The 10 Best Exercises for Seniors (and 7 to Avoid)

The 10 Best Exercises for Seniors (and 7 to Avoid)

If you’re a senior, your doctor has probably told you that exercise should be a priority. Exercise is important for everyone, but especially so for seniors, as the right types of exercise can help elderly adults maintain strength, endurance, and flexibility as they age. As we get older, osteoporosis becomes a serious threat. Our bodies tend to become less flexible. Our cardiovascular health begins to suffer a bit as arteries stiffen through the natural process of aging. Our muscles gradually weaken.

All of these issues can combine to create the perfect storm that leaves us lounging on the couch rather than getting up and moving. That puts a lot of seniors at risk for the physical and mental challenges that can come from lack of exercise. According to the CDC, only about a third of all adults between the ages of 65 and 74 are physically active. When looking at those 75 and older, that number drops to just over one in five.1

The World Health Organization recommends that seniors get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week, which breaks down to 30 minutes a day, five times each week. In addition, it’s a good idea to add two days of strength training each week.2

Studies have shown that those who get regular exercise not only improve their physical bodies, but they also see improved cognitive functioning and a reduction in their odds of developing heart disease or other chronic conditions. Those seniors who exercised regularly had better balance, which led to a lower risk of falls. In fact, seniors who exercise regularly experience a 23% reduction in their fall risk.3 They might even see a 50% reduction in their odds of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.4

But the key to getting the most out of exercise is to do the right ones (and avoid the wrong ones). The right kind of exercise can strengthen your muscles and bones, help you stay flexible, and give your body the ability to bounce back easier from injury – all very important things to combat the potential of falls and the injuries that might result. Regular exercise can also improve your odds of an easier recovery after surgery, heighten your mood, and help you sleep better.

There are no downsides unless you choose the wrong exercises. Some exercises are too high-impact or carry a very serious risk of injury for elderly adults.

Let’s take a look at the exercises that offer the best return on your sweat equity, as well as the ones you seniors should avoid.

The Best Exercises for Seniors

As winter gives way to spring, you may want to get out of the house. The good news is that most of the best exercises for the elderly can be done outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air.

Any time you are on the go, a mobile emergency response system, preferably one with fall detection, can be a great safety measure.

1.      Walking. This might be the gold standard of exercise for any age, but especially for the older set. Walking is a low-impact exercise that doesn’t put too much pressure on the joints but still offers the advantage of strengthening bones and muscles. Cardiovascular health always benefits from a brisk walk. Taking a walk can also help improve balance and coordination, two points that are incredibly important to help lower senior fall risk.

2.      Pilates. This exercise can improve flexibility and balance while strengthening your body from head to toe. Many adherents say it relieves stress and promotes a feeling of calmness and well-being.

3.      Water aerobics. This is a vigorous but low-impact exercise, thanks to the buoyancy of the water. Seniors who have joint problems or pain might find that this form of exercise allows them to feel free in their body in a way they haven’t in a long time. The water provides resistance, which is great for building strength, and water aerobics improves cardiovascular health as well.

4.      Resistance training. Using resistance bands is a good way to build strength. You can choose bands that have very low resistance to begin this exercise and gradually increase to higher resistance as you become stronger. These exercises can be done on the floor or even on the couch, making them a good option to ease into if you’re new to regular workouts.

5.      Dancing. There are all types of dancing seniors might enjoy, from ballroom dancing to line dancing to salsa. Each leads to improved coordination and balance. Faster dances improve cardiovascular health and strengthen the bones and muscles. This is also a great way to be social!

6.      Bike riding. A leisurely bike ride along a well-lit and clean path can be a wonderful way to get outside and explore at the same time you get solid exercise. Make sure to wear a properly-fitted helmet whenever you are on a bike. Choose a bicycle that has wide, stable tires and a comfortable seat. Invite a friend to go with you!

7.      Pickleball. Speaking of being more social, pickleball has become very popular with seniors. It is similar to tennis but played on a smaller court and with simple rules. The cardiovascular benefits are clear, as is the opportunity to improve strength, balance, and coordination. The social aspect can feed your mental and emotional health as well.

8.      Tai Chi. This low-impact exercise combines slow, fluid motions with deep breathing. It improves balance and flexibility while helping center you and relieve stress. This can be easy for beginners to get started.

9.      Chair exercises. For those who have difficulty standing or limited mobility that makes it tough to use their lower legs, chair exercises can help keep your body as strong and flexible as possible. These exercises often work only the upper body, but some can be customized to suit the lower body for those who have some mobility.

10.   Gardening. You might not think of this as exercise, but once you spend a day out in the garden, you will know it is! From bending down repeatedly to work with plants and soil, carrying buckets of compost and mulch, or stirring up the soil with a cultivator (whether a manual or powered one), you can stretch your body and improve your endurance right in your own backyard.

Exercises Seniors Should Avoid

Just as there are exercises that work very well for the aging body, there are some that can actually harm you. Nobody wants to exercise in an effort to get healthier only to experience an injury. Exercises seniors may want to avoid include:

1.      High-impact activities. These include activities and sports that can be hard on the joints, lead to an increased fall risk, or heighten your risk of injury if you do fall down. Activities that include jumping or hard surfaces, such as basketball, might be difficult on your body. The same is true of running and soccer.

2.      Twisting or bending. Exercises that bend your body in half, such as toe touches or sit-ups, can increase the risk of injury. And if you do those toe touches while standing up, they can easily lead to dizziness, which can then lead to a fall, which can lead to injury. Exercises that include twisting your body can be very hard on your back. Avoid exercises that push your body’s limits or make it move in a way that isn’t natural.

3.      Deep knee bends. While squats can be great for strengthening your lower body and core, they can wreak havoc on your knees and hips, especially if you have arthritis. Deep squats and deep knee bends can lead to joint problems for anyone, no matter their age. Deep knee bends are an example of pushing your body past a safe limit.

4.      Stair climbing. While climbing stairs can be great for your cardiovascular health and muscle strength, this high-impact exercise can also cause serious issues for your knees. In addition, there is a very strong risk of falling down when you are climbing quickly up and down the stairs.

5.      Lifting heavy weights. While strength training is always a good idea, pushing yourself to lift weight that you aren’t accustomed to can lead to serious injury. If you do choose to lift heavier weights while you are working out, make sure someone is there to “spot” you and learn about proper form and technique for lifting to avoid injury.

6.      Overreaching. Let’s say you really enjoy running and you want to enter a marathon. Building up to that activity by working on your distance, endurance, and running style are keys to success. But if you decide to run a marathon and then do it a few weeks later, you haven’t had time to build up your stamina and protect your body from harm. No matter what exercise you choose, ease into it slowly and with the approval of your doctor.

7.      Overexertion. No matter the exercise, it’s important to know when you’ve done enough. While it can feel great to get your heart rate up and feel your muscles working hard, those things can also lead to serious issues if you aren’t careful. Check with your doctor to make sure the exercise you want to try is okay for you, and don’t overdo it! Go slow and build up over time.

No matter what exercise you’re doing, it’s always a good idea to be ready for emergencies. A trip and fall, tip-over, or even sudden pain in your body are all problems that can demand medical assistance right away. An on-the-go medical alert system with GPS capability ensures that you can get the help you need, whenever and wherever you need it. Simply press the panic button alarm at home or on the go to receive help fast, 24/7.

Engaging in the right exercises can bring a wealth of benefits, including the opportunity to maintain your independence for as long as possible. Speak to your doctor about exercise programs that might be right for you, and get moving!