Exercise and Fitness as You Age

Exercise Tips to Get Fit and Stay Fit as You Grow Older

Improving Emotional Health

As you grow older, an active lifestyle is more important than ever. Regular exercise can help boost energy, maintain your independence, and manage symptoms of illness or pain. Exercise can even reverse some of the symptoms of aging. And not only is exercise good for your body, it’s also good for your mind, mood, and memory. Whether you are generally healthy or are managing an illness, there are plenty of ways to get more active, improve confidence, and boost your fitness.

Exercise is the key to healthy aging

Starting or maintaining a regular exercise routine can be a challenge as you get older. You may feel discouraged by illness, ongoing health problems, or concerns about injuries or falls. Or, if you've never exercised before, you may not know where to begin. Or perhaps you think you're too old or frail, or that exercise is boring or simply not for you.

While these may seem like good reasons to slow down and take it easy as you age, they're actually even better reasons to get moving. Exercise can energize your mood, relieve stress, help you manage symptoms of illness and pain, and improve your overall sense of well-being. In fact, exercise is the key to staying strong, energetic, and healthy as you get older. And it can even be fun, too, especially if you find like-minded people to exercise with.

No matter your age or your current physical condition, you can benefit from exercise. Reaping the rewards of exercise doesn’t have to involve strenuous workouts or trips to the gym. It’s about adding more movement and activity to your life, even in small ways. Whether you are generally healthy or are managing an illness—even if you’re housebound—there are many easy ways to get your body moving and improve your health and outlook.

Five myths about exercise and aging

Myth 1: There’s no point to exercising. I’m going to get old anyway.

Fact: Exercise and strength training helps you look and feel younger and stay active longer. Regular physical activity lowers your risk for a variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure, and obesity. Not only can exercise help stem the decline in strength and vitality that comes with age, it even improve it. And the mood benefits of exercise can be just as great as 70 or 80 as they were at 20 or 30.

Myth 2: Older people shouldn’t exercise. They should save their strength and rest.

Fact: Research shows that a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy for adults over 50. Inactivity often causes older adults to lose the ability to do things on their own and can lead to more hospitalizations, doctor visits, and use of medicines for illnesses.

Myth 3: Exercise puts me at risk of falling down.

Fact: Regular exercise, by building strength and stamina, prevents loss of bone mass and improves balance, actually reducing your risk of falling.

Myth 4: It’s too late. I’m already too old to start exercising.

Fact: You’re never too old to start exercising and improve your health! In fact, adults who take up exercise later in life often show greater physical and mental improvements than their younger counterparts. If you’ve never exercised before, or it’s been a while, you won’t be encumbered by the same sports injuries that many regular exercisers experience in later life. In other words, there aren’t as many miles on your clock so you’ll quickly start reaping the rewards. Just begin with gentle activities and build up from there.

Myth 5: I’m disabled. I can’t exercise sitting down.

Fact: Chair-bound people face special challenges but can lift light weights, stretch, and do chair aerobics, chair yoga, and chair Tai Chi to increase range of motion, improve muscle tone and flexibility, and promote cardiovascular health. Many swimming pools offer access to wheelchair users and there are adaptive exercise programs for wheelchair sports such as basketball.

The whole-body benefits of exercise for older adults

As you age, regular exercise is more important than ever to your body and mind. It’s not just about adding years to your life, but adding life to your years.

Physical health benefits of exercise and fitness for older adults

Mental health benefits of exercise and fitness as you age

Exercise and fitness as you age: Tips for getting started safely

Committing to a routine of physical activity is one of the healthiest decisions you can make. Before you get moving, though, consider how best to be safe.

Exercise and fitness as you age: Tips for building a balanced exercise plan

Staying active is not a science. Just remember that mixing different types of exercise helps both to keep your workouts interesting and improve your overall health. The key is to find activities that you enjoy. Here is an overview of the four building blocks of fitness as you age and how they can help your body.

The 1st building block of fitness as you age: Cardio endurance exercise

The 2nd building block of fitness as you age: Strength and power training

The 3rd building block of fitness as you age: Flexibility

The 4th building block of fitness as you age: Balance

Types of activities beneficial to older adults:

Exercise and fitness as you age: Tips for frail or chair–bound adults

Even if you are frail or chair-bound, you can still experience the physical and mental benefits of exercise. Chair-bound adults can improve fitness with strength training, flexibility, and cardio activities. If being chair-bound has prevented you from trying exercise in the past, take heart knowing that when you become more physically active, the results will amaze you. Like any exercise program, a chair-bound fitness routine takes a little creativity and personalization to keep it fun.

Chair-bound exercise and fitness

Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about chair-bound exercise programs or see Chair Exercises & Limited Mobility Fitness.

Exercise and fitness as you age: Tips for getting more active—and liking it

If you dread working out, it’s time for a mental makeover. Getting active may feel awkward or unnatural at first, but the longer you stick with a regular exercise routine, the more you’ll come to enjoy it. Once you start reaping the rewards and noticing the changes to the way you feel, you’ll find it easier to stay motivated. In time, you’ll even look forward to your workouts.

Until that point, don’t view exercise as a bothersome task to check off your “to do” list. Look at it as part of your healthy lifestyle, like eating and sleeping well. There are plenty of ways for older adults to make exercise a pleasurable part of everyday life. Start small—even exercising for five or ten minutes a day is better than nothing. You can gradually build up once it’s become habit. Here are some other ways to make exercise part of your lifestyle:

Choose activities and exercises you enjoy

Think about activities that you enjoy and how you can incorporate them into an exercise routine.

Find easy ways to add more physical activity to your day

Being active doesn’t have to be limited to your workout times. There are plenty of ways to become more active as you go about your day.

Focus on the benefits in your daily life

The most rewarding part of beginning a fitness routine is noticing the difference it makes in the rest of your life. Even if you begin exercising with a few simple stretches while seated or a short walk around the block, you’ll notice an improvement in how you feel as you go about your day.

Exercise doesn’t have to break the bank

An exercise plan does not depend on costly gym memberships and fancy exercise equipment. Like the best things in life, staying fit can be completely free. Work out the wallet-friendly way:

Exercise and fitness as you age: Tips for staying active for life

The more you exercise, the more you will reap the benefits, so it’s important to stay motivated when life’s challenges get in the way.

How To Stay Fit When Your Routine Changes

You’re on vacation

Caring for an ill spouse is taking up much of your time

Your usual exercise buddy moves away

You move to a new community

The flu keeps you out of action for a few weeks

You are recovering from hip or back surgery

The best thing about working out is that it gives you the energy to get more out of life. When it becomes habit, you’ll never want to give it up.