Exercise for seniors : key to staying functional and enjoying life

The golden years or in more crude terms old age brings multiple lifestyle diseases or their complications!

But that does not mean seniors should let age hold them back from exercising ! In fact, expert agencies on exercise and heart disease (such as ACSM, AHA etc.) agree that lifestyle diseases and complications get better controlled with regular exercise in older adults

In people who have had a heart attack, exercise capacity is one of the best predictors of survival and exercise is one of the few things which have been shown to prolong life

In addition regular exercise keeps older adults functional, so that they can not only avoid falls and injuries but also remain self-reliant for longer time in their life

How to make sure that an older adult is fit to start exercising?

The risks of sudden and unaccustomed exercise are higher in elderly people. Therefore it is important for people above 65 years (may be even 55-60 years of age) to start with caution or seek medical help, if they have

  1. Positive PARQ questionnaire test
  2. Diagnosed CVDs
  3. Diabetic complications (check exercise for diabetics)
  4. Moderate to severe osteoarthritis (though, a bit of knee or hip pain, on exercising could be due to stiffness and should not discourage exercise)
  5. Loss of balance
  6. Hernia
  7. Eye condition including cataract, retinal diseases
  8. Hip or knee replacement
  9. Ongoing fever, blood loss etc.

What kind of exercises should older adults do ?

Older adults (defined as people more than 65 years of age or those who have decreased physical capacity) should attempt to do the following level of exercise if they are healthy and do not suffer the above mentioned limitations:

  • 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise/week
  • 2-3 days per week of stretch exercises and balance exercises; these are vitally important for seniors, to avoid injury and fall while exercising
  • 2-3 days per week of strength exercises, focus on function preserving exercises . Yoga or Tai chi will be better suited for senior adults than weight training

How to begin exercise?

In India, often the only exercise older adults ever do is gentle walk or non at all. In these cases, it is good to begin judiciously and then do the full range workout

Find below our guidance on what type of exercises to do and how to build up your exercise schedule:

Aerobic exercise

  • Adequate warm up and cool down is absolutely necessary (5-10 minutes each)
  • Start aerobic exercise such as walking, exercising in water or stationary cycle exercises in bouts of 10-15 minutes each , get comfortable over 2-4 weeks and then increase the duration, for more information, check out ‘How to begin and build up aerobic exercise

Balance exercises

Focus on these, especially if you have been sedentary for a long time or have long standing diseases

These exercises include:

  1. standing on one foot
  2. walking heel to toe
  3. balance walk
  4. back leg raises
  5. side leg raises

To know how to do these (instructions or videos), go to:


Stretch exercises:

You should take care to do flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week, these include:

  • Neck stretch
  • Shoulder stretch
  • Shoulder and upper arm raise
  • Upper body stretch
  • Chest stretch
  • Back stretch
  • Ankle stretch
  • Back of leg stretch
  • Thigh stretch
  • Hip stretch
  • Lower back stretch
  • Calf stretch

To, get directions on how to do these, go to http://nihseniorhealth.gov/exerciseandphysicalactivityexercisestotry/flexibilityexercises/01.html

Functional or strength exercises:

Strength exercises build muscle, and even very small changes in muscle strength can make a real difference in your ability to perform everyday activities like carrying groceries, lifting a grandchild, or getting up from a chair, therefore they are also called functional exercises

The exercises should include:

Upper Body Exercises

  1. Wrist curls
  2. Arm curls
  3. Side arm raises
  4. Elbow extensions
  5. Chair dips
  6. Seated rows with resistance band

Lower Body Exercises

  1. Back leg raises
  2. Knee curls
  3. Leg straightening exercises
  4. Toe stands

Get instructions on how to do these or to watch videos go to:


CHECK OUT: Our references for exercise recommendations