Upper body exercises for elderly


Why Upper Body Muscles are Important for Seniors and How to Build Them

Anyone who has ever tried to open a new jar of pickles knows just how important upper body strength is. But even some of those younger individuals with good upper body strength can struggle with something like that. Helping your parents to build upper body strength can help keep them independent longer, and able to help themselves in situations such as falling or even just carrying the groceries. Upper body strength plays an important role in the overall functioning of the body. Your parents can easily engage in strength training and increase flexibility and strength.

The benefits of building strength

According to the National Institutes of Health, staying active is the fountain of youth that so many people are always searching for. They suggest that it is the secret to living longer and stronger, as well as helping to prevent and delay the onset of illnesses and diseases. They also report that seniors who engage in strengthening exercises will help to build muscle tissue and reduce the muscle loss that is associated with aging. It’s also a great way to increase flexibility, so that there aren’t all the aches and pains as they try to get out of bed each morning.

“Helping your parents to build upper body strength can help keep them independent longer and able to help themselves.”

Building upper body strength will be helpful in keeping independent, and being able to continue doing a lot of everyday activities with ease. Working out with weights is great, but that may not be ideal for your parents. However, they can still benefit from using just a small one pound weight or arm weight that goes around their wrist. You don’t need to sign them up for expensive gym classes, but investing in a small weight can have benefits.

Upper body workout — senior fitness

According to the National Institute on Aging, even making small changes when it comes to strength building can have big benefits, even for those people who may have already lost a lot of muscle. They report that increases in muscle mass that aren’t even visible to the eye can still make it easier to get up from chairs or climb stairs. Some of the exercises for seniors to include in the exercise routine to build strength in the upper body include:

  • Arm raise — While sitting down and holding light hand weights, have your parents raise their arms at the same time, holding them straight out, then sideways. They should hold the position for one second and then slowly lower their arms to repeat, and do 8 to 15 repetitions. The back should remain flat against the chair and the feet flat on the floor.
  • Bicep curls — While in a seated position and holding a light hand weight, raise and lower one arm at a time to curl the bicep up. Hold it for one second and slowly lower, then do 8 to 15 repetitions.
  • Tricep extension — In the same seated position as the others, have your parents gently lower the weight behind their back, while using their other hand to support their arm. Hold it for one second and then slowly lower it, and repeat with 8 to 15 repetitions. The opposite arm should always support the one with the weight that is going toward the back.

Doing this helps people of all ages. In fact, Mature Fitness reports the study of research that was conducted on strength training elderly nursing home patients. Their finding was that strength training helped to improve body composition, muscle strength, joint flexibility and improved mobility over the 14-week test period. Strength training exercises should be done at least twice per week. And your parents should not work the same muscle group each day; rather they should vary their routine. Building upper body strength is a good way to keep them active, strong and more able to remain independent.

Exercise Plan for Seniors

There are dozens of exercises you can do to build strength without having to set foot in a gym. Here are a few examples for people who are just getting started.

Abdominal contractions

To increase strength in the abdominal muscles

  1. Take a deep breath and tighten your abdominal muscles.
  2. Hold for 3 breaths and then release the contraction.
  3. Repeat 10 times.

Wall pushups

To increase strength in the chest and shoulders

  1. Stand about 3 feet away from a wall, facing the wall, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lean forward and place your hands flat on the wall, in line with your shoulders. Your body should be in plank position, with your spine straight, not sagging or arched.
  3. Lower your body toward the wall and then push back.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

Pelvic tilts

To strengthen and stretch muscles in the lower back

  1. Take a deep breath, tighten your buttocks, and tilt your hips slightly forward.
  2. Hold for a 3-count.
  3. Now tilt your hips back, and hold for 3 seconds. (It’s a very subtle movement.)
  4. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Shoulder blade squeeze

To strengthen postural muscles and stretch the chest

  1. Sit up straight in your seat, rest your hands in your lap, and squeeze your shoulder blades toward one another.
  2. Focus on keeping your shoulders down, not hunched up toward your ears, and hold for 3 seconds.
  3. Release and repeat 8 to 12 times.

Toe taps

To strengthen the lower legs

  1. Sitting in a chair and keeping your heels on the floor, lift your toes high enough that you can feel the muscles along your shin working. (This helps keep blood circulating in your legs and also strengthens the lower leg.)
  2. Repeat 20 times.

Heel raises

To strengthen the upper calves

  1. Sitting in a chair, keep your toes and the balls of your feet on the floor and lift your heels.
  2. Repeat 20 times.

Knee lifts

To strengthen the thighs

  1. Seated in a chair, with your arms resting but not pressing on the armrests, contract your right quadriceps muscles and lift your leg. Your knee and the back of your thigh should be 2 or 3 inches off the seat.
  2. Pause for 3 seconds and slowly lower your leg.
  3. Complete 8 to 12 repetitions and then repeat with the opposite leg.

Shoulder and upper back stretch

To stretch the shoulders and back

  1. Bend your right arm, raising it so your elbow is chest level and your right fist is near your left shoulder.
  2. Place your left hand on your right elbow and gently pull your right arm across your chest.
  3. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat with the opposite arm.

Ankle rotations

To strengthen the calves

  1. Seated in a chair, lift your right foot off the floor and slowly rotate your foot 5 times to the right and then 5 times to the left.
  2. Repeat with the left foot.

6 Easy and Safe Exercises for Seniors

Chair Squats

Pretending that you are about to sit down in a chair can strengthen your entire lower body.

    1. Stand in front of a chair with your feet as far apart as your hips.
    2. Bend your knees while keeping your shoulders and chest upright.
    3. Lower your bottom so you sit down.
    4. Then push your body back up to return to a standing position.

Looking for more easily accessible exercises you can do by just having a chair at home? Check out 21 more chair exercises here!

Wall Push-Ups

These push-ups can provide strengthening for your entire upper body with a focus on your arms and chest. But you don’t have to get down on the floor and worry about being stuck there!

  1. Stand in front of a sturdy wall, up to two feet away but as close as you need to.
  2. Place your hands up against the wall directly in front of your shoulders.
  3. Keep your body straight and bend your elbows to lean in towards the wall.
  4. Stop with your face close to the wall and then straighten your arms to push your body away from the wall.

Exercises for Balance

Falls are one of the leading causes of visits to the emergency room. About 30% of people over the age of 65 will fall each year. Often a fall can result in fractures and declining health. Balance helps you to keep yourself on your feet and recover from those accidental upsets.

Single Foot Stand

This exercise is similar to standing like a flamingo but less dangerous.

  1. Stand behind a steady, unmoveable chair and hold onto the back.
  2. Pick up your left foot and balance on your right foot as long as is comfortable.
  3. Place your left foot down and then lift up your right foot and balance on your left foot

You are aiming to be able to stand on one foot without holding the chair for up to a minute.

Tippy Toe Lifts

You can pretend to be a ballerina while strengthening your legs and improving your balance with this exercise.

  1. Stand beside or behind a chair or counter and place your hands on the surface for support.
  2. Push yourself up onto your tippy toes as high as is comfortable and then return back to a flat foot. Repeat.

Exercises for Flexibility

Tight and sore muscles make it difficult to do things that were once simple such as pulling up your socks or reaching for something high up. Improving your flexibility helps you maintain good posture and move more freely and easily.

A study published in the International Journal of Physical Therapy found that after 10 weeks of stretching 2-3 times a week, older adults had better spinal mobility, an increased ability to flex their hips and a more steady gait.

Don’t forget that stretching for flexibility should be slow and controlled. Warm up your muscles first by walking and moving. Hold a stretch for up to 30 seconds while you breathe deeply in and out.

Wall Snow Angels

Do you remember plopping down on your back in a patch of freshly fallen snow, sliding your arms and legs up and down to form a perfect “snow angel”?

This exercise helps to open up your chest and to decrease that tightness in the middle of your back that develops as a result of looking down. But you don’t have to fall on your back in the snow to do this “wall angel”!

  1. Stand about 3 inches away from the wall and place your head and lower back flat against the wall.
  2. Put your hands at your sides with the palms out and the backs of against the wall.
  3. Keeping your arms touching the wall, raise them up above your head (or as high as is comfortable).

Repeat a couple times to make some beautiful imaginary wings for your angel.

The Head Turn

One of the simplest and easiest stretches to do! This exercise involves a movement you do whenever you shake your head “no”.

  1. Stand or sit with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed.
  2. Turn your head slowly to the right until you feel a light stretch.
  3. Hold that position and then turn slowly to the left.

This exercise helps to keep your neck mobile, that’s important for driving and being aware of your surroundings!

Get Started

Consider going to a local gym for a personal trainer or sign-up for senior-specific exercise classes at your local senior and community center!

Exercise is vital for people of all ages for maintaining health, preventing injuries, and lowering risks of heart diseases. Having exercise routines readily available will help give you a jump start towards better health.

We’ve gathered 29 different exercises designed to be safe and challenging for seniors and the elderly. These are separated into six different categories for easier navigation.

You can begin with stretches in the first section and move onto balance exercises before switching to more advanced exercises. While all exercises are geared for seniors, many can be modified with weights, repetitions, or duration to suit your needs. Check out the different categories of exercises for seniors we have below, get active, and reap the health benefits!

Table of Contents:

  1. Stretching Exercises
  2. Balance Exercises
  3. Chair Exercises
  4. Core Exercises
  5. Cardio and Low-Impact Exercises
  6. Strength Exercises

I. Stretching Exercise for Seniors

Upper Back Stretch

  1. Begin seated with relaxed shoulders.
  2. Extend arms forward at shoulder height and grab one hand with the other and push outwards while pulling your back and shoulders forward.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds and release.

Chest Stretch

  1. Begin seated with relaxed shoulders.
  2. Pull extended arms back while grabbing one hand, keeping both hands down near the buttocks.
  3. Pull your shoulders back and hold for 10 seconds and release.

Sit and Reach Stretch

  1. Sit at the edge of a chair and extend your legs forward with your knees slightly bent.
  2. Keep your heels on the floor and toes pointed toward the ceiling.
  3. Extend both arms in front and reach to touch your toes, while slowly bending at the waist without bouncing.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds then return to resting position.

Neck Stretch

  1. Begin seated and slowly tilt your head to your right shoulder.
  2. Hold this position and extend your left arm to the side and downward at waist level.
  3. Release, then repeat on the left side. Repeat twice on each side.

Inner Thigh Stretch

  1. Begin standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and toes pointing slightly outward.
  2. Slowly lean to your left side by bending your left knee while keeping your right leg straight.
  3. Keep your left knee from passing your toes.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds then return to resting position and repeat on the right.

Shoulder Circles

  1. Begin seated and place fingertips on your shoulders.
  2. Circle your shoulders 15 times forwards, then 15 times backwards.

Hand Stretches

  1. Begin seated with hands reached out in front of you, palms facing down.
  2. Open both hands to spread your fingers apart, then close your hands. Repeat 10 times.

II. Balance Exercises for Seniors

Flamingo Stand

  1. Stand with feet together and arm relaxed at sides. Hold onto a chair for support if needed.
  2. Bend one knee to lift the foot slightly off the ground and balance with your other leg.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat with other leg.

Single Limb Stance With Arm

  1. Stand with feet together and arm relaxed at sides. Hold onto a chair for support if needed.
  2. Raise your left arm overhead and raise your left leg forward and off the floor.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds then repeat on other side.

Toe the line

  1. Stand with arms relaxed at sides.
  2. Move one foot forward, placing the heel of one foot touching or as close as possible to the toes of your other foot. Repeat for 15-20 steps.

Side Leg Raises

  1. Stand behind a chair or counter with one or both hands using resting on it for support.
  2. Lift your right leg out to the side and repeat 10 times for each leg.

Clock Reach

  1. Begin standing, holding a chair with your left hand. Imagine a clock with 12 o’clock in front of you and 6 behind.
  2. Stand on your left leg, bring your right arm to 12 o’clock and reach to 3 o’clock to your side, and 6 o’clock towards the back. Repeat with other side.

III. Chair Exercises for Seniors

Front Arm Raises

  1. Begin seated, holding a ball in both hands with your palms facing each other.
  2. Extend your arms forward so the ball rests on your legs, with your elbows slightly bent.
  3. Slowly raise your arms to lift the ball to shoulder level, then lower back down, taking about 3 seconds to raise and lower. Repeat 10-15 times.

Seated Shin Strengthener

  1. Begin seated on the edge of a chair with legs extended, heels on the floor and knees slightly bent.
  2. Point your toes downward, then flex upward.
  3. Do 15 repetitions, relax, then do 15 more repetitions.


  1. Hold the back of a chair. Stand with legs slightly wider than shoulder-width, while pointing toes outward slightly.
  2. Bend your knees slowly, using 2 full seconds to lower yourself. Adjust leg position if needed to keep legs far enough apart so the knees don’t pass your toes as you bend.
  3. Perform 8 times, then rest. Perform another set, doing as many as you can do in good form.

Tummy Twists

  1. Begin seated, holding a ball with hands close to your stomach and elbows slightly bent.
  2. Slowly rotate your torso to the right as much as you comfortably can, while keeping the rest of your body stable.
  3. Return to the center and repeat on the left. Repeat until you complete 8 twists per side.

IV. Core Exercises for Seniors

Leg Lifts

  1. Lie on your back with legs flat against the ground and feet relaxed.
  2. Contract your abdominal muscles while raising one leg 5 inches off the floor and hold for 3 seconds.
  3. Lower and repeat on your other leg. Repeat 5 times each side.


  1. Lie on your back with your hands behind your head.
  2. Bend your knees and lift your feet so your calves are parallel to the floor.
  3. While drawing in your belly button and exhaling, bring one knee to your chest while reaching for it with your elbow on the opposite side. It should look almost as if you were pedaling a bicycle.
  4. Repeat on the side, and continue with repetitions for 30 seconds.
  5. Rest for one minute, and repeat with another 30-second set.

Seated Twists

  1. Sit on an exercise ball, a bosu ball or a roman chair.
  2. If using a ball, begin by placing your feet flat on the ground. If using a roman chair, begin by tucking your legs under the leg support.
  3. Bend your torso to a 45-degree angle from the floor. Place your arms across your chest and lean back as far as you can.
  4. Then move forward and slowly twist to the left then lean back again slowly to the start position. Repeat on the right side. Do three sets of 15 reps each.

Side Bends

  1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place one hand behind your head and the other arm stretched out to one side.
  3. Lean over to the side as if reaching toward the floor.
  4. Contract your obliques and return to the starting position, while keeping your chest from falling forward and keeping your feet flat on the floor. Repeat five times on each side.

Seated Knee Lifts

  1. Begin seated on a floor mat or a bench.
  2. Slowly draw both of your knees towards your chest they touch your chest or until your legs touch your abs.
  3. Perform 15 to 20 repetitions for one set, and complete three sets total.

V. Cardio and Low-Impact Exercises for Seniors

Speed Drill

  1. Draw a ladder design on the floor with chalk or tape.
  2. Walk through the steps of the ladder by putting one foot in a square, then bringing the other foot into the same square.
  3. Move to the next square and continue until you reach the end of the ladder. Turn around and repeat.


  1. Begin at the bottom of a set of stairs. Step on the first stair with your left foot.
  2. Then, lift your right foot off the floor and hold it in the air for one second.
  3. Step down with your right leg, then the left.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side and repeat 10 times per side.

Water Aerobics

Keeping impact low on the body during exercise may be required by some for many reasons including arthritis and joint pain. For this reason, water aerobics has become a popular choice form of exercise for seniors. It’s a safe and effective way to get a workout for the entire body without traditional weights.

Water aerobics helps build strength and endurance and since most classes are taken in shallow water, even seniors who don’t know how to swim can participate. Gyms and community pools usually provide these classes. Some popular water aerobic exercises include aqua jogging, leg lifts, including various balance and strength builders.

Biking & Elliptical

For a low-impact workout, consider bicycling and the elliptical machine. These may not be the first exercises to come to mind for low-impact exercises, but they are effective options since they transfer minimal shock to your joints and your body. Both exercises are easy on your joints and body in terms of impact.

Cycling on the road and on a stationary bike are both viable options for a low-impact workout. If cycling on the road, you can use an electric bicycle for exercise and also as an effective form of commute. The assistance from the motor helps through tough terrain and makes hills easier, allowing To make it even easier on your back and neck, a recumbent bicycle is a good alternative as well.

While it might not seem like a low-impact exercise, cycling is actually very easy on the joints since your body absorbs minimal shock from pedaling. You can ride a stationary bike at the gym or invest in a road bike to pedal around your neighborhood. If an upright bicycle is too hard on your back, neck and shoulders, try a recumbent bike instead. Unlike an upright bike, where you’re bent over the handlebars, a recumbent bike allows you to sit back with the pedals and handlebars right in front of you.

Tai Chi

The fact that most tai chi practitioners begin after the age of 50 is a clear sign that it’s a good form of exercise for seniors. Tai chi is type of meditative exercise that focuses on slow, low-impact movements, and breathing technique.

Tai chi has been shown to improve balance, strength, and flexibility while remaining gentle on the joints. Its routines are adaptable to your skill level and you don’t need any kind of equipment to start practicing, so it’s easy for anyone to get started.

As you advance, tai chi routines and forms can get advanced, keeping you challenged, and working out your cardiovascular system at the same time.

VI. Strength Exercises for Seniors

Partial Squat & Half-Squat Against a Wall

  1. Begin standing up, using a chair for support.
  2. Bend your knees as far as you comfortably can without having your knees pass your toes, then return to the starting position.
  3. Repeat 10 times.
  4. For a more advanced version try the half-squat against the wall: perform this against the wall and bend your knees to almost 90 degrees as if you were sitting on an invisible chair.

Wrist Curls

  1. Place your forearm on a chair’s armrest with your hand hanging over the edge.
  2. Hold a weight with your palm facing upward.
  3. Slowly bend your wrist up and down, then repeat 10 times.
  4. Switch sides, and perform 10 reps with your other hand. Repeat one more set of 10 on each side.

Bicep Curls

  1. Choose a dumbbell heavy enough that you can only complete 10-12 reps.
  2. Begin sitting in a chair with one dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing forward, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
  3. Bend your arm at the elbows to lift the dumbbell ¾ of the way to your shoulders, without moving your elbows away from your side.
  4. Do 10 to 12 repetitions per arm.

Upright Front Row

  1. Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and partially leaning forward.
  2. Hold one dumbbell in each hand in front of you, with palms facing toward your body.
  3. Lift both dumbbells toward your chin while keeping your back straight and shoulders stationary.
  4. Return to starting position and repeat 10 times.

Knee Extensions

  1. Begin seated in a chair with your back straight and knees bent.
  2. Slowly extend your right leg forward and hold for a few seconds before lowering back to starting position.
  3. Repeat with your left leg.
  4. Do 10 reps per leg.

Senior Exercise and Fitness Tips

No matter your age, it’s never too late to get fit. These easy tips will help you get started safely and make it fun.

There are many reasons why we tend to slow down and become more sedentary with age. It may be due to health problems, weight or pain issues, or worries about falling. Or perhaps you think that exercising simply isn’t for you. But as you grow older, an active lifestyle becomes more important than ever to your health.

A recent Swedish study found that physical activity was the number one contributor to longevity, adding extra years to your life—even if you don’t start exercising until your senior years. But getting active is not just about adding years to your life, it’s about adding life to your years.

Getting moving can help boost your energy, maintain your independence, protect your heart, and manage symptoms of illness or pain as well as your weight. Regular exercise is also good for your mind, mood, and memory.

Physical health benefits

Helps you maintain or lose weight. As metabolism naturally slows with age, maintaining a healthy weight is a challenge. Exercise helps increase metabolism and builds muscle mass, helping to burn more calories.

Reduces the impact of illness and chronic disease. People who exercise tend to have improved immune and digestive functioning, better blood pressure and bone density, and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers.

Enhances mobility, flexibility, and balance. Exercise improves your strength, flexibility and posture, which in turn will help with balance, coordination, and reducing the risk of falls. Strength training also helps alleviate the symptoms of chronic conditions such as arthritis.

Mental health benefits

Improves sleep. Quality sleep is vital for your overall health. Regular activity can help you fall asleep more quickly, sleep more deeply, and wake feeling more energetic and refreshed.

Boosts mood and self-confidence. Exercise is a huge stress reliever and the endorphins produced can actually help reduce feelings of sadness, depression, or anxiety. Being active and feeling strong naturally helps you feel more self-confident.

Does amazing things for the brain. Activities like Sudoku or crossword puzzles can help keep your brain active, but little comes close to the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain. It can help brain functions as diverse as multitasking and creativity and can help prevent memory loss, cognitive decline, and dementia. Getting active may even help slow the progression of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Overcoming obstacles to getting active as you age

Starting or maintaining a regular exercise routine can be a challenge at any age—and it doesn’t get any easier as you get older. You may feel discouraged by health problems, aches and pains, or concerns about injuries or falls. If you’ve never exercised before, you may not know where to begin, or perhaps you think you’re too old or frail, and can never live up to the standards you set when you were younger. Or maybe you just think that exercise is boring.

While these may seem like good reasons to slow down and take it easy as you age, they’re even better reasons to get moving. Becoming more active can energize your mood, relieve stress, help you manage symptoms of illness and pain, and improve your overall sense of well-being. And reaping the rewards of exercise doesn’t have to involve strenuous workouts or trips to the gym. You can gain the benefits from adding more movement and activity to your life, even in small ways. No matter your age or physical condition, it’s never too late to get your body moving, boost your health and outlook, and improve how you age.

Six myths about activity and aging

Myth 1: There’s no point to exercising. I’m going to get old anyway.

Fact: Regular physical activity helps you look and feel younger and stay independent longer. It also lowers your risk for a variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure, and obesity. And the mood benefits of exercise can be just as great at 70 or 80 as they were at 20 or 30.

Myth 2: Exercise puts me at risk of falling down.

Fact: Regular exercise, by building strength and stamina, prevents loss of bone mass and improves balance, actually reducing your risk of falling.

Myth 3: It’s too frustrating: I’ll never be the athlete I once was.

Fact: Changes in hormones, metabolism, bone density, and muscle mass mean that strength and performance levels inevitably decline with age, but that doesn’t mean you can no longer derive a sense of achievement from physical activity or improve your health. The key is to set lifestyle goals that are appropriate for your age. And remember: a sedentary lifestyle takes a much greater toll on athletic ability than biological aging.

Myth 4: I’m too old to start exercising.

Fact: You’re never too old to get moving and improve your health! In fact, adults who become active later in life often show greater physical and mental improvements than their younger counterparts. If you’ve never exercised before, or it’s been a while, you won’t be encumbered by the same sports injuries that many regular exercisers experience in later life. In other words, there aren’t as many miles on your clock so you’ll quickly start reaping the rewards. Just begin with gentle activities and build up from there.

Myth 5: I can’t exercise because I’m disabled.

Fact: Chair-bound people face special challenges but can lift light weights, stretch, and do chair aerobics, chair yoga, and chair Tai Chi to increase their range of motion, improve muscle tone and flexibility, and promote cardiovascular health. Many swimming pools offer access to wheelchair users and there are adaptive exercise programs for wheelchair sports such as basketball.

Myth 6: I’m too weak or have too many aches and pains.

Fact: Getting moving can help you manage pain and improve your strength and self-confidence. Many older people find that regular activity not only helps stem the decline in strength and vitality that comes with age, but actually improves it. The key is to start off gently.

What if you hate to exercise?

If you dread working out, you’re not alone. But you don’t have to exercise until you’re soaked in sweat or every muscle aches to make a big difference to your health. Think about activities that you enjoy and how you can incorporate them into an exercise routine:

  • Listen to music or an audiobook while lifting weights.
  • Window shopping while walking laps at the mall.
  • Get competitive while playing tennis.
  • Take photographs on a nature hike.
  • Meet new people at a yoga class or fitness center.
  • Watch a favorite movie or TV show while on the treadmill.
  • Instead of chatting with a friend over coffee, chat while walking, stretching, or strength training.
  • Walk the golf course instead of using a cart.
  • Walk or play fetch with a dog. If you don’t own a dog, offer to take a neighbor’s dog for a walk or volunteer at a pet shelter or rescue group.
  • Go for a run, walk, or cycle when you’re feeling stressed—see how much better you feel afterwards.
  • Find an exercise buddy, someone whose company you really enjoy, and try activities you’ve never tried before—you may find something you love. At worst, you’ve spent time with a good friend.

Building a balanced exercise plan

Staying active is not a science. Just remember that mixing different types of physical activity helps both to keep your workouts interesting and improve your overall health. The key is to find activities that you enjoy—based on the four building blocks of fitness. These are:

1: Balance

What it is: Maintains standing and stability, whether you’re stationary or moving around. Try yoga, Tai Chi, and posture exercises to gain confidence with balance.

Why it’s good for you: Improves balance, posture, and quality of your walking. Also reduces risk of falling and fear of falls.

2: Cardio

What it is: Uses large muscle groups in rhythmic motions over a period of time. Cardio workouts get your heart pumping and you may even feel a little short of breath. Includes walking, stair climbing, swimming, hiking, cycling, rowing, tennis, and dancing.

Why it’s good for you: Helps lessen fatigue and shortness of breath. Promotes independence by improving endurance for daily activities such as walking, house cleaning, and errands.

3: Strength and power training

What it is: Builds up muscle with repetitive motion using weight or external resistance from body weight, machines, free weights, or elastic bands. Power training is often strength training done at a faster speed to increase power and reaction times.

Why it’s good for you: Strength training helps prevent loss of bone mass, builds muscle, and improves balance—both important for staying active and avoiding falls. Power training can improve your speed while crossing the street, for example, or prevent falls by enabling you to react quickly if you start to trip or lose balance. Building strength and power will help you stay independent and make day-to-day activities easier such as opening a jar, getting in and out of a car, and lifting objects.

4: Flexibility

What it is: Challenges the ability of your body’s joints to move freely through a full range of motion. This can be done through stationary stretches and stretches that involve movement to keep your muscles and joints supple and less prone to injury. Yoga is an excellent means of improving flexibility.

Why it’s good for you: Helps your body stay limber and increases your range of movement for ordinary physical activities, such as looking behind while driving, tying your shoes, shampooing your hair, and playing with your grandchildren.

Types of activities beneficial to older adults

Walking. Walking is a perfect way to start exercising. It requires no special equipment, aside from a pair of comfortable walking shoes, and can be done anywhere.

Senior sports or fitness classes. Keeps you motivated while also providing a source of fun, stress relief, and a place to meet friends.

Water aerobics and water sports. Working out in water reduces stress and strain on the body’s joints.

Yoga. Combines a series of poses with breathing. Moving through the poses helps improve strength, flexibility and balance, and can be adapted to any level.

Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Martial arts-inspired systems of movement that increase balance and strength. Classes for seniors are often available at local YMCA or community centers.

Getting started safely

Getting active is one of the healthiest decisions you can make as you age, but it’s important to do it safely.

Get medical clearance from your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have a preexisting condition. Ask if there are any activities you should avoid.

Consider health concerns. Keep in mind how your ongoing health problems affect your workouts. For example, diabetics may need to adjust the timing of medication and meal plans when setting an exercise schedule.

Listen to your body. Exercise should never hurt or make you feel lousy. Stop exercising immediately and call your doctor if you feel dizzy or short of breath, develop chest pain or pressure, break out in a cold sweat, or experience pain. And put your routine on hold if a joint is red, swollen, or tender to the touch—the best way to cope with injuries is to avoid them in the first place. If you regularly experience pain or discomfort after exercising, try exercising for less time but more frequently throughout the day.

Start slow and build up steadily. If you haven’t been active in a while, build up your exercise program little by little. Try spacing workouts in ten-minute increments twice a day. Or try just one class each week. If you’re concerned about falling or have an ongoing heart problem, start with easy chair exercises to slowly increase your fitness and confidence.

Prevent injury and discomfort by warming up, cooling down, and keeping water handy.

Commit to an exercise schedule for at least 3 or 4 weeks so that it becomes habit, and force yourself to stick with it. This is much easier if you find activities you enjoy.

Experiment with mindfulness. Instead of zoning out when you exercise, try to focus on how your body feels as you move—the rhythm of your breathing, the way your feet strike the ground, your muscles flexing, for example. Practicing mindfulness will improve your physical condition faster, better relieve stress and anxiety, and make you more likely to avoid accidents or injuries.

If you have an injury, disability, weight problem, or diabetes…

While there are challenges that come with exercising with mobility issues, by adopting a creative approach, you can overcome any physical limitations and find enjoyable ways to get active and improve your health and well-being.

Support activity levels with the right diet

Diet as well as exercise can have a major impact on energy, mood, and fitness. Many older adults don’t get sufficient high-quality protein in their diets despite evidence suggesting they actually need more than younger people to maintain energy levels and lean muscle mass, promote recovery from illness and injury, and support overall health. Older adults without kidney disease or diabetes should aim for about 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

  • Vary your sources of protein instead of relying on just red meat, including more fish, poultry, beans, and eggs.
  • Reduce the amount of processed carbohydrates you consume—pastries, cakes, pizza, cookies and chips—and replace them with high-quality protein.
  • Snack on nuts and seeds instead of chips, replace a baked dessert with Greek yogurt, swap out slices of pizza for a grilled chicken breast and a side of beans.

Tips for staying motivated

It’s easy to become discouraged when illness, injury, or changes in the weather interrupt your routine and seem to set you back to square one. But there are ways to stay motivated when life’s challenges get in the way:

Focus on short-term goals, such as improving your mood and energy levels and reducing stress, rather than goals such as weight loss, which can take longer to achieve.

Reward yourself when you successfully complete a workout, reach a new fitness goal, or simply show up on a day when you were tempted to ditch your activity plans. Choose something you look forward to, but don’t allow yourself to do until after exercising, such as having a hot bath or a favorite cup of coffee.

Keep a log. Writing down your activities in an exercise journal not only holds you accountable, but is also a reminder of your accomplishments.

Get support. When you work out with a friend or family member, you can encourage and motivate each other.

How to stay fit when your routine changes

You’re on vacation

  • Many hotels now have fitness centers. Bring along your exercise clothing or equipment (resistance band, bathing suit, or walking shoes).
  • Get out and see the sights on foot rather than just by tour bus.

Caring for an ill spouse is taking up too much of your time

  • Work out to an exercise video when your spouse is napping
  • Ask a family member or friend to come over so you can go for a walk

Your usual exercise buddy moves away

  • Ask another friend to go with you on your daily walk.
  • Reach out to other older adults in your area—many are in the same boat, so be the one to break the ice.
  • Join an exercise class at your local community center or senior center. This is a great way to meet other active people.

You move to a new community

  • Check out the fitness centers, parks, community websites, and recreation associations in your new neighborhood.
  • Look for activities that match your interests and abilities.

Illness keeps you out of action for a few weeks

  • Wait until you feel better and then start your activity again.
  • Gradually build back up to your previous level of activity.

You’re recovering from injury or surgery

  • Talk with your doctor about specific exercises and activities you can do safely.
  • Start slowly and gradually build up your activity level as you become stronger.

Your Guide to Building a Workout Routine Over 65

  • Allow at least 48 hours of recovery before exercising the same muscle group.
  • Shift training zones toward lower intensities.
  • Reduce rest intervals slowly, and monitor how your body reacts.
  • Do not go to absolute failure, as this can put unnecessary stress on joints and muscles.
  • Start slowly, but increase intensity over time.

However, Dr. Rethorn points out that modifying an exercise doesn’t mean that you’re too fragile for physical activity. Many older adults assume that because they’re aging, they need to handle their bodies with care. But the reality is working out will likely increase energy levels, particularly if it’s a challenging activity.

“Most people aren’t doing maximal weight lifting. Therefore they can tolerate consecutive days of training,” says Lobert. “You can also spread out different types of exercise so you don’t get too sore. However, if you are just starting, it is best to go slow and progress duration and frequency of training as your body gets used to it.”

What exercises are ideal for anyone over the age of 65?

“Brisk walking is the most common aerobic exercise I recommend,” says Dr. Rethorn. “It is free, available anytime, anywhere, and can be a great workout. The trick with it is to make sure that the intensity is enough. It should be hard enough that you are breathing harder, but not so hard so you can’t talk.”

Improving balance

For balance, Lobert says that you can stand on one foot for one simple exercise. If it’s too difficult, stand near something that you can hold onto. Or stand with your feet in a line, heel-to-toe. If you need more of a challenge, you can stand on something squishy, like a pillow or foam pad, or close your eyes.

“My personal favorite balance exercise for older adults is a balance walk,” offers Dr. Rethorn. “It’s fun, challenging, and usually very relevant to a person’s goals. To perform, raise your arms to your sides, shoulder height. Choose a spot ahead of you and focus on it to keep you steady as you walk. Walk in a straight line with one foot in front of the other. As you walk, lift your back leg. Pause for one second before stepping forward. Repeat for 20 steps, alternating legs.”

Strength Training

Cunningham seconds yoga for balance and core strength, but also looks to functional movement training for flexibility as well. Her favorites include bridges and planks for core and glute activation and squats or lunges for everyday activities.

“Strength training is the single most important thing you can do to maintain overall health and function,” says Lobert. “This can include resistance band work, hand weights, or barbells. Squats, lunges, step-ups, biceps curls, overhead presses, front raises, lateral raises are all great ways to get stronger. If you prefer, you can also use weight machines, which can be safer and less intimidating, but also do not require as much balance or stabilizing.”

How many times per week should someone 65+ work out?

“It is all dependent upon the individual. If you’ve been working out your entire life, then five or so days a week is fine,” says Cunningham. “If you’re newer or recovering from an injury, then it would be less, and a gradual increase like walking and some bodyweight exercises or yoga a few times a week.”

Kennon advises anyone over the age of 65 to work out two to three times a week, with rest days in between, especially if they haven’t been exercising on a regular basis. Lobert says a mix of three days of full body strength and balance training for 30-60 minutes, plus two days per week of walking or some other form of cardio you enjoy, works well, too. But, if you don’t have that kind of time, doing a little bit every day, she says, is convenient and can help you stay dedicated to your workout goals.

“The reality is that by the age of 75, one in three men and one in two women are not engaging in any physical activity,” says Dr. Rethorn. “Some activity is better than none. The benefits begin accumulating after as little five to ten minutes of moderate intensity activity.”

For strength training workouts that are best for your age group, check out Aaptiv. We have workouts for all fitness levels and ages.

Exercise and Seniors

Path to improved well being

There are 4 types of exercise. It’s important to include all 4 types in your exercise routine.

Endurance — increases your breathing and heart rate. Improves the health of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Builds energy. Includes:

  • walking
  • jogging
  • dancing
  • swimming
  • biking
  • tennis
  • basketball
  • climbing stairs/hills
  • raking, mowing

Strength — makes your muscles stronger. Includes:

  • Lifting weights.
  • Using a resistance band.
  • Doing body-weight exercises (push-ups, sit-ups).

Balance — helps prevent falls. Includes:

  • Standing on one foot.
  • Walking heel-to-toe.
  • Tai chi or yoga.

Flexibility — stretches your muscles, keeps you limber and more easily able to move. Includes:

  • stretching
  • yoga

How often should I exercise?

Seniors age 65 and older should get at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) every week. That averages out to about 30 minutes on most days of the week. Or you should get 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise (such as jogging) each week. You should also do strength training at least 2 days a week. You can work on balance and flexibility every day.

In addition, you should incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. Examples of working more activity into your day include:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Parking farther away from your destination.
  • Walking or biking places instead of driving.
  • Walking your dog.
  • Working in the yard.
  • Doing light exercises while watching TV.

Should I warm up or cool down before or after exercise?

Warm up for 5 minutes before you exercise. Walking slowly and then stretching are good warm-up activities. You should also cool down with more stretching for 5 minutes when you finish exercising. Cool down longer in warmer weather.

Safety tips

Check with your doctor if you’re over 50 and aren’t used to exercising before starting an exercise routine. Other reasons to check with your doctor before starting an exercise program include:

  • Dizziness or shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain or pressure.
  • Blood clots.
  • An infection.
  • Sores that won’t heal.
  • Any joint swelling.
  • Recent surgery.
  • A hernia.

Check with your doctor if you’re over 50 and aren’t used to exercising before starting an exercise routine. Other reasons to check with your doctor before starting an exercise program include

Wear loose, comfortable clothing and well-fitting, sturdy shoes. Your shoes should have good arch support, and an elevated and cushioned heel to absorb shock. Make sure the shoes are made for the type of physical activity you’ll be using them for. Shoes are specially designed for walking, running, tennis, or dancing, for example.

If you are not already active, begin slowly. Start with exercises that you are already comfortable doing. Starting slowly makes it less likely that you will injure yourself. Starting slowly also helps prevent soreness.

Exercise is only good for you if you are feeling well. Wait to exercise until you feel better if you have a cold, the flu or another illness. If you miss exercise for more than 2 weeks, be sure to start slowly again

Aerobic Exercise: Sidesteps

In this video you will learn how to perform a cardiovascular exercise which involves sidestepping.

Please have your physical fitness assessed beforehand by a doctor.

Practiced regularly, cardiovascular exercises help you to maintain your respiratory capacities as well as a healthy blood pressure.

This exercise is made up of two stages: the positioning, then the movement.

Firstly, positioning

Stand up, keep your back straight and your feet together

Lift your elbows in front of you, bring them together at shoulder-height, and bend them at an angle of 90 degrees. Close your palms together.

Secondly, movement.

Alternate your sidesteps by taking 2 to the right and then 2 to the left, bending your knees slightly throughout.

As you step to the side, open out your elbows.

Then, simultaneously bring your elbows and feet back together again.

Keep your shoulders low and your back straight.

To increase intensity, push into each sidestep. jumping a little with one foot following the other.

Perform this exercise in two sets of 30 seconds, pausing for a 30-second rest between each one.

Work at a level that suits your physical capabilities.

For this, your breathing will serve as a useful guide

If you can speak easily during the exercise, then you are performing below your physical capabilities.

However, if you are unable to speak, you are overworking yourself.

Increase your pace and the duration of the sequences gradually as your training progresses

Over to you!

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