Senior Physical Health

The When, Where, What, and How of Exercise for Seniors

The When, Where, What, and How of Exercise for Seniors

In this article

What seems impossible today
will one day become your warm-up.

You know you need to exercise. You’ve read the whys. You’ve read the easy exercises.

But you need the bigger picture: The “how longs,” “what types,” “wheres,” and just plain “hows.”

We’ve got you. Keep reading, and we’ll soon have you up and moving.

Frontida Assisted Living Facilities, such as Frontida of Germantown, provide you with posts like this one to help you live your best life.

The “When”

Your body will be around a lot longer than that expensive handbag.
Invest in yourself.

Finding time to exercise can be one of the biggest turn offs. But you don’t have to become a gym rat. AND you can start small, fitting workouts around the rest of your activities.

  • Mayo Clinic says, seniors should begin to exercise 2½ hours (total of 150 minutes) per week at moderate intensity.
  • That could look like 30 min/day, 5 days/week OR 50 min/day, 3 days/week.
  • But NOT necessarily 30-50 minutes straight each day. Break it up. Start with 10–15-minute intervals before meals (breakfast, lunch, supper) = 2-3 times/day.
  • Challenge your friends to exercise sets during commercials or before Jeopardy starts.
  • Walk around the room or march in between shows or while you wait for your friend to make his chess move.

You don’t need a Ph.D. in scheduling to fit in physical activity. Just look for small margins throughout the week.

The “Where”

No matter how slow you go,
you’re still lapping everyone on the couch.

Next problem: You need space.

If you live in a climate where you can head outside, great!

Your weather feels more like Siberia or, alternatively, the middle of a volcano? You don’t have access to the great outdoors for some other reason?

Inside works. You don’t need a football field. Many exercises can be done in just four-five feet of space.

What’s most important is that you have the support of those around you.

Look for assisted living facilities, like Frontida, that understand how important exercise is.

  • One that encourages physical activity, no matter how mobile you are.
  • One that encourages residents to enjoy exercise together.
  • One that provides time—and maybe even fun music—to get you up and moving. Not just once in a while, but as part of your regular daily activities.

The “What”

“Exercise should be regarded
as a tribute to the heart.”
~Gene Tunney

Some people swear by cardio. Some, by lifting weights. Some just want to do yoga.

1. What’s the right type of exercise for you?

Mayo Clinic says a little of everything, especially as a senior.

  • Endurance exercises, a.k.a. cardio — build up from that first 150 minutes/week to 300 minutes/week.

    That means your ultimate aim is five hours/week of aerobics (running, walking, biking, swimming, …) Again, you don’t have to start that long on day 1.

    Love your Fitbit?
    *If you’re older than 60, aim for 6-8,000 steps/day
    *Under 60, aim for 8-10,000 steps/day
  • Strength exercises, a.k.a. weightlifting — choose 2 days/week to strengthen your muscles.
  • Stretching/Flexibility — Your stretch should flow before you work out. They often call it dynamic stretching, where you move a body part through a full range of motion vs holding a stretch in one position (static stretching) for a minute or so.

    Don’t static stretch until after your workout—when your muscles are warm.
  • Balance — Want to stay on your feet instead of slipping and sliding? Don’t miss out on these exercises. They fit perfectly in little slots of time.

Now the big question:

2. What does “Moderate Intensity” mean? i.e., How hard do you need to exercise?           

  • You should be able to talk with your friends (that social engagement benefit) but not sing the words to your favorite song.
  • Expend enough effort that helps you break a sweat and gets your heart rate up 50-60% higher than when you’re resting. (If your resting heartrate is 60, your workout heartrate should be 90-100. If you start at 70, your workout should take you to 105-110)
  • On a scale of 1-10, the workout should feel like a 5. Halfway between sitting on the couch and all-out-sprinting. i.e. middle of the road difficulty.

The “How”            

Rome wasn’t built in a day,
but they worked on it every single day.

Are you reading that list of 4 types above and trying to figure out how to manage the whole lot without moving into the gym?

You combine them.

It’s called Multicomponent Exercises

Mix strength and aerobics, balance and strength, aerobics and stretching/flexibility…)

  • Walk while holding arm weights.
  • Stretch flexi-bands while standing on one leg and then the other.

The problem is, when we think exercise, we often think complicated moves and patterns, and the idea alone exhausts us.

Don’t go there.

Every-day activities and objects can keep you limber and build strength.

A. Balance Activities—We’re not talking tightrope walking… Just simple exercises to build your core strength.

  • Standing, hold on to your chair and lift each leg (separately, of course. *wink*) for 30 seconds.
  • If you’re chair is more rocky than stable, hold on to the wall.
  • Find things to do that require standing

B. Strength-training—Look for simple, “always-around” weights

  • Lift your Ensure bottle (¾ pound) as a hand weight 8-12 times with each arm before drinking
  • Increase with your water bottle (16 oz = 1 pound) or soup cans.
  • Feeling really strong? A gallon of milk is 8.6 pounds.

C. Strength-training, Balance, and Endurance—A “three-fer”

  • Don’t let your family carry in ALL the groceries.  Grab a bag and carry it to the counter.
  • Then help put the groceries away. (Reaching up into the pantry is an over-the-head shoulder workout.)

D. Balance and Strength-training—As simple as the closest wall…

You know what a regular pushup is. You push yourself up and down while semi-horizontal with the floor. If you can do those, great! But until you get there, try it vertical.

Standing wall pushups

  • Stand straight, palms against the wall, arms stretched out
  • Bend your elbows till your leaning, nose as close to the wall as you can get.
  • Then push away to standing straight

Mix-it All Up—The Social Mixer

  • Make it a game. Play Simon Says with your assisted living friends. One of you calls out moves, and the others follow—assuming it’s a statement from Simon, of course.

Exercise Should Build You UP—Not Weigh You Down

“Take care of your body.
It’s the only place you have to live.”
~Jim Rohn

The where, when, what, and how of exercise don’t have to be complicated. Just find ways to keep moving.

Make it fun.

Make it social.

Make it a part of your every-day—so you have more days to be a part of.

“We do not stop exercising because we grow old
—we grow old because we stop exercising”
~Dr. Kenneth Cooper

Want a senior living community that believes exercise and activity is important? Check out Frontida Assisted Living Facilities.

Check out these other helpful posts on keeping seniors physically healthy.

Elizabeth Daghfal
• 5 min read

Elizabeth Daghfal is a writer, teacher, speaker, and community volunteer. When she isn't teaching or writing-- Who are we kidding? Her husband and five kids say she's ALWAYS teaching and writing. She has a passion to help people who are struggling and is happy to say her shoulders are drip-dry. Born and raised in the South, she now lives in Wisconsin and loves it--except for the fifteen months of winter. Read more about her at