Life gets better with age. Your self-esteem is on the rise and the chance to cultivate stronger relationships with those you love most becomes easier. But as you get older, it’s important to remain active and not neglect your health.
There are plenty of all-time best exercises for weight loss, but not all are ideal for older individuals hoping to break a sweat. With that in mind, we spoke with professional fitness instructors and trainers to determine the best workouts for seniors or individuals age 50 and up. We also compiled information from the National Institute on Aging — a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health — to find exercise activities perfect for an older crowd.
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Aging myths might convince you that certain workouts, like pushups, are out the door. But according to Ryan Stec, owner and head coach at True Grit Strength, a more strenuous exercise, like pushups, can be changed to best accommodate someone’s desired difficulty level. Start close to the wall with your arms stretched, hands touching the wall. Keep your back straight and bend your elbows, bringing your chest toward the wall, and press back. Repeat as desired.
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According to the National Institute on Aging, strengthening exercises — like overhead arm raises — can benefit seniors with arthritis and joint pain. This exercise can protect your joints and improve muscle strength. Using a weighted object such as a bottle of water, position yourself shoulder-width apart. With your shoulders back and arms lifted to 90 degrees, breathe out as you lift the bottles of water above your head and breathe in as you lower your arms. If bottles of water seem too light, opt for a slightly heavier object around the house. Just keep the bottles of water near to stay hydrated throughout your workout.
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The farmers walk is another exercise Stec recommends for strength training. Grab light dumbbells or, if you wish to start off light, two water bottles you plan to recycle, and hold them tightly in each hand. With your back straight and arms held straight at your sides, walk around your home until you feel slight fatigue in both arms.
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You might organize your kitchen to best accommodate your culinary needs, but your cooking space can also be used for a safe and easy workout. Faith Davis, a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified trainer, suggests chair squats for an over-50 at-home move. Start with your feet hip-width apart and keep your knees pointed in the same direction as your second toe. With your hands stretched out, lower yourself to the chair until you’re sitting. Stand up and raise your leg to gently tap your hands. If the knee tap is too demanding, simply repeat the squatting process.
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The suitcase carry, according to Stec, is also a great way to prioritize strength training. With your shoulders back, back straight and arm held straight down, carry a weighted object in one hand as you walk around your home.
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Carly and Madeline Biron, two sisters who launched Built by Biron — an online platform with daily workouts for individuals who want to maintain a steady home workout routine — recommend trying bicep curls with kitchen towels. With your palms facing up, keep your elbows tucked near your waist and curl the towel up to your chest and back down.
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Split squats are, according to Stec, one of the most fundamental movement patterns for the lower body. They’re also an easy workout you can do with things in your home. This workout is a two for one: you perfect both your balance and leg muscles. After placing a pillow or soft cushion on the ground, kneel on one knee with your front leg and rear leg creating a 90-degree angle. Keeping your core tight, slowly stand up and lower yourself back down. Switch sides and complete reps.
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Although strength training is important, adding flexibility exercises to your workout routine is essential. According to the National Institute on Aging, having the ability to move more freely will make it easier to complete tasks like tying your shoes and checking over your shoulder. Doing yoga is a great way to practice flexibility, but to gradually build up endurance, try a daily calf stretch. Stand facing a wall slightly further than an arm’s length away with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your right leg and bend your right knee. With both feet flat on the floor, bend your left knee until you feel a stretch in your left calf muscle. Hold and repeat with the opposite leg.
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Ankle stretch exercises are another great way to improve your flexibility. Sit near the edge of a sturdy, armless chair. Stretch your legs in front of you and, with your heels on the floor, bend your ankle up toward you so the toe of your shoe points toward you. After holding the position, bend your ankles so your toes point away from you. Repeat with each leg.
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How you sleep or carrying heavy items are ordinary things that can lead to extreme back pain. Back stretches, a National Institute on Aging recommended exercise — can ease the pain and improve your flexibility, simplifying everyday tasks. Relax your muscles and sit forward in a chair. Pull your shoulders back and reach your left hand back on the chair. Place your right hand on the outside of your left thigh. Twist your body gently and hold the position for a few seconds. Relax into the stretch and repeat on your other side.
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According to Stec, strength training that focuses on major muscle groups and movement patterns that replicate activities in daily life should be prioritized for seniors. Strength training can help prevent muscle strength loss and keep your bones healthy and strong. When you bend over to pick up an item off the ground or sweep debris into a dustpan, you’re practicing hinges without even knowing it. While maintaining a neutral spine, bend slightly forward, keeping your arms straight down. Hold the position for a few seconds and slowly rise back up. Repeat as desired.
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Jumping jacks are one of the all-time best exercises for weight loss. Jack toe taps are a modified version of the workout the Birons recommend for seniors. Your arms will go up and down as if you’re doing a jumping jack, but instead of jumping in the air, tap each foot out to the side.
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The standing march is an exercise suggested by the Biron personal training program. Hold your arms crossed in front of your chest. Slowly raise your knee up toward your arms one at a time.
A staircase can take even a simple workout to the next level. And step-ups, according to Stec, are a lifesaver for anyone with knee injuries. Holding tightly to the banister, step on a bottom stair with your right foot, following with your left. Slowly step down with your right foot, followed by your left. Repeat, alternating the foot you start with after each rep.
Endurance workouts increase your breathing and get your heart pumping. According to the National Institute on Aging, endurance activities like dancing improve the health of your heart, lungs and circulatory system and keep you healthy as you perform daily tasks. Put on your favorite song and move to the beat. The goal is to build up to at least 150 minutes of activity a week that makes you breathe hard.
The National Institute on Aging recommends balance exercises to help prevent falls, a common issue older adults face that can have dire consequences. Standing on one foot is a balance exercise that can be incorporated into your workout routine or done while completing everyday tasks, like cooking quick dinner dishes for your family. Hold both hands on a sturdy chair or kitchen counter and draw your abs in. With feet shoulder-width apart, lift one leg at a time and hold for 10 seconds. Place your foot down and repeat.
The heal-to-toe walk is another great balance exercise. With your arms out, shoulders back and abs in, take one foot and place it in front of the other. Repeat with your other foot. If you’re having trouble balancing, use a nearby wall for balance. You can try the heel-to-toe walk indoors or, if you feel secure, make it a fun backyard activity.
The chair stand is a strengthening exercise recommended for older adults by the National Institute on Aging. Strengthening exercises, according to the institute, can help you stay independent and make everyday activities — like carrying grocery items — much easier. Sit down in a sturdy chair and position your feet shoulder-width apart. Draw your abs tight and square your shoulders. Cross your arms over your chest and lean back against the chair. Slowly raise your back up from the chair, stretching your arms away from your body parallel to the floor and stand. Sit and repeat.
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Taking a trip to the grocery store on your bike might not be the best idea, but a ride around the neighborhood is a great way to stay healthy and occupied if you’ve become restless from being stuck indoors. Safety is a priority, so always wear a fitted helmet and bright, neon-colored clothing that can be easily spotted by drivers. Ride your bicycle in the same direction as traffic and stop at all intersections before you cross the street.
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Taking a walk outside can change your life. According to the National Institute on Aging, higher daily step counts have also been linked with lower all-cause mortality. It can also keep you healthy and fit as you observe nature in your own backyard. Schedule a daily walk into your everyday routine. This one simple activity can keep your heart healthy, keep you energized and boost your mood. If you’re embarking on a safe fitness journey, here are free online workout classes and exercise apps.
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