Exercise is important in all phases of life, but for seniors, it’s critical to maintaining independence, among other benefits.
When it comes to determining the best exercises for seniors, variety is key. Adults of all ages—but especially people older than 65—should focus on a combination of strength and mobility exercises, as well as balance exercises and aerobic activity. However, the best exercises for seniors are the ones they want to do and will do consistently.
Why Exercise Matters for Seniors
Exercise is important for older adults (age 65+) because being physically active makes it easier to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), including eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, getting into or out of a bed or chair and moving around the house or a neighborhood, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Physically active older adults are also less likely to fall, which can lead to serious injuries.
Exercise improves muscle strength and bone density as well, which is especially important for women since they lose bone density at a faster rate after menopause than men. Meanwhile, the benefits of exercise for the heart and lungs help promote overall health and offset some risks for chronic illnesses and disease.
Best Aerobic Exercises for Seniors
Older adults should do at least 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, ideally spread out over several days. Moderate-intensity aerobic activity includes brisk walking, cycling, swimming, dancing and nature walks.
Here are some of the best aerobic exercises for seniors:
- Walking: Walking is one of the best forms of cardio for older adults and can be modified to match the pace, distance or time that feels right for the individual. It requires good balance, but can be effective if a person uses a cane or walker.
- Cycling: Whether using an outdoor bicycle or a stationary bike, cycling requires the use of larger muscles, including the quadriceps and hamstrings, leading to increased blood flow and demand on the heart and lungs. Like with other forms of cardio, when this demand is repeated, the body adapts by increasing its capacity to tolerate the added load, making the exercise beneficial for the heart and the lungs. Cycling is also a non-impact activity, which can be beneficial for anyone who needs to reduce ground reaction forces during exercise to help with joint or muscle pain or dysfunction.
- Dancing: Whether you’re into Zumba, line dancing or tango, moving your body (including your hips) with continuous dancing definitely counts as cardio. Dancing not only elevates the heart rate, but also improves balance, strengthens multiple large muscle groups and lifts your spirits. Pair it with a partner or group, and you’ve got yourself a social and physical workout.
- Nature walks: Whether along a creek, at the beach or on a mountain, walking in nature can challenge the body’s proprioception, or awareness of itself in space. Walking on various terrain can improve strength, agility and balance for safer movement overall. Spending time outside may also lead to positive psychological effects, such as reduced anxiety and improved mood.
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