Should your fitness regimen change as you get older?

Fitness Modifications for Seniors


­It might seem safer not to exercise if you have a condition or disease such as type-2 diabetes or osteoporosis. However, people with these and other issues can still experience the benefits of a fitness regimen, and even improve their condition, by modifying their exercise routine.

People who have arthritis should check out a low-impact aerobics program. Exercises such as jumping jacks can put a lot of stress on joints, causing them to swell and become even more painful. To modify this exercise, you can step one foot out at a time and raise the opposite arm instead of jumping both legs out and bringing up both arms. There are modifications like this for many specific exercises, or you can focus on already low-impact exercises like swimming. If you have osteoporosis, you should get a bone density scan before exercising to determine the degree of bone loss. You need to be cautious when doing any kind of exercise that puts stress on the bones and make sure not to overstretch.

It can be scary for someone with heart disease or other heart problems to contemplate any kind of exercise that will raise the heart rate, but your doctor can determine a healthy target heart rate for your age and specific condition by performing a treadmill test. There are also heart rate calculators online. Once you know your target heart rate, you can program it into machines at the gym or a heart rate monitor. Then, if your heart rate starts to go too high, you'll know to slow down your exercise until it's in the zone again.

If you have type-2 diabetes, you'll need to check your blood glucose level before and after exercise. Moderate exercise can rapidly lower blood glucose levels, while very intense exercise can raise them. It's necessary to know exactly how different types of exercises affect it so you can plan accordingly. Regular exercise can affect the amount of insulin you need if you're insulin dependent, or even your doses of medication. You should wear a medical ID bracelet and exercise with someone who knows about your condition.

Regardless of your condition, you should always stop exercising and consult your doctor if you feel nauseous, dizzy, have chest pain or become extremely fatigued. If you're just starting out, always start out slowly and build up your intensity over time. If you do join a gym, seek out fitness instructors who have knowledge and experience working with older people and people with health conditions.

For even more information about fitness, aging and health, see the links to HowStuffWorks articles below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • AARP. "Strength Training for Boomers." AARP. March 22, 2004.
  • BBC. "'Flexible' elderly reduce risk of falls." BBC News Health. January 13, 2002.
  • Burns, Edith A. "Aging and the Immune System." HealthLink, Medical College of Wisconsin. August 30, 2001.
  • Carney, Kat. "Elderly work up a sweat for exercise." CNN. February 20, 2004.
  • Hobieka, Claude P. "Equillibrium and Balance in the Elderly." Ear, Nose & Throat Journal, August, 1999.;col1
  • Jack La Lanne
  • Nied, Robert J. and Barry Franklin. "Promoting and Prescribing Exercise for the Elderly." American Family Physician. February 1, 2002.
  • Postive Aging Resource Center. "Exercise." PARC, Brigham & Women's Hospital. 2004.
  • Rauscher, Megan. "Loss of height linked to breathlessness in elderly." Reuters Health at MedLinePlus. February 13, 2009.
  • Science Daily. "Elderly improve with exercise too." Science Daily. March 25, 2008.
  • University of Arizona. "Building Strong Bones for a Lifetime." University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. 2005.
  • Whitney, Craig R. "Jeanne Calment, World's Elder, Dies at 122." New York Times. August 5, 1997.