Exercise is a healthy habit at any age, but fitness for seniors is especially critical for maintaining mobility and independence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention® (CDC), adults 65 and over need:
- 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise five days a week
- Strength training at least two days a week
- Regular activities to improve balance
Whether you’re a lifelong gym-goer or just giving this “fitness thing” a try for the first time, finding senior exercises that feel safe but adequately challenging can be tough.
Group fitness classes offer a great place to start. Joining a gentle or beginner class will help you check in with your body and assess your abilities, as well as realize what areas to work on. Having a knowledgeable instructor who’s there to make sure the class is safe will also give you confidence to try new things. Finally, exercise is more fun with friends – and studies show people are more likely to stick with a routine if they do it with others.
Interested in trying a class but not sure where to start? Here are seven of the best senior workouts to support balance, mobility and fitness.
1. Yoga for older adults
Yoga means to join or unite, and almost any class you find will focus on joining each movement to your breath. Yoga also combines strength with stretching – making it a good exercise to improve balance for seniors – and increases flexibility and body awareness. Because of the close link between mind and body used in this practice, beyond its physical benefits, yoga helps improve mood by reducing anxiety and depression.
There are many types of yoga to explore, so it’s important to find the right style for you. Start by looking for a gentle class where you can comfortably familiarize yourself with the movements. Look for classes with titles like:
- Gentle flow
- Chair yoga for seniors
- Beginner yoga series
One of the biggest benefits of yoga is that it is adaptable to any body type and fitness level – but that also means it’s important to listen to your body and modify the positions to best serve you.
2. Tai chi
Like yoga, tai chi is an ideal senior exercise for balance and maintaining functional movement. Through a series of fluid and gentle exercises, it helps develop mindfulness and strength. Because it requires no equipment, tai chi is easy to practice anywhere. The slow, intentional movements also make it one of the best low-impact workouts for seniors.
In addition to improving balance, tai chi – like yoga – is beneficial because it incorporates mindfulness and attention into the exercise routine. Harvard Medical School reports that staying mentally sharp is important for reducing falls and injuries. Because falls often happen due to unexpected changes in the environment, staying attentive and being physically able to adapt are important for avoiding an accident.
Walking may be one of the most accessible ways to get your 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day. Benefits of walking are vast. They include everything from weight management and heart health to improved energy, sleep and immune systems.
Whether you join a group at the mall in the morning, power walk through your neighborhood or listen to a podcast while using the treadmill, walking is a great senior cardio workout because you can do it at your own pace just about anywhere. There are also clear indicators of improvement. For instance, if you walk 30 minutes every day, notice if you’re able to go farther over time.
If you’re not sure if your walk qualifies as “moderate” exercise, try the talk test. With a moderate level of exertion, you should be able to hold a conversation, but not sing. (Hint: Having a workout buddy makes it a lot easier to do the talk test – just another reason to exercise with a friend.)
4. Water aerobics for seniors
Whether you’re doing laps or playing with the grandkids, pools offer excellent low-impact workouts for seniors. Most gyms, YMCAs® and even community centers offer water aerobics, so you can get your exercise even if you’re not ready to do the butterfly stroke.
Water-based activities can offer an especially helpful form of exercise for people with arthritis. This low- impact workout for seniors reduces pressure on joints so you can avoid aggravating symptoms. As a bonus, swimming has been shown to decrease both depression and anxiety, improving overall mood.
5. Strength and aerobics classes
Most people try to avoid stress. However, when it comes to putting stress on bones and muscles through exercise, it can be a good thing.
According to the Mayo Clinic®, this positive stress can improve bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. They also report that weight training and aerobics for seniors can help with management of body weight and chronic conditions. Aerobic exercises have been shown to improve cognitive function, functional movement, cardiovascular health and – possibly thanks to overall better fitness – quality of life.
Aerobic literally means “with oxygen,” so it makes sense that aerobic exercises are ones that might leave you a little short of breath. Many exercises mentioned in this list are considered aerobic – swimming, walking and cycling for instance. Aerobics classes may also be called “cardio” because they get your heart pumping.
6. Stationary bike workouts for seniors
If you feel the need for speed but find that running is too hard on your joints, cycling is one of the best cardio exercises for seniors. It provides a strong workout without the risk of losing your balance on a road bike, plus, the high energy of a class atmosphere might encourage you to stay in the saddle a little longer than riding alone. Attending an indoor class also frees you from inattentive motorists, bad weather conditions and poorly maintained roads.
As with any exercise class, it’s important to listen to your body. While spin classes can be intense, you don’t have to worry about falling behind the pack, and no one knows what your resistance is set to, so you’re free to go on the ride that feels right for you.
7. Resistance band workouts for seniors
Resistance bands, or exercise bands, are versatile and convenient. Great for “equipment-free” workout routines for older adults, they encourage movement from a variety of directions. We don’t always walk in a straight line or lift things cleanly with a bicep curl, so working a variety of muscles is important for supporting everyday activities.
When you’re ready to increase your workout, you can alter the resistance of the band by making it shorter, pull harder to simulate more weight, or get a band that is designed to offer greater resistance. While they’re very convenient for home exercise routines because they take up so little space, many gyms offer classes that use resistance bands.
The best exercise is the one you do
This list covers some of the top exercise programs for seniors, but it is by no means comprehensive. If your gym offers Zumba®, weight lifting or line dancing classes – give them a try! Ultimately, the only exercise that will benefit you is the one you do – and you’re more likely to do it if you enjoy it.
If you have a concern about the level of difficulty of a class, just ask a gym employee or the instructor. No matter what class you take, instructors are usually happy to talk before a session to respond to any apprehensions you might have, and suggest ways to make the class more accessible. If they know your left knee has never been the same since that basketball accident in high school, they may have a tip that will help you get an equal workout with less strain.
In addition to having access to knowledgeable instructors, classes are fun because you get to do them with other people, and as noted above, you’re more likely to stick to an exercise routine if you do it with a friend. So, even if you can’t make it to class, invite a buddy to join you to follow along with a SilverSneakers® exercise for seniors video on YouTube®.
At Holiday by Atria, our Engage Life® program puts senior fitness classes in easy reach. Meet with friends and neighbors for yoga, tai chi or resistance training – and don’t worry about driving to get there. We’re always just down the hall.