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Three types of exercises to help seniors maintain a healthy lifestyle

Written by Kevin Ryan
 about the author
5 minute readLast updated June 30, 2023

Doctors agree and statistics show that staying active is good for the mind and body. Even as we age, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle that incorporates physical activity. Exercise can help prevent health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis, as well as support mobility, balance, and overall independence. Not to mention, exercise can also be a great mood booster.


Key Takeaways

  1. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important for aging adults. It can help prevent health conditions, support mobility, and fight depression.
  2. There are three main exercise categories seniors should attempt to include in their weekly routine. Older adults will benefit from regular cardiovascular, muscle strengthening, and balance exercises.
  3. Exercise routines require little equipment and can be a good way to interact with peers. Seniors can exercise at home, at a gym, or in community-based classes specifically for older adults.
  4. Stretching is an important part of exercise that encourages flexibility and mobility. Stretches should be done before and after workouts, but can also be practiced on their own.

Best exercises for seniors

For older adults, a weekly exercise routine has been shown to improve overall health, reduce injuries, and help fight depression.[01] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults over 65 engage in an exercise routine that incorporates cardiovascular/aerobic exercise, strength training, and exercises to help improve balance. Below, you’ll find several examples of exercises that can meet these goals.

Cardiovascular/aerobic exercise for seniors

An activity that increases breathing and heart rate is considered a cardiovascular or aerobic exercise. Several low-impact exercises can help achieve this, from everyday chores to simple hobbies. It’s recommended to start with a light-to-moderate intensity and work up to more vigorous activities and exercises. The CDC recommends seniors get at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of high intensity aerobic activity each week.
Examples of light-to-moderate intensity exercises and activities include:
  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Bicycling
  • Playing with grandchildren
  • Water aerobics
Examples of vigorous intensity exercises include:
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Zumba
  • Shoveling
  • Jumping rope

Muscle-strengthening for seniors

Muscle strengthening exercises help seniors to maintain their independence. These exercises condition the muscles necessary for performing activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, and general mobility. Research has shown that strengthening exercises can also slow or reduce symptoms associated with arthritis, osteoporosis, and diabetes.[02]
The CDC recommends performing exercises that work all the major muscle groups, which include the legs, hips, chest, back, abdomen, shoulders, and arms, at least two times per week.[03]

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Examples of effective muscle-strengthening exercises that don’t require any equipment include:
  • Squats (legs)
  • Marching in place (hips)
  • Floor push-ups or wall push-ups (chest)
  • Rowing (back)
  • Plank (abdomen)
  • Overhead press (shoulders)
  • Bicep curls (arms) [02]
Perform these exercises with weights, resistance bands, using bodyweight, or a combination of all three. For optimal conditioning, work up to doing two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions at least twice per week.
Small hand weights or dumbbells can be found at the local superstore and are a good investment for at-home strength training. Using heavier canned items from the pantry is another option.
Your parent can also do these exercises in a gym, or many community centers offer exercise classes tailored to older adults’ needs and abilities.

Exercises for improving balance

A person’s sense of balance will diminish over time. While this is a normal part of aging, it may contribute to an increased risk of falling, which is the leading cause of injuries for older adults.[04] Many balance exercises help reduce the risks of falling while increasing muscle strength and prolonging a senior’s ability to independently perform everyday tasks.
Activities and exercises that help improve balance include:
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Dancing

Stretching for seniors

It’s important to spend at least five minutes stretching before and after exercising. Additionally, a stretching routine twice a week can make a big difference in mobility and comfort for seniors.
These simple stretches can be used before and after a workout, or combined to create a stretching routine:
  • Standing quadriceps stretch
  • Seated knee to chest stretch
  • Hamstring stretch
  • Overhead side stretch
  • Shoulder stretch
Aim to hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three to five times. Find other examples of flexibility exercises online or stretching videos on YouTube.

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Starting an exercise routine

An exercise routine doesn’t have to be complicated. You can easily help your parent create their own healthy workout at home with common household items and a little bit of space. You may also consider encouraging your parent to join an exercise program in their community where instructors can safely guide them through a workout that covers all of the recommended criteria. An added benefit to taking a class is the opportunity for social interactions with peers, another part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle as people age.
Check with your parent’s doctor before they start a new exercise regimen. Also, encourage them to take things slow, especially if they’re just starting out or recovering from an injury.

Support for families exploring senior living or in-home care options

For families considering senior living options, there are several benefits. Many communities provide exercise programs and opportunities for social interaction. Senior Care Advisors can help families explore communities in their area that fit their budget.
In-home care is another option for seniors who prefer to live at home. They may be active in their community and around their home but would benefit from a little help safely performing daily tasks and chores. Senior Care Advisors can provide guidance on pricing and agencies that offer services to fit a senior’s care needs.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2022, June 16). Benefits of physical activity.

  2. Seguin, R.A., Epping, J.N., Buchner, D.M., Bloch, R., Nelson, M.E. (2002). Growing stronger: Strength training for older adults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  3. U.S Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2023, March 24). Keep on your feet—Preventing older adult falls.

Meet the Author
Kevin Ryan

Kevin Ryan is a copywriter at OurParents. He has written about Medicaid and Medicare, and focuses on creating content for caregivers. Previously, Kevin worked as a freelance writer, a special education teacher, and a counselor for adults with developmental disabilities. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Edited byKristin Carroll

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