Senior Asian man and woman smiling and going for a jog together
Fitness & Lifestyle

Exercise Benefits for Seniors

Fitness tips for older people, at home and out in the world

When it comes to health benefits for seniors, it’s hard to find a better bang for your buck than exercise. Here are some suggestions to help older adults start and stick to an exercise program, safely.

Benefits of exercise for older people

Regular physical activity is the bees’ knees for seniors: As the Canadian government notes, it can help improve balance, prevent or reduce falls and related injuries, maintain muscle mass, and build stronger bones. It can also help to prevent heart disease, stroke, weight gain, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, as well as some cancers — not to mention premature death. 

If that’s not enough, seniors who exercise regularly may experience less pain, and have better cognition, range of motion, balance, posture and flexibility. They may also be happier! Regular exercise can improve the mood and help reduce depression. And all of these benefits can help seniors maintain more independence as they age.

The message is clear for older adults with a regular exercise routine: keep on moving. And if you are (or someone you love is) a senior who isn’t active right now, don’t worry: adding any amount of physical activity has health benefits. You can start now, start slowly, and increase your physical activity over time. 

Types of exercise

Walking, swimming, yoga, chair aerobics, even gardening — it’s all exercise, and it’s all good for you. That said, it’s also a good idea to for seniors incorporate different kinds of activities into their workout routines:

  • Aerobic exercise, like taking a dance class, walking or biking to the store, hiking or cross-country skiing, is continuous movement that makes you feel warmer and breathe deeper. During moderate physical activity, you should have enough breath to talk, but not sing. More vigorous aerobic activity will increase your heart rate quite a bit, so that carrying on a conversation becomes more difficult. The Canadian government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States both suggest two and a half hours, or 150 minutes, of moderate aerobic activity per week for people over age 65.
  • Strengthening exercises build muscle and strengthen bones. Muscle-strengthening activities include things like lifting weights, doing push-ups (on the floor from your knees or feet, or against a wall), climbing stairs, or digging in the garden. Bone-strengthening activities include walking, running, and yoga. The Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines suggest participating in muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.
  • Stretching, through activities like yoga, helps to lengthen muscles and allow for greater movement in the joints. Research published in the International Journal of Physical Therapy shows that older adults who completed a 10-week program of stretching 2–3 times a week had better spinal mobility, more flexible hips, and a steadier gait. Stretching can also help reduce tension and improve muscle control.
  • Balancing exercises are exactly what they sound like — activities aimed at improving balance in order to reduce or prevent falls and injuries, which can be particularly dangerous for seniors. Canadian guidelines suggest that balance exercises for the elderly can be performed daily.

Aerobic exercise for seniors

Senior man stretching before a run

As mentioned above, seniors should aim to get in 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week. If that sounds like a lot, remember that it can be broken down into 10- or 15-minute chunks, once or twice a day. Aerobic exercise for an older adult might include:

  • Walking (or even jogging) for 15-30 minutes 
  • Swimming or water aerobics 
  • Bicycling, outdoors or on a stationary bike
  • Zumba, aerobics or other fitness classes at your local gym, community centre or seniors’ centre — many offer classes tailored specifically to the 55-plus set
  • Hiking or cross-country skiing

Strengthening exercises for senior

Senior man strength training with a dumbbell

Strength training is a key component of senior workouts — it helps prevent age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia), increases bone density, and a host of other benefits. Even a half-hour of strength training, twice a week, can have dramatic benefits for older people.

If the idea of strength training seems intimidating, it can be useful to tie its benefits to activities the senior already enjoys or finds relevant. So, if a retiree enjoys playing golf, it may be motivating to focus on how strength training improves balance, mobility and coordination, all of which will bolster performance on the links. If a grandmother cherishes spending time with her infant grandchildren, then strength training can help give her the oomph to lift a growing baby or toddler.

Strength training exercises for seniors might include:

  • Squats. These are great lower-body exercises that work the muscles of the thighs, hips, buttocks and hamstrings.
  • Incline push-ups, which work the muscles of the chest, triceps, shoulder and back.
  • The forearm plank, which works the muscles of the core, crucial for maintaining good posture and back health.

Stretching exercises for seniors

Senior woman stretching her arms while on a walk

From putting on socks to putting a teacup away on a high shelf, seniors rely on flexible muscles and joints to get through the simple tasks of daily life. A regular stretching routine can help older adults maintain flexibility and functionality as the years pass. 

It’s a great idea to stretch after aerobic and strengthening exercises — that gives muscles a chance to warm up. Move slowly and carefully to your “edge” — but not beyond.

Stretching exercises for seniors might include:

  • Yoga — either in a public class or via an online instructor or app.
  • Wall exercises, like the snow angel: standing about three inches away from a bare wall, and carefully leaning back so that your head and upper back are flat against it. Place the backs of your hands against the wall, and slowly move your arms up and down, touching the wall, to make “wings” for your angel.
  • Neck stretches: for example, slowly shake your head “yes” and then no, moving within your full range of motion. Draw a circle with your nose: at first the size of a loonie, then a saucer, and gradually increase to the size of a dinner plate. Remember to move in both directions!

Balance exercises for seniors

Senior man and woman doing yoga in a park

Statistics Canada reports that falls are the most common cause of injury among older Canadians, and one of the leading causes of injury-related hospitalizations among seniors.

Medical conditions like arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis can reduce seniors’ ability to stay balanced and move freely. Worsening eyesight and side effects of medications can also make it hard to balance and can increase the risk of falls.

Physical activity plays a huge role in helping seniors maintain the strength and balance they need to stay upright. Balance exercises for seniors might include:

  • Standing on one foot: Hold onto the back of a heavy, solid chair. Lift your right foot and balance on your left for as long as you can, and then switch. Work up to standing on each foot without holding onto the chair, and holding that pose for up to a minute.
  • Walking heel to toe: Walk in a straight line, placing your right foot in front of your left so that your right heel touches your left big toe. Then, switch: move your left foot in front, and so on, shifting your weight from your heels to your toes for each step.
  • Tippy-toe lifts: Stand at a counter or behind a sturdy chair that you can grab onto for support. Rise as high as you can onto your tiptoes, hold that position for a few moments, and then slowly return to a flat foot. Eventually, you may be able to do these lifts without holding on to your support.

Coordinate your loved one’s exercise with CareEasy

Now you can easily track and encourage routine exercise for your loved ones. Set daily, weekly or monthly exercise reminders to make sure its prioritized and never forgotten. You can assign this to someone specific in your circle, or assign it to the whole circle to make sure everyone is getting enough exercise! Start by downloading the CareEasy app below, and help bring routine exercise to your family!

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