Types of Exercise for Seniors

Last Updated : 09/15/20185 min read

Exercise for seniors: why should you exercise?

As we get older, our strength and endurance often decline, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This may make seniors more likely to be tired and get hurt. So, let’s look at how exercise for seniors may help you stay healthy.

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says exercises for seniors can help:

  • Boost your energy
  • Maintain your independence
  • Protect your heart
  • Strengthen your muscles
  • Manage your weight
  • Improve your sleep
  • Increase your chances of living longer (according to the CDC)

Exercise for seniors is good for the mind, memory, and mood as well, the NIH notes.

Exercise for seniors: how does it affect your health?

A Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that senior participants who exercised had lower health-care costs, and stayed out of the hospital more, compared with participants who didn’t exercise. A regular exercise program for seniors may have multi-faceted benefits supporting your health and well-being, the CDC stated.

  • Exercise for seniors may reduce the impact of a chronic disease or illness.
  • Regular exercise may help prevent type 2 diabetes and help you keep healthy blood pressure levels.
  • Balance exercises can help prevent falls.
  • Exercise improves your strength.
  • Exercises for seniors can help you sleep. If you have a regular schedule of exercise, it is likely to help you fall asleep more quickly, sleep more deeply, and awaken feeling more refreshed than if you did not exercise, reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
  • Exercise can help relieve stress. It makes the body release chemicals that help reduce feelings of sadness, depression, or anxiety, according to the NIH.
  • Exercise for seniors can help your mood and your mental health.

Exercise for seniors: weight loss

Does your doctor say you need to lose weight? Maintaining a healthy weight can be a challenge because one’s metabolism naturally slows with age, notes the CDC. Exercise for seniors can help increase metabolism and build muscle mass, helping to burn more calories and lose weight.

Exercise for seniors: what should an exercise program for seniors include?

According to the National Institute on Aging, a good exercise program for seniors is built on four building-blocks of fitness.

  1. Endurance (or aerobic) exercise: gets your heart pumping faster. Brisk walks, cycling, hiking, stair-climbing, swimming, dancing, rowing, and tennis are some examples.
  2. Balance exercises: help you maintain physical stability, whether you are standing or moving. Yoga, tai chi, and exercises such as standing on one leg are common types of balance exercises. Balance exercises may help you reduce the risk of injury-causing falls.
  3. Strength exercise: builds muscles with repetitive motion using weight or external resistance from free weights, elastic bands, or exercise machines. Strength exercises may help prevent loss of bone mass. It can build muscle and improves balance. You might find it easier to carry grocery bags or climb stairs after you build up some strength.
  4. Flexibility exercise: stretches your muscles to help your body stay limber. Yoga or other stretching and flexibility exercises may help your body stay limber, keep you less prone to injury, and improve your range of movement. This might help you perform daily tasks such as reaching into overhead cabinets, tying your shoelaces, or turning your neck when driving.

Exercise for seniors: does it have to be rigorous?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says moderate exercise for seniors has many benefits. Exercise for seniors doesn’t have to be demanding. The CDC does recommend moderate exercise on a daily basis, though – rather than just once in awhile. Walking is generally an easy exercise with plenty of benefits, and costs nothing.

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Doing moderate exercises for longer periods of time, or more rigorous exercises for short durations, can give you health benefits, reports the CDC.

And an American Cancer Society study about exercise for seniors found that even “a little” walking at a moderate pace decreased the risk of death, compared with study participants who got no exercise.

Exercise for seniors: how much do you need?

The CDC has suggestions for people age 65 and older who are generally fit and have no limiting health conditions. Please note that these are general guidelines, and that you should always consult your doctor before starting or changing an exercise program. Here are the CDC general guidelines about exercise for seniors:

  • At least 2 hours and 30 minutes every week of moderate-intensity aerobic (endurance) activity such as brisk walking, and
  • Muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, arms, hips, back, abdomen, chest, and shoulders).
  • At least 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic (endurance) activity and
  • Muscle strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week.

For even greater health benefits, if you’re up for it and your doctor agrees, the CDC recommends working up to 5 hours each week of moderate-intensity exercise or 2 hours and 30 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.

However, as the National Institute on Aging suggests, the best approach to beginning an exercise program is to start out comfortably, progress slowly, and make exercise a part of your daily routine.

To learn more about exercise for seniors and how to make exercise part of your daily life, talk to your doctor and visit the Go4Life Campaign sponsored by the National Institute on Aging at NIH.

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