A Guide to Exercises for Seniors

Exercising can help seniors lead healthier and happier lives.

No matter your age, exercise has many health benefits, such as reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes as well as lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure. According to Mayo Clinic, exercise also boosts energy, helps manage anxiety and depression, and promotes better sleep. For older adults, exercise can be helpful in slowing muscle loss and strengthening bones. These can especially help with reducing the risk of falling.

However, our bodies change as we age, and many exercises that were once easy (and good for us) become harder and too physically demanding. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommends four types of exercise for seniors: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.

Here are some recommended exercises for seniors.

Endurance Exercises for Seniors

Endurance or conditioning exercises improve the health of the circulatory system, including the heart and lungs, by increasing your breathing and heart rate. One of the easiest endurance exercises for seniors is walking. This could include just walking around the neighborhood, choosing to walk instead of drive to a nearby location, or walking in a particular place, like a mall or on a track.

Seniors might also want to walk on a treadmill at a fitness center or try cross-training on an elliptical machine or stair-stepper. Many gyms and fitness centers also offer classes designed for seniors, like water aerobics or dance classes. 

Another added benefit of conditioning exercises is that they can be fun and social. Walking or biking with friends doubles as a time to talk, while group exercise classes can be an opportunity to meet new people. Sports, like tennis, pickleball, golf, and seated volleyball are also good endurance exercises seniors can do with friends or in a group.

Balance Exercises for Seniors

The practices of Tai Chi and Qi Gong may help improve balance and stability for seniors, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). Both are mind-body practices, where participants focus on doing slow poses and movements while paying attention to their breath. These poses allow for controlled movements, which may improve balance and relieve pain.

For those seniors who feel comfortable with balancing exercises, there are also a number that can be done at home or at the gym. Lifting one leg, even if just slightly off the ground, for ten seconds, tapping one toe in front of the body, or holding a chair and extending a leg to the side are simple balance exercises. Seniors more comfortable with their balance can also try walking while raising one knee or heel-toe walking (walking with one foot right behind the other).

Strength Exercises for Seniors

Older adults should also focus on strength exercises, since keeping muscles strong can help with balance. NIA recommends seniors do strength training for all major muscle groups at least twice a week for thirty-minute sessions. These don’t need to be intense workouts with strong weights; just using bodyweight or light weights while sitting can be effective.

Some strength chair exercises for seniors can include sitting curls, sitting with overhead extensions, and front and side arm raises with light dumbbells. For the lower body, getting up and down out of a chair, straightening legs while sitting, and going from flat feet to standing on toes can be effective exercises. Usually, 10 to 15 repetitions of the exercise two to three times should feel strenuous. If light weights don’t feel strenuous, increase the weight, not the repetitions. 

To get strength training, seniors can also take classes designed for older adults like Silver Sneakers. These classes guide seniors through strength exercises with a trainer, where they can feel confident about the technique and level of weights they use.

Flexibility Exercises for Seniors

One increasingly popular exercise class is chair yoga. While many people think of yoga as complex poses hard for seniors with balance issues, chair yoga can provide a good balance exercise for seniors. This form of yoga uses a chair for balance and adapts traditional yoga poses for different ranges of motion and flexibility.

However, even without a class, seniors can practice stretching exercises. These can be as simple as reaching your arms overhead or to the floor, moving your shoulders in a circular motion, stretching your arms across the body one at a time, or doing simple lumbar twists by standing in place and turning the torso from one side to another. These stretches can also be done as chair exercises, for those who don’t feel comfortable standing and stretching.

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