Exercise for older adults: 6 simple exercises to keep you active in your senior years
It's never too late to start your health and fitness journey. Working on your wellbeing, regardless of your age is important. By staying active in your 60s, 70s and beyond, you can lower your chances of developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia and mental illnesses.* Focusing on your flexibility and balance will become more important as we age, as it can help reduce the risk of falls and injuries by keeping your joints and muscles strong. And, of course, staying active and healthy can help you to stay social and mobile, boosting all elements of your lifestyle as you get older*. What sort of exercises should you be doing as a senior? Ideally, you’ll be including a variety of exercise styles in your weekly exercise schedule, including aerobic and cardio exercise (to increase your heart rate), balance and mobility (mostly from stretches) and strength (including some kind of weight to retain muscle mass).
While we highly recommend you incorporate elements of all of the above styles of exercise, don’t force yourself to do workouts you don't feel comfortable with or hate – instead, focus on the types of exercise you can enjoy and be consistent with. Perhaps you enjoy walking or cycling? That’s great – make sure to create a routine you can stick to each week. Maybe swimming has been your favourite relaxing pastime; try to make it to the pool at least a couple of times a week.
Also, it’s important to avoid pushing yourself beyond your ability too quickly. If until now you’ve been fairly inactive, then start at a lighter intensity and frequency before building your way up. If your body doesn’t feel ready to push to the next level, then focus on maintaining a regular exercises routine, even if it’s at a lower intensity.
How much exercise should you be doing as an older adult?
NHS guidelines* highlight that adults over the age of 65 should aim to be physically active every day, and in a week should be aiming for around 150 minutes (20 minutes a day) of moderate intensity exercise such as a brisk walk, tennis, cycling or water aerobics, or 75 minutes (just over 10 minutes a day) of vigorous intensity exercise such as jogging, dancing, fast swimming or uphill hiking. You can either split these out across the week or do a few longer workouts, but it’s good to aim for at least a couple of exercise sessions a week. Aim to stand up at least once every hour, or more often if you can, as sitting for long hours at a time has been proven to increase the likelihood of developing diseases*.
What exercises are best for older adults?
It’s best to vary your exercise routine and include a range of styles and types of movement, to ensure you’re keeping your whole body supple and strong as you age. Try to pick at least one from each of the following three sections several times a week.
Cardio and Aerobic Fitness
As mentioned above, this is any type of exercises that raises your heart rate and helps to improve the movement of oxygen around the body. Including this type of exercise can help to increase your energy expenditure which can help to keep your weight under control, and at the same time provide a wealth of other health and wellbeing benefits for both your body and mind.
- Walking – if you’re just beginning to get more active then walking can be a great place to start. It’s an excellent opportunity to get some fresh air, or head to the gym and use the treadmill if the weather’s looking too rough. Try to keep the pace up as much as possible, and aim for between 2,000 to 9,000 steps a day (or more if you can). But remember, any movement is better than no movement – the important thing is to just keep going and go for a distance and pace that is comfortable for you.
- Swimming – a perfect low-impact exercise, which puts less pressure on your joints. You can push yourself hard for a few lengths, or have a gentler swim for a longer amount of time. While you’re in the water you can also stretch and move in a variety of ways, including water aerobics, helping to boost your body health without too much impact. Cycling – another excellent, lower-impact option, you can enjoy cycling while taking in the sights outside, or on a stationary bike at the gym if you don’t have a bike of your own.