Participating in a balanced fitness program contributes to well-being at every age, but it’s vital for seniors. Regular exercise helps control blood pressure, body weight, and cholesterol levels, and it reduces the risks of hardening of the arteries, heart attack, and stroke. What’s more, exercise strengthens muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to help fight osteoporosis. Keeping your body strong and limber reduces the risk of injury and allows you to continue to enjoy the kinds of activities you’ve enjoyed your entire life. This well-being will help you maintain your independence.

If you haven’t been active for a while, be sure to take it easy and start slowly. Walking for just five or 10 minutes at a time, several days a week, is a great way to begin. Once you can walk for 30 minutes at a time, several days a week, you have built a solid foundation and are ready to add more challenging activities to your regimen.

Aerobic Endurance

Any activity that increases your heart rate, even by just a few beats a minute, helps build endurance.  And it doesn’t take long to make significant changes. After as few as six weeks of consistent exercise you should notice that you’re more comfortable during exercise as well as when going about your day-to-day activities.  

The best aerobics for seniors are nonjarring ones, such as walking, swimming or water aerobics, cycling, and low-impact aerobic dance. Other options include yoga, Tai Chi, line dancing, square dancing, and ballroom dancing.

Strength

Even small changes in overall muscle strength can have a huge impact on your daily living activities. Carrying groceries, climbing stairs, and even getting up out of a chair all require muscle. Fitness experts agree that two 30-minute strength-training sessions a week are enough to make noticeable changes. Start with small weights, such as 1- and 2-pound dumbbells, and try to do 10–15 repetitions of a variety of exercises such as biceps curls, triceps extensions, and chest presses. And you need only your body weight to do some very effective moves, including lunges, squats, and modified pushups. 

Try this: Stand facing a wall, with your toes 12–18 inches from the wall. Lean forward slightly, and place your palms flat on the wall at about shoulder height. Now bend your elbows, and lower your body toward the wall until your nose nearly touches the wall (or get as close as you can without strain). Then push back to the starting position. Do this 10 times. This modified pushup builds chest, upper back, and shoulder strength.  

Balance

Every year more than 1.6 million older Americans end up in emergency rooms because of fall-related injuries, according to AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons). For seniors, even minor injuries can have serious consequences. Doing a few basic exercises to improve balance just might come in handy next time you step off a curb awkwardly or try to sit down on a moving train or bus.

Try this: Stand directly behind a study chair, such as a dining room chair that won’t tip easily. Rest one hand on the back of the chair, and place the other hand on your hip. Lift your right leg, bending the knee slightly. Hold for a count of 10. Relax, and do nine more. Switch legs and repeat. As your balance improves, do the same move without resting your hand on the back of the chair.

Flexibility

If you’ve noticed that reaching for objects on high kitchen shelves or even doing more basic activities, such as getting dressed, aren’t as easy as they used to be, you probably need to add some stretches to your daily routine. Stretching is something you can, and should, do every day. It’s best to warm up for three to five minutes by walking or simply marching in place. Then slowly move into your stretches, holding each for at least 10 seconds — no bouncing! Be sure to breathe during the stretch. Remember that stretching should never be painful. If you feel sharp pain or soreness the following day, you’re stretching too far.

Try this: You can do this neck stretch standing or sitting. Slowly turn your head toward the right until you feel a slight stretch. Don’t tilt your head backward or forward. Hold for 10–30 seconds. Now slowly turn your head to the left. Hold. Repeat three times in each direction.