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Exercise Warmup for Seniors

Young woman stretching arms outdoors


Whether you’re preparing for a long walk on a fall morning or playing tag with your grandchildren on a summer afternoon, a quick warm-up sends a signal to your body to prepare for vigorous activity. Let’s take a look at an optimal exercise warmup for seniors.

What is a Warm-up?

Put simply, a warm-up is an elevation of core body temperature, meant to prepare your heart, muscles, and joints for exercise.

Warming up your muscles, either lower body, upper body, or both can be very beneficial to increase flexibility, and prevent exercise-related injury. Perhaps most importantly, in temperatures below 59º, the arteries may have a more limited capacity to transport blood, which can lead to unnecessary strain on the heart. (1)

Ideally, a short warm-up provides the necessary preparation your body needs to exercise safely.

Let’s take a look at some specifics about what a warm-up should consist of, and why it’s key to your exercise health practice.

The benefit of warm-up exercises

The heat you feel in your body when you walk up a steep hill indicates a boost in core body temperature. This is a sign that your heart is working to pump blood into your muscles.

Skipping the warm-up means running a higher risk of injury. Without some form of warmup exercise, the muscles and connective tissue (including the muscle in your heart) simply are not ready to move, especially if you are new to exercise.

Starting your day, or your exercise session, with some vigorous movement similar to the movements in which you are about to partake, can help to keep you safe. (2)

Is a warm-up the same as stretching?

Yes and no. Typically, when we think of stretching exercises, we think of a ‘stretch-and-hold’ (or static stretching) approach. While static stretching is an excellent idea after your workout, the primary goal for a warm-up is to move in ways that resemble the activity in which you are about to participate.

These are known as dynamic stretches– or dynamic warm-ups. Dynamic stretches can be thought of as a less intense, but similar activity to the one you’re preparing for, typically with a smaller range of motion.

Since many physical activities require the use of all or most parts of the body in some way, it’s best to utilize warm-ups that include your whole body, as well as some movement of the spine to ensure that all parts of your body are properly prepared.

Carefully chosen dynamic warm-up exercises also offer safe and simple challenges to your balance, which further serve to benefit fall prevention for general health. (3)

By preparing the muscles for activity, switching on your body’s ability to balance, and elevating your heart rate to get the blood flowing, warm-up exercises provide a simple and effective way to make injury prevention a centerpiece of your fitness routine.

The best warm-ups for physical activity for older adults

Let’s begin with a couple of exercises to get your body moving and your heart-rate elevated!

High Knee Warmup Exercise

High Knees

  • Stand in an upright position with your shoulders back and feet shoulder-width distance apart.

  • Hold your hands in front of you at about belly-button height and begin to march, eventually bringing each knee all the way up to touch your palm.

  • Make this a brisk, but controlled movement. You should feel a slight balance challenge in the standing leg with each step.

  • Do 20-30 marches, or more if you’re feeling good. You can also include a few ankle circles with the lifted leg for an extra coordination challenge

Shoulder Roll Exercise

Shoulder Rolls

  • Let your arms hang at your sides with your feet shoulder width.

  • Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears, and then back down, as if you’re trying to reach your shoulder blades toward your back pockets.

  • Repeat this motion 8-10 times in each direction.

Shoulder Rotation Exercise

Bent-arm Shoulder Rotations

  • Extend your arms out to the sides, just below shoulder height.

  • Now, bend your elbows as if you’re trying to put your fingertips on the tops of your shoulders.

  • Begin making small circles in the air with the tips of your bent elbows.

  • Do 12-15 repetitions in each direction.
Arm Swing Exercise

Arm Swings

  • In the same starting position, anchor your feet on the ground, and turn your torso to the right.

  • Let your arms remain loose so that they simply swing across and around your body, then turn to the other side and let your arms follow.

  • This is a classic dynamic warm-up that stretches the arms and shoulders while creating a gentle warm-up twist for the spine.

Cardio Warm-Up

Now that we’ve gotten the blood flowing, we’d encourage you to take a brisk walk around the block just to stimulate a little bit more blood flow. At this point, your warm-up should start to feel like a small workout in itself.

Once again, one of our main priorities is getting the heart to work just a little bit harder.

Consider using the “talk test”: walk at a pace where you can still say two sentences without running out of breath. For a warm-up, pushing yourself any harder than this is not necessary.

Warm-Up Strength Exercises

Finally, we’ll finish our sequence with a round of squats and rotating lunges to bring a little bit more heat to our warm-up.

Rita Demonstrates a Proper Lunge


With one hand on a chair or other surface for support, take a big step forward with your right leg.

Bend your knees slightly for a shallow lunge. While you should feel your legs working, it is not necessary to touch your back knee to the ground.

Carefully step back to the starting position. Switch legs and repeat on the left side.

Do 6-8 reps on each side.

Dr. Doubleday Shows Squat with Chair


  • Stand tall with feet shoulder width.

  • Bend at the knees and waist as if you’re about to sit down on a high stool. Be sure to keep your chest upright.

  • Return to the starting position and repeat 8-10 times.


Taking the time to allow the muscles of your body to prepare for exercise can mean the difference between feeling great or being unnecessarily injured.

A good warm-up is essentially a short workout to prepare you for your longer one. Through a simple practice of careful movement and dynamic stretches, you can prepare for any activity

We hope that this short routine can help you prepare for any of your favorite exercises and activities, and as always, consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program



  2. McCrary, J. M., Ackermann, B. J., & Halaki, M. (2015). A systematic review of the effects of upper body warm-up on performance and injury. British journal of sports medicine, 49(14), 935-942.;49/14/935

  3. Thomas, E., Battaglia, G., Patti, A., Brusa, J., Leonardi, V., Palma, A., & Bellafiore, M. (2019). Physical activity programs for balance and fall prevention in elderly: A systematic review. Medicine, 98(27).

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