Thinking about how to begin a fitness routine? Good for you! As you grow older, leading an active lifestyle is more important than ever. Regular exercise helps seniors maintain health, boost energy, and improve confidence.
The good news is—no matter your age, your health, or your fitness level—you can benefit from moving more. Whether you are generally healthy or are managing an illness, there are big and small ways to get more active and boost your fitness level.
Exercise is the key to healthy aging
The whole-body benefits of exercise
Tips for getting started safely
Tips for building a balanced exercise plan
Tips for frail or chair-bound seniors
Tips for getting more active—and liking it
Tips for staying active for life
Have you heard exercise is important for older adults, but don’t know where to begin? You’re not alone. Many seniors feel discouraged by fitness barriers, such as chronic health conditions or concerns about injury or falls. If you’ve never exercised before, you may not know where to begin. Or maybe an ongoing health problem or disability is keeping you from getting active. Perhaps you think you’re too old or frail.
The truth is that you can’t afford not to get moving. Exercise is the key to staying strong, energetic, and healthy as you get older. It can help you manage the symptoms of illness and pain, maintain your independence, and even reverse some of the symptoms of aging. And not only is exercise good for your body—it’s good for your mind, mood, and memory.
No matter your age or your current physical condition, you can benefit from exercise. Reaping the rewards of exercise doesn’t require strenuous workouts or trips to the gym. It’s about adding more movement and activity to your life, even in small ways. Whether you are generally healthy or are managing an illness—even if you’re housebound—there are many easy ways to get your body moving and improve your health.
5 Myths about Exercise and Older Adults
Myth 1: There’s no point to exercising. I’m going to get old anyway.
Fact: Exercise and strength training helps you look and feel younger and stay active longer. Regular physical activity lowers your risk for a variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Myth 2: Elderly people shouldn’t exercise. They should save their strength and rest.
Fact: Research shows that a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy for the elderly. Period. Inactivity often causes seniors to lose the ability to do things on their own and can lead to more hospitalizations, doctor visits, and use of medicines for illnesses.
Myth 3: Exercise puts me at risk of falling down.
Fact: Regular exercise, by building strength and stamina, prevents loss of bone mass and improves balance, actually reducing your risk of falling.
Myth 4: It’s too late. I’m already too old, to start exercising
Fact: You’re never too old to exercise! If you’ve never exercised before, or it’s been a while, start with light walking and other gentle activities.
Myth 5: I’m disabled. I can’t exercise sitting down.
Fact: Chair-bound people face special challenges but can lift light weights, stretch, and do chair aerobics to increase range of motion, improve muscle tone, and promote cardiovascular health.
The whole-body benefits of exercise for seniors
As you age, regular exercise is more important than ever to your body and mind.
Physical health benefits of senior exercise and fitness
Exercise helps seniors maintain or lose weight. As metabolism naturally slows with age, maintaining a healthy weight is a challenge. Exercise helps increase metabolism and builds muscle mass, helping to burn more calories. When your body reaches a healthy weight, overall wellness improves.
Exercise reduces the impact of illness and chronic disease. Among the many benefits of exercise for seniors include improved immune function, better heart health and blood pressure, better bone density, and better digestive functioning. Seniors who exercise also have a lowered risk of several chronic conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, and colon cancer.
Exercise enhances mobility, flexibility, and balance in seniors. Exercise improves your strength, flexibility and posture, which in turn will help with balance, coordination, and reducing the risk of falls. Strength training also helps alleviate the symptoms of chronic conditions such as arthritis.
Mental health benefits of senior exercise and fitness
Exercise improves your sleep. Poor sleep is not an automatic consequence of aging and quality sleep is important for your overall health. Exercise often improves sleep, helping you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply.
Exercise boosts mood and self-confidence. Endorphins produced by exercise can actually help you feel better and reduce feelings of sadness or depression. Being active and feeling strong naturally helps you feel more self confident and sure of yourself.
Exercise is good for the brain. Exercise benefits regular brain functions and can help keep the brain active, which can prevent memory loss, cognitive decline, and dementia. Exercise may even help slow the progression of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Get medical clearance from your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have a preexisting condition. Ask if there are any activities you should avoid.
Consider health concerns. Keep in mind how your ongoing health problems affect your workouts. For example, diabetics may need to adjust the timing of medication and meal plans when setting an exercise schedule. Above all, if something feels wrong, such as sharp pain or unusual shortness of breath, simply stop. You may need to scale back or try another activity.
Start slow. If you haven’t been active in a while, it can be harmful to go “all out.” Instead, build up your exercise program little by little. Try spacing workouts in ten-minute increments twice a day. Or try just one class each week. Prevent crash-and-burn fatigue by warming up, cooling down, and keeping water handy.
Recognize problems. Exercise should never hurt or make you feel lousy. Stop exercising immediately and call your doctor if you feel dizzy or short of breath, develop chest pain or pressure, break out in a cold sweat, or experience pain. Also stop if a joint is red, swollen, or tender to touch.