Seniors: It’s Never Too Late to Start Exercising

HCA image for elderly exercise Older adults often blame aches and pains on aging. Age is often used as a reason not to workout. But an exercise program can boost your health and ability no matter your age. It can also help you to lower the risk of problems like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. As always, you should talk with your doctor before starting any program.

What We Know

Our bodies change as we age. We start to lose:

  • Lean muscle tissue—We hit our peak muscle mass around age 20 and start losing muscle after that.
  • Aerobic capacity—Changes in the heart and loss of muscle tissue make it harder for the heart and body to delivery oxygen.
  • Balance—As we age, our ability to balance decreases. This makes falls more likely. It is likely due to loss of muscle.
  • Flexibility—Our joints and tendons lose some of their range of motion with age. This can make it hard to bend and move.
  • Bone density—Most of us reach our peak bone density around age 20. After that, bones can become thinner and weaker. This can lead to osteoporosis.

Working out can help slow some of these changes and give you the energy you need to do things like walking, shopping, and playing with your grandchildren. It may even help ease depression and stress, boost mood and self-esteem, and slow cognitive decline.

It's never too late to start exercising. Working out can help you be healthier, happier, and more energetic.

Endurance

Older adults can safely do exercises. Even just a few days a week improve your endurance.

Aim to get 30 minutes at least 5 days a week. Good choices are brisk walking, bicycling, or swimming. You do not have to do 30 minutes at once. You can break it up into two 15 minute sessions or three 10 minute sessions. This will cause your heart rate to rise and your breathing to increase, but you should still be able to talk.

Strength

It is not just aging that makes people lose muscle. One of the main reasons older people lose muscle mass is because they stop exercising and doing everyday activities that build muscle.

Building stronger muscles can help protect your joints, strengthen your bones, improve your balance, lower the risk of falls, and make it easier for you to move around. Even small changes in your muscle size and strength will make it easier to do things like walking quickly across the street and getting up out of a chair.

Aim to do strength exercises every other day or at least twice a week. For each exercise, do three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.

Flexibility

Add in some bending and stretching exercises to improve your flexibility. A good time to do this is after strength training. This is because your muscles will be warmed up. Some choices are Tai chi, yoga, Pilates, and exercises that you do in the water.

Stretching will make it easier for you to move around. You may also feel less stressed and have better posture.

Balance

Being more active will help your balance and lower your risk of falls. Some basic balance exercises can also help you feel more stable. They can be done anywhere with just a chair.

Anyone with severe balance problems should talk to their doctor before doing these exercises.

Getting Started

Start slowly so you don't get hurt. Add one or two sessions a week and then add more as you start to feel stronger. A doctor, certified trainer, or other healthcare provider can help you make a program that will be safe and effective. Check with your local fitness or community center. They may offer classes for older adults.

It is never too late to start exercising. The sooner you start, the sooner you will start feeling healthier, more energetic, and less stressed.

RESOURCES:

American Heart Association
http://www.heart.org

President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition
http://www.fitness.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
http://www.canada.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

Effects of aging. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/effects-of-aging. Accessed November 2, 2021.

Exercise and physical activity. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/exercise-physical-activity. Accessed November 2, 2021.

Physical activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/index.html. Accessed November 2, 2021.

Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board  Last Updated: 11/2/2021