Staying Fit in Your Golden Years: Best Exercises for Seniors
Carmen Roberts, MS, RD, LDN | Sept 19, 2017
Staying fit is essential as you approach your golden years. The key is to choose exercises that help to maintain physical fitness and flexibility while minimizing your risk for injury. The following eight exercises are excellent ways to maintain cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength.
Swimming is an outstanding way to participate in aerobic exercise while minimizing the impact on your joints. This low-impact exercise can be done at any intensity level. To increase upper body strength, focus on strokes such as freestyle, breast stroke, side stroke, or backstroke. For a lower body workout, try holding on to a kick board and kicking your feet to propel you through the water.
Aqua aerobics is a fun indoor workout that provides minimal strain on your joints. Aerobic exercise in the water offers a great cardiovascular workout for both the upper and lower body. It’s also a good option if you’re not a strong swimmer because the exercises can be performed in the shallow end, where you can stand. Exercising in the water with aqua weights is an excellent way to incorporate strength training without impact on your joints.
Dancing — of any kind — is a great way to maintain cardiovascular fitness as you age. Ballroom dance, line dancing, tap dancing, and even modern forms of dance (such as Zumba®) are moderately intense activities that have great cardiovascular benefits. Senior centers, fire halls, and other social clubs often offer free lessons for beginners if it’s something you’ve been wanting to try. It’s also a great way to meet other seniors with similar interests, providing you with a great social outlet.
Walking is a versatile aerobic exercise that can be done at any age. It doesn’t matter how fast you walk — you are still getting the cardiovascular benefits from exercises that are low impact and easy on your joints. If the weather outside isn’t conducive to walking, try joining an indoor walking group. Most malls and some shopping centers open early in the morning to allow walking groups in daily. An indoor track or treadmill at your local gym is a good option if you can’t walk outside.
Strength training is crucial to improving muscle elasticity as you age. It is an important component of improving balance, range of motion, and bone density. Start with strengthening exercises without added weights, including squats, leg raises, and modified push-ups. Slowly work your way up to using light weights — soup cans or filled water bottles work well.
Resistance training uses your own body weight and is less stressful on your joints than traditional weight training. You can use a variety of bands or light weights to perform exercises that will help to improve your balance as well as bone density. Wall squats, wall push-ups, abdominal strengthening exercises, and pelvic bridging are great examples of resistance exercises that can improve your core strength and posture.
Don’t underestimate the importance of incorporating a regular stretching routine into your physical fitness program. Stretching helps to increase circulation and blood flow, maintain good range of motion in your upper and lower extremities, improve flexibility, and to develop and achieve strength. Stretching can also help you improve posture and minimize chronic pain in muscles and joints.
In addition to stretching, incorporating flexibility exercises to increase your range of motion as you age is important to reduce pain and inflammation. Yoga, pilates, tai chi, and barre exercises are great examples of exercise styles that can help to increase flexibility.
The bottom line
It’s never too late to start an exercise program that can help improve health, flexibility, balance, and posture. Consult your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program to ensure that it is safe for you. Physical therapists and certified trainers can work with you to modify exercises based on any physical limitations you may have.