It is never too late to start exercising. Exercise has benefits at any age.
Don't worry if you have never exercised, or if you stopped exercising for some reason. Being physically active can help you to keep doing the things you enjoy and stay independent as you age. The right kind of regular exercise can also reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and falls.
An effective exercise program needs to be fun and helps to keep you motivated. It helps to have a goal. Your goal might be to:
- Manage a health condition
- Reduce stress
- Improve your stamina
- Be able to buy clothes in a smaller size
Your exercise program may also be a way for you to socialize. Taking exercise classes or exercising with a friend are both good ways to be social.
You may have a hard time starting an exercise routine. Once you do start, though, you will begin to notice the benefits, including improved sleep and self-esteem.
Exercise and physical activity can also:
- Improve or maintain your strength and fitness
- Make it easier to do the things you want to do
- Help your balance and walking
- Help with feelings of depression or anxiety and improve your mood
- Maintain your thinking skills (cognitive function) as you get older
- Prevent or treat diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, breast and colon cancer, and osteoporosis
Always talk to your health care provider before starting an exercise program. Your provider can suggest exercises and activities that are right for you.
Exercises can be grouped into four main categories, although many exercises fit into more than one category:
Aerobic exercise increases your breathing and heart rate. These exercises help your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. They may prevent or delay many diseases, such as diabetes, colon and breast cancers, and heart disease.
- Aerobic sports activities include brisk walking, jogging, swimming, biking, climbing, tennis, and basketball
- Aerobic activities you can do every day include dancing, yard work, pushing your grandchild on a swing, and vacuuming
Improving your muscle strength can help you climb stairs, carry groceries, and stay independent. You can build muscle strength by:
- Lifting weights or using a resistance band
- Performing everyday activities, such as carrying a full laundry basket from the basement, carrying your smaller grandchildren, or lifting things in the garden
Balance exercises help prevent falls, which is a concern for older adults. Many exercises that strengthen the muscles in the legs, hips, and lower back will improve your balance. It is often best to learn balance exercises from a physical therapist before starting on your own.
Balance exercises may include:
- Standing on one foot
- Walking heel-to-toe
- Tai chi
- Standing on tiptoe to reach something on the top shelf
- Walking up and down the stairs
Stretching can help your body stay flexible. To stay limber:
- Learn shoulder, upper arm, and calf stretches
- Take yoga classes
- Do everyday activities, such as making your bed or bending over to tie your shoes
Age and exercise
Buchner DM. Physical activity. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 16.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity is Essential to Healthy Aging. Updated June 4, 2015. www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/older_adults/index.htm. Accessed August 20, 2015.
National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging. Exercise and Physical activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging. Updated January 22, 2015. www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/exercise-physical-activity. Accessed August 20, 2015.
Review Date 4/11/2015
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.