inches away from it.
- Lean forward
slightly and place your palms flat on the wall at shoulder height.
- Slowly bend
your elbows to lower your body toward the wall until your nose nearly touches it,
or get as close as you can without straining.
- Then slowly
straighten your elbows and push back to your starting position. Repeat this
exercise 10 times.
Many community centers have strength classes
geared at meeting the needs of older adults.
The CDC reports that every year, 2.5 million older
Americans are treated in emergency departments for injuries caused by falls. For
older adults, even minor injuries can have serious consequences. Yoga and
similar exercises help improve balance as well as flexibility.
Also, doing a few basic exercises to improve your
balance may come in handy the next time you step off a curb awkwardly or try to
sit down on a moving train or bus.
Try this simple exercise to help
improve your balance:
directly behind a sturdy chair, such as a dining room chair that won’t tip
- Rest one
hand on the back of the chair and the other hand on your hip.
- Lift your
right leg, bending the knee slightly.
- Hold your
leg up for a count of 10. Relax for a moment.
- Then do nine
more repetitions on that side, before switching legs and repeating on the other
side. As your balance improves, you can do the same move without resting your
hand on the back of a chair.
Have you noticed that reaching for objects on
high kitchen shelves or doing basic activities, such as getting dressed, aren’t
as easy as they used to be? Do your muscles often feel tight? You may need to
add some stretches to your daily routine. Stretching is something you should do
every day to help you maintain your range of motion as you age.
It’s best to warm up for three to five
minutes before stretching by walking or simply marching in place. Then slowly
move your body into each stretch, holding the pose for at least 10 seconds. Continue
breathing throughout the entire stretch. You can also do your stretches after
you finish exercising. Remember that stretching should never be painful. If you
feel sharp pain while stretching, or soreness the next day, you’re pushing too
Try this simple neck stretch
while standing or sitting down:
- Slowly turn
your head toward the right until you feel a slight stretch.
- Don’t tilt
your head backward or forward.
- Hold this
pose for 10 to 30 seconds.
- Then slowly
turn your head to the left. Hold for another 10 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat three
times in each direction.
Good general fitness can be achieved in as
little as 30 minutes each day. Exercising daily can help prolong your life and
improve the quality of it. It’s important to include aerobic activity, strength
training, balance exercises, and stretching in your routine. Start slowly and
build your endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility gradually. Ask your
doctor for guidance — and don’t be afraid to hire a personal trainer to help
you along the way.