Exercise benefits people of all ages, but it is essential for seniors to stay active. As we age, our bodies become less resilient and are more susceptible to health problems. Fortunately, regular exercise can help offset the effects of aging by providing a wide range of benefits.
The evidence is clear: regular exercise can help improve physical health, mental well-being, and overall quality of life for seniors. So let’s examine how exercising can benefit seniors, the best exercise for older adults, and how to get started.
Why Older People Should Exercise
Exercise is one of the most powerful habits for people of all ages, playing a role in managing countless health problems.
As we age, our priorities with exercise will change. This means that while your fitness goals earlier in life may have revolved around a specific mile time or weight lifting record, now they’re more likely to focus on the particular needs of your health and wellness.
Much like kids and younger adults, seniors should stay active to maintain their physical and mental health, improve mobility, and maximize their quality of life.
Exercise is an incredibly potent medicine which:
Strengthens bones and muscles
Boosts heart health
Helps manage chronic conditions like diabetes and arthritis
Increases energy levels and contributes to better sleep patterns and mood
Enhances cognitive function
While there is no exact formula for the best exercise for older people, there are many great benefits to discuss and options to achieve each one. In short, physical activity is essential for seniors to stay healthy and maintain their independence as they age.
The Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
The benefits of exercise become especially important to offset a natural decline in several areas of our health as we age.
Generally speaking, these benefits can be separated into physical and psychological categories, but remember that both are connected!
The Physical Benefits of Exercise for Older People
Regular exercise is among the most potent tools for general disease prevention for older people.
Numerous studies have found that regular physical activity that increases your heart rate (aerobic activity) and stresses your muscles can reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, all of which are responsible for serious health complications.
Exercise can also help manage conditions such as high blood pressure, arthritis, and obesity. Physical activity helps keep arteries healthy by reducing plaque buildup, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, and improving blood flow to the tissues of your body.
It also helps strengthen bones and muscles, improving resistance to several stress-related injuries. This is especially important for seniors with weakened muscles and joints due to advanced age, deconditioning, or previous injuries.
Bone Loss Prevention
The benefits of exercise for bone loss prevention are significant.
Physical activity helps to strengthen bones and reduce the risk of fractures due to falls or other causes. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, running, and resistance training help minimize bone loss naturally occurring with age.
Regular physical activity helps to promote increased calcium absorption in bones, which reduces the risk of osteoporosis and other conditions related to bone density.
Furthermore, exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight which is vital for preserving bone health. In some cases, you may benefit from exercise equipment designed to stimulate increased bone density for if you’re at high risk for osteoporosis.
Ultimately, exercise is the key to preventing bone loss and minimizing the severity of related injuries that might occur.
Regular balance exercise can help reduce the risk of falling by improving balance, coordination, agility, and strength. This is especially important for seniors, who often find themselves at an increased risk of falls due to normal age-related physical decline.
By engaging in regular physical activity such as walking, exercise classes, or structured balance programs, you can improve your body mechanics and increase your ability to recover from an unexpected loss of balance.
Targeted balance and core exercise help maintain balance throughout the years so that falls and slips become far less likely.
Furthermore, regular exercise can increase blood flow and lubrication throughout the joints of the body, which helps to reduce fatigue and make movements smoother—both of which are important for reducing your risk of falls.
Ultimately, exercise is central to preventing falls in seniors and improving safety overall.
The Psychological Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
Regular physical activity can play a significant role in maintaining mental health as we age
In fact, exercise has been linked to improved mood, decreased stress and anxiety levels, and improved sleep quality for people of all ages.
Even better, regular exercise can even help to reduce the risk of developing mental health conditions such as depression and cognitive decline that is related to diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Many types of exercise—but especially those that increase your heart rate—boost the production of endorphins in your body, boosting an overall sense of happiness and well-being.
Endorphins can also play a role in pain management and, in some cases, work to reduce pain levels more effectively than pain medications. Additionally, exercise can help reduce cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress and anxiety.
While exercise can be a great solo activity for many, it’s also an excellent opportunity to have fun with people you know or to make new friends. Better yet, social exercise increases participation and accountability to help you stick to your exercise program more easily.
As we age, community social opportunities may arise less frequently. Group exercise can be a great opportunity to maintain a healthy social life.
Joining an exercise class or striking up a conversation at your local gym might feel intimidating. Fortunately, new technology is making remote exercise more social than ever.
In fact, digital and remote forms of exercise are preferred by many older people to interact and socialize with others over traditional means. In many cases, it can be done from the comfort of your own home.
Many seniors will tell you that exercise is essential to maintaining their cognitive function. However, several studies have found regular physical activity to help improve overall memory and attention while reducing the risk of developing dementia and other age-related cognitive conditions.
Additionally, regular exercise is known to increase levels of specialized proteins in the brain that are responsible for helping to form new neurons (brain cells) and strengthening connections in the brain.
Exercise can also help to improve coordination, reaction time, and the ability to think quickly, all of which are important for staying sharp throughout the years.
Quality of Life
While our overall quality of life isn’t something we often think about, it’s actually the culmination of all the other benefits of exercise that many older adults work so hard for.
Although assigning a number to something as impactful as your quality of life can be challenging, it should represent other parts of your physical and psychological health that you notice in your everyday life.
Many tests and surveys can help us rate our quality of life, but many people will tell you that it’s something you “just feel” rather than rate.
Exercise of all kinds has been associated with an improved quality of life, which is an excellent reminder that simply staying active can dramatically affect our well-being.
Exercise Programs for Seniors
Finding the right exercise program—and the time to exercise can take some work. Luckily, many fabulous exercise programs are available for older people. Getting and staying active has never been easier!
Senior Exercise Classes
Senior exercise classes are safe and effective forms of group fitness designed specifically for older adults.
Activities will typically focus on increasing flexibility, muscle strength, balance, and the endurance of your heart and lungs. Sometimes, your class may use a fitness tracker such as a heart rate monitor to measure your activity level.
Examples of senior exercise classes include yoga, tai chi, water aerobics, Pilates, strength training, dance classes like Zumba or ballroom dancing, and walking groups.
These activities can help improve overall physical health and well-being while providing a powerful sense of community interaction.
Gyms for Seniors (55+)
These are fitness centers designed to provide safe and effective workout opportunities for people over 55.
These gyms usually offer a variety of classes, exercise equipment, and resources tailored specifically to the needs of older people.
This can translate to equipment that is easier to use, specialized classes such as chair yoga or Silver Sneakers, and a higher staff-to-member ratio to help ensure exercise safety in the gym.
Senior gyms for are also an appealing option for those who want to socialize with community members from a similar age group.
Senior-Qualified Personal Trainer
In addition to group exercise classes tailored to seniors’ needs, many certified instructors and trainers can offer personalized advice or one-on-one guidance to ensure you’re getting the most out of your workout routine.
Your personal trainer may have specialized training in building an exercise program for older adults or be an older adult themselves with decades of experience helping others exercise.
Finding a qualified personal trainer to work with seniors can be especially beneficial for those with age-related health complications or severe deconditioning.
However, one of the most significant benefits of a specialized trainer is having somebody familiar with your situation who can help motivate you to reach your fitness goals.
Guided Home Exercise Plans
In addition to in-person training options, several home programs and fitness apps are specifically designed for older people.
These options help provide personalized coaching and guidance to help keep seniors motivated and safe during their workout routines. Many people often prefer them over a traditional gym or group fitness class.
Guided home exercise options may include live video sessions, fitness trackers, coaching via messaging, intermittent in-person sessions with your coach or a combination of these to help older adults get the best results possible for their long-term health and wellness.
These options can benefit older adults struggling to find time to exercise.
Although distinct from other types of exercise for older adults, physical therapy can be essential to participating in physical activity and improving your general quality of life.
Physical therapy is especially effective for improving strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination and reducing the risk of falls and other aging-related injuries.
Your physical therapist will create a customized program tailored to your needs that emphasizes safe and effective exercise to build muscle, improve endurance, and get you back to doing what you love.
Physical therapy can also help older adults manage chronic conditions such as arthritis or other joint pain while improving overall mobility to help facilitate other forms of exercise. With physical therapy, older adults can get the help they need to stay active, healthy, and independent.
Exercising is vital to maintaining good physical and mental health, especially as you age.
Your exercise choices are guided by your needs, health history, and preferences. However, getting active and starting any exercise will help you progress in your overall health and wellness goals.
With the right plan and resources, older adults can participate in activities that fit their needs safely and effectively.
From specialized gyms to home exercise programs and physical therapy, many options are available for those looking to stay active and improve their quality of life.