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Effective, Low-Impact Exercises for Seniors

Written by Celia Searles
 about the author
14 minute readLast updated June 26, 2023

For aging adults, it’s important to exercise regularly to nourish a healthy lifestyle. Low-impact exercises avoid jolting movements to reduce joint strain while remaining an effective way for seniors to improve and maintain their overall fitness. These exercises are also easy to modify to fit a senior’s abilities from simple low-intensity warm-ups to more challenging, high-intensity workouts.


Key Takeaways

  1. Regular low-impact exercise can contribute to a senior’s healthy lifestyle. Low-impact exercises can help reduce joint strain while providing an effective workout.
  2. Yoga can provide a cardio workout while helping to promote balance and muscle strength. Yoga poses can be done individually or in a sequence as part as a full workout.
  3. Swimming increases the heart rate while providing resistance for muscle strengthening. Other exercises such as water aerobics and water walking offer similar benefits to swimming.
  4. A low-impact exercise routine can be done at home or in a senior’s community. While exercising at home is convenient, going to a gym or community center offers in-person instruction and social opportunities.

Seven low-impact workouts for seniors

Low-impact workouts vary and many can be tailored to meet the physical activity guidelines for older adults recommended by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS recommends an exercise routine that combines cardiovascular/aerobic exercise, strength training, and exercises to help improve balance.
The following examples of low-impact exercises can be done at home, in a gym, or by joining a class at a local community center.

1. Yoga

Yoga is a diverse and dynamic practice that offers much variety. It puts less strain on the body than other forms of exercise, making it a good workout for seniors. Many of the poses in yoga, such as tree-pose, promote balance and strengthening of the muscles. Others, like forward folds, help increase flexibility. And when assembled in a sequence of poses, yoga can provide a cardio workout.
Scientific research cites additional health benefits of yoga for seniors who practice regularly, including:
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Reduced blood pressure and glucose levels
  • Continence health
  • Joint health [02]
The Chopra Centre, a leading provider of yoga education and products, suggests yoga addresses health concerns that many seniors face while gently restoring the body and mind.[03]

2. Chair-based aerobics

Chair-based aerobics are offered at many fitness centers and senior communities and help to improve balance, cardiovascular health, and muscle strength. Aerobics can also improve energy. Light weights or resistance bands can be added to aerobic exercise for strength training, which builds muscle and protects bones.

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3. Swimming

Swimming is a great way to improve cardiovascular health, energy, and strength while protecting joints. Water resistance helps increase one’s heart rate and strengthen muscles while buoyancy reduces the strain of weight on the body.
Water exercises aren’t limited to swimming. Water aerobics or water walking are examples of other activities that provide effective low-impact exercises in a pool. If your loved one doesn’t have a pool at home or in their senior living community, gyms and recreation centers frequently offer senior-specific pool time and programming.

4. Cycling

The fluid motion of pedaling makes cycling easy on the joints while increasing the heart rate. Cycling can be done both indoors and outdoors. Stationary bikes offer all the benefits of cycling without having to battle the elements or traffic. Indoor cycling is common at gyms or community centers where there are often several types of stationary bikes that offer a variety of challenges. Gyms and community centers also frequently offer group cycling classes. Stationary bikes can also be purchased for seniors who prefer to exercise at home.

5. Walking

Walking can be a good way to elevate the heart rate. It can also be a good way to connect with friends, neighbors, or loved ones while sightseeing, going for a coffee, or strolling to a favorite restaurant. Walks can be as easy or strenuous as one prefers, depending on the terrain and pace. And weather doesn’t have to be a deterrent to going for a brisk walk. Many gyms and community centers have treadmills where your loved one can walk in a climate-controlled environment during any season.

6. Tai chi

Tai chi is a martial art involving slow-moving sequences that focus on balance, meditation, and mental strength. Tai chi offers many of the same health benefits as yoga with movements that help improve flexibility and focus. Research has shown that tai chi, with regular practice, can help seniors avoid falls by improving balance.[04]

7. Pilates

Pilates consists of slow, pulsing, and intentional movements meant to improve range of motion and strengthen muscles. Light weights may sometimes be used. It’s a low-impact exercise option for seniors who want to maintain a lower heart rate while focusing on muscle strengthening. Research has shown that Pilates may slow osteoporosis in postmenopausal women by helping to increase bone density.[05]
Depending on the exercise and mobility level of your loved one, Pilates can be done on a yoga mat, standing, or using a specialized reformer machine that assists with practicing smooth, safe movements.

Benefits of low-impact workouts for seniors

Physical health is the most obvious benefit of low-impact exercises, but seniors may also experience additional mental, social, and spiritual benefits.
  • Physical health. Low-impact exercises can be used to build muscle, improve motor function, increase mobility, reduce the risk of falls, and improve heart health. Low-impact exercises increase the heart rate and can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
  • Mental health. Seniors who exercise in a community setting have the opportunity to connect with others while managing stress and anxiety. The positive effects of regular exercise can also include feelings of satisfaction and joy. Additionally, there is promising research showing a connection between an active lifestyle and enhanced cognition in seniors.
  • Social benefits. Attending a fitness class with peers is a great way to make and maintain friendships and develop healthy social bonds. There is also evidence suggesting that exercising with a friend leads to a reduction of stress and positive psychological effects associated with calmness.[07]
  • Spiritual benefits. For some seniors, exercise can be an opportunity to get in touch with their faith or spiritual side. Tai chi, yoga, and even walking can be an opportunity for your loved one to pray, meditate, or express gratitude.

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Starting an exercise routine

For many seniors, convenience may be an important factor in starting an exercise routine. Most of the above workouts can be practiced at home with minimal equipment, using online video tutorials. While working out at home is convenient, it’s important for your loved one to remain safe by exercising within their fitness and ability levels.
Your parent should start with a light to moderate intensity and, if desired, work their way up to more vigorous activities and exercises.
Consider encouraging your parent to join an exercise program in their community. Gyms and community centers tailor exercise classes to seniors’ needs and have instructors who can safely guide them through a workout. Taking a class also offers your parent the opportunity to engage with peers or friends.

Exercise recommendations

Adults 65 and older need at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of high-intensity exercise each week as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).[08] That can be broken down into daily 30-minute or 15-minute sessions five days per week.

Support for families exploring senior living or in-home care options that incorporate low-impact exercise

Many senior living options offer benefits such as exercise programs, fitness facilities, and even pools. In addition, socializing with neighbors and friends is encouraged through a variety of activities and events. If your family is considering a senior living community for a parent, our Senior Care Advisors can help you explore communities that fit their budget.
For seniors who are active in their community but would benefit from help at home with daily tasks and chores, our Senior Care Advisors can provide guidance on pricing and in-home care agencies that provide services that fit their care needs.
This article was originally written by Celia Searles and optimized by Kevin Ryan.


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

  2. Moovenathan, A., & Nivethitha, L. (2017). Evidence based effects of yoga practice on various health related problems of elderly people: A reviewJournal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.

  3. Brady, A. (2015, February 6). 10 benefits of restorative yoga. Chopra

  4. Fernández-Rodríguez, R., Alvarez-Bueno, C., Reina-Guitierrez, S., Torres-Costoso, de Arenas-Arroyo, S. N., & Martinez-Vizcaino, V. (2021). Effectiveness of Pilates and yoga to improve bone density in adult women: A systematic review and meta-analysisPLoS ONE.

  5. Hertzog, C., Kramer, A. F., Wilson, R. S., & Lindenberger, U. (2008) Enrichment effects on adult cognitive development: Can the functional capacity of older adults be preserved and enhanced?Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

  6. Plante, T. G., Coscarelli, L. & For, M. (2001) Does exercising with another enhance the stress-reducing benefits of exercise? International Journal of Stress Management.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2023, April 13).How much physical activity do older adults need?

Meet the Author
Celia Searles
Edited byMarlena Gates

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