Exercise Plans for Seniors

Written by Shawn Radcliffe | Published on February 13, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on February 13, 2014

Exercise Plans for Seniors

Getting older doesn’t mean you need to give up being active. In fact, daily physical activity can improve your health in a number of ways, at any age.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, seniors can minimize the negative effects of too much inactivity by exercising regularly. Exercise will also help you live independently longer and may improve your mood and brain power (Chodzko-Zajko et al., 2009). The best part is that it’s never too late to add exercise to your daily routine.

The Benefits of Exercise for Seniors

Regular exercise and physical activity are important for both mental and physical health. Staying active can:

  • help you continue doing the activities you enjoy and keep you living independently as you age
  • improve your mood and reduce feelings of depression
  • prevent and help you manage certain diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis
  • improve your balance and help you walk more easily

How Much Exercise Do Seniors Need?

According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, people should get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week. This can include walking briskly, swimming, or cycling. You can get the same benefits from doing at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week instead (DHHS).

It sounds like a lot, but breaking it down into 10 or 15 minutes of exercise at a time works just as well. Older adults who have trouble doing this much exercise because of chronic health conditions should do as much as possible.

As always, check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

What Types of Exercise Should Seniors Do?

The ACSM recommends that seniors include the following exercises in their weekly workouts. Increasing how hard, how often, or how long you exercise will lead to more health benefits. Moderate exercise means working at about half of your maximum effort. Vigorous exercise means working at very close to your maximum effort.

  • Aerobic (endurance) exercise: 30 to 60 minutes a day of moderate intensity exercise, or 20 to 30 minutes a day of vigorous exercise, or some combination. Choose exercises that don’t put too much strain on your joints, such as walking, aquatic exercise, dancing, raking, stationary cycle exercise, or tennis.
  • Resistance (strength) exercise: At least 30 minutes of resistance exercise (between moderate and vigorous intensity) two days a week. Choose weight training, calisthenics, resistance band exercises, stair climbing, or other exercises that use the major muscle groups. Include eight to 10 exercises, with eight to 12 repetitions each.
  • Flexibility (stretching) exercise: At least two days a week of flexibility exercise (moderate intensity). The stretches should be held, instead of moving or pumping. The exercises should also include all of the major muscle groups.
  • Balance exercise: Include exercises such as heel-to-toe walking or one- and two-legged balancing. Work up from simple to more-difficult balance postures. Also useful are balancing exercises done with the eyes closed, such as standing on one or two legs. In addition, tai chi and yoga classes can improve both balance and flexibility.

Staying Active Throughout the Day

While exercising every day is important, you can also improve your health by being more active throughout the day. In many ways, making physical activity a regular part of your life can make it easier to stick to your workouts. Here are some simple ways to stay moving all day long:

  • Start your day with movement, before you get busy with other tasks.
  • Keep it simple so you’re more likely to exercise. Keep light weights handy so you can do exercises while watching TV. Or walk while you talk on your cell phone using a hands-free headset.
  • Walk more whenever you can. For instance, park further from the store’s entrance when you go shopping, get off the subway one stop early, or take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Do household chores, such as cleaning your house, raking your yard, or gardening.
  • Make it social and fun by getting together with family members or friends for a regular walk, tennis game, or exercise class.

How Can Seniors Exercise Safely?

Here are some tips to help you safely reap the health benefits of exercise.

  • Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. This is especially true if you have a chronic health condition or have been inactive for a long time.
  • Start slowly. If you are new to exercise or have chronic conditions, start with low intensity and duration. Work up from there.
  • Include warm ups and cool downs before and after exercising to reduce the chance of injury, such as walking for five minutes.
  • Drink fluids before and after your workouts.
  • Avoid exercising when you are sick, or in very cold or hot weather.
  • Stop exercising if you experience any of the following symptoms: dizziness, chest pain or discomfort, rapidly beating heart, or severe shortness of breath.
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