Seniors and Exercise

Exercise can help prevent disease, improve balance and strength and provide social opportunities. See more healthy aging pictures.

Why is exercise important?

  • It strengthens your heart
  • Improves your circulation
  • Keeps muscles in tone
  • Helps prevent osteoporosis
  • Helps with weight control
  • Helps hold down your blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels
  • Makes you look and feel better

Whew! Are those enough reasons? Exercise also helps prevent disease and extends and improves your quality of life. Recent studies suggest regular exercise may help prevent breast cancer.


Older adults who exercise regularly tend not only to be stronger and have better balance and coordination, but to be better able to manage the sorts of daily chores that allow people to remain independent. They are also more likely to be physically fit.

Fitness is having the health, strength, endurance and range of motion needed to do physical work without becoming exhausted. A fit person can perform better and with less effort in sports and other physical activities and therefore is more likely to enjoy them.

A fit person is also less likely to develop heart disease — an important finding given that heart disease is the leading cause of death and disability among older people.

Despite these benefits, a National Center for Health Statistics survey in 1995 showed that only about 25 percent of older Americans get exercise regularly. Another study showed that 58 percent of older Americans believe they get as much exercise as they need.

How much exercise do seniors need?

Regular exercise is much more important for your health than strenuous exercise. In fact, sudden unaccustomed exercise or too strenuous exercise can strain weak muscles and joints and cause problems.

It is far better to choose an exercise that doesn't stress your joints or require special equipment or other people. Instead, select an activity that you can do every day, wherever you happen to be.

Probably the easiest and most convenient form of exercise for most older people is walking. Start by walking at least a mile a day and gradually increase to whatever is comfortable, manageable and makes you feel good.

Walking for Exercise

Is There a Special Walking Technique?

Hold yourself straight, head up and stomach flat. Point your toes straight ahead, move forward from the ball of your foot and land on your heel. Step out at a steady pace and swing your arms.

About Walking Shoes

You don't need special shoes for walking, but you should wear strong, well-fitting shoes with good arch supports. Your shoes should be made of material that allows your feet to breathe, such as leather or nylon. Always wear socks.


If I Feel Unwell While Walking

Don't continue walking if ever you feel breathless, dizzy, sweaty or nauseous. Likewise, if you feel pain or discomfort in your chest, arms, neck, jaw or legs while you are walking, stop and rest. Sit down if you need to and ask a companion or passerby for assistance. Have your doctor check you over and, if necessary, prescribe medication to help you.

When You Walk Alone

Obviously, it is safer to walk with others for health and security reasons. However, some people prefer to walk alone, maybe listening to music from a headset while they walk. Others have no choice but to walk alone. If you do walk by yourself, it's worth remembering a few simple rules:

  • Always walk in a well-lit area
  • Walk on paved surfaces

Join in Community Walks

Many shopping malls around the country promote senior mall-walking programs in the morning before the mall stores open, so that seniors can walk under cover year-round.

Mall walks are a great way to start the day and a good way to get out and meet people. Call your local senior center to find out what mall-walking programs are available in your neighborhood. You can also organize your own group of neighbors to walk together regularly.

Other Forms of Exercise for Seniors

Many older adults enjoy swimming, dancing, group calisthenics and biking. Besides being good exercise, they are also wonderful social outlets. Some people prefer more exotic forms of exercise, such as yoga and tai chi.

The choice of exercise is up to you, but choose one that doesn't exhaust you or strain your muscles or joints. Also, pick an exercise that you can do regularly. It is far better to walk to the end of the street and back every day than to get no exercise at all.


Once you begin to look for exercise opportunities, you may be surprised at the variety of activities available.

Seniors: Become Fit and Stay Fit

Pay attention to your general health. Be sure to have a regular health checkup. If your doctor prescribes medication, take it as directed.

If you smoke, you should quit. Smoking is injurious to your heart, blood vessels and lungs.

If you are overweight, your doctor will probably recommend some form of dieting. Being overweight adversely affects your heart, blood pressure and joints. Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of grains, vegetables and fruit. Cut down on fatty foods.

Exercise is as important to weight loss or maintenance as calorie intake. Although you don't burn many more calories exercising than you do while resting, exercise increases your basal metabolic rate — the rate at which you use up energy while at rest. Therefore, you burn more calories per hour throughout the day, and that adds up.

All aspects of health and fitness work together for your benefit. There is no reason not to stay as fit as possible as you get older. The results are well worth the effort.

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