Exercise for Older Adults

Why should I exercise?

Exercise is very important for good health. It can:

  • Increase your strength and energy
  • Improve your balance and decrease your risk of falling and getting injured by keeping your muscles toned
  • Lift your mood and improve how you feel about yourself
  • Help you keep a healthy weight or lose excess body fat
  • Help you sleep
  • Help keep your bones strong
  • Help prevent or manage diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease
  • Help keep your mind sharp
  • Make it easier to do daily activities and to not become dependent on others.

What kinds of exercise are best?

The first thing you should do is check with your healthcare provider. If you are overweight or have other medical problems, ask your healthcare provider how to exercise safely.

Regular, moderate exercise is much more important for your health than strenuous exercise. If you haven’t been active lately, a good goal is to start doing some physical activity every day. Pick activities that you enjoy. You will be more likely to stick with them.

Warming up and cooling down

  • An active warm-up, such as walking slowly for 5 to 10 minutes, before starting your workout may make your muscles more flexible and less prone to injury.
  • After your workout, cool down for 5 to 10 minutes by walking slowly and doing some stretches.


  • Aerobic exercise increases your breathing and heart rate. This is important because it helps keep your heart and lungs healthy. Walking is an easy and convenient way to do this. Start by walking at a moderate pace for a few minutes, and increase how far or how long you walk over several weeks. Many shopping malls offer senior walking programs in the mornings before the stores open, so you can walk year-round without worrying about the weather.
  • Other forms of exercise that are popular among older adults are swimming, dancing, group exercise classes, and biking. Senior centers, YMCAs, YWCA, community centers, recreation centers, community colleges, and some retirement centers have exercise programs just for seniors. Call to find out what exercise programs are available near you.
  • A healthy goal for most adults is to do moderate exercise for 2 hours and 30 minutes or more each week. You don’t need to do 30 minutes of activity all at once. You can do shorter periods, but try to do at least 10 minutes each time. You may need to work up to this slowly. Aim for a moderate level of effort that lets you talk while moving, but without getting out of breath.


  • Exercise to strengthen your muscles includes weight lifting, going up and down stairs, carrying groceries, and exercising with large elastic bands. The choice of exercise is up to you. Do something that doesn’t tire you a lot or strain your muscles or joints. For older adults, there is less chance of injury if you use weight machines instead of free weights. Be sure you have your provider’s approval to use weight machines. It’s a good idea to have an expert teach you how to use any new exercise equipment. This helps you use the equipment correctly and helps prevent injury.
  • When you work your muscles, they get stronger and able to work longer without getting tired. Stomach, or “core” muscles support your back, so strengthening this area is important. Muscle burns more calories than fat so as your muscle increases so does your ability to burn calories.
  • The goal is to do 30 minutes of strength exercises on 2 days each week. Try to exercise each muscle group 2 days per week, but never 2 days in a row.


  • Flexibility exercises can help you move about more easily. They help you use the full range of motion of your joints. Being flexible makes it easier to do many activities and also decreases your risk for getting hurt. Examples of flexibility exercises include stretching, yoga, and tai chi. Always do stretching after you exercise.


  • Falls are a problem if you are older, because bones get thinner as you age and may break more easily. Balance exercises can help to prevent falls. Balance exercises include backward walking, sideways walking, walking on your heels, and walking on your toes. They can be done while holding onto something, such as a railing or furniture. Do balance exercises 3 or more days a week. Ask your healthcare provider or trainer which exercises are best for you and how to do them properly.

Are there any cautions I should follow?

  • Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before you start your exercise program and have regular checkups. If your healthcare provider prescribes medicine, take it as directed.
  • Before trying a new activity, first learn how to do it safely.
  • Start slow and increase your activity over time. When you add a new activity, do it for only 10 to 20 minutes the first few times. This helps lower your risk of injury.
  • Work more activity into your everyday tasks. Every little bit helps. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get off the bus several blocks away from where you are going. Take time for a short walk or bike ride a few times during the day.
  • Pay attention to how you feel and don’t overdo it. If you can’t talk while doing your activity, you are working too hard. If you are unsure, ask your healthcare provider. Don’t keep exercising if you feel breathless, dizzy, sweaty, or sick to your stomach. If you feel pain or discomfort in your chest, arms, neck, jaw, or legs, stop and rest. Sit down if you need to. If you think you are in real trouble, call 911.
  • Always drink water before, during, and after exercise.
  • Avoid exercise in very cold or very hot weather. If you are going to go out when it’s very hot or cold, go with a buddy and carry a cell phone. Be sure you have the phone number for someone who could help if you got into trouble.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-07-07
Last reviewed: 2014-05-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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