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Seniors and Exercise

By: the National Institute on Aging

Did you know that only 30% of Americans older than 65 years exercise on a regular basis? Or that it's never too late to benefit from a regular exercise program?

Why Exercise?

A safe, effective exercise program can help reduce some of the pain as well as the progression of conditions associated with aging. For example:

  • Keeping active and exercising helps you maintain your ability to walk, which is especially important to maintain your independence.
  • Exercise can improve your strength, endurance, and flexibility.
  • Exercise can improve balance and posture, reducing your risk of falling.

Just 30 minutes a day of physical activity will help improve your health and quality of life. It will keep your joints and connective tissues more flexible. Exercise can even help slow the progression of osteoporosis. Researchers have also found a link between regular exercise and improved immune response. During moderate exercise, immune cells circulate more quickly through your body and are better at destroying viruses and bacteria.

If you're older than 65 years, start your exercise program slowly. Talk to your doctor about what you should and shouldn't do. Your doctor can help you tailor a program to your own level of ability and needs. Most older people can take part in a moderate exercise program, even if you are 85 years and older or have illnesses or disabilities.

Tips for Exercising

Here are some tips for starting and maintaining a safe and effective exercise program.


  • Warm up before you do any exercises. A warm-up period should begin with a slow, rhythmic activity such as walking. Gradually build up the intensity until your pulse, breathing, and body temperature start to increase.
  • Don't do too much too fast. Begin any activity in short sessions. Try walking a block or once around a track at first. Gradually, as your body adapts, you can add more distance.
  • Practice improving your balance by standing on one foot while you dust or brush your teeth.
  • Wear the right kind of athletic shoes with good support and comfort.

Exercise Safely

  • Use common sense and don't exercise when you have a cough, fever, cold or flu. But don't let a temporary illness put a permanent stop to your exercising. Resume your activities as soon as you can.
  • After an illness, start your exercise program at the beginning again. Don't immediately take up where you left off. Your body needs time to recover and rebuild. Consult a physician even if your illness is minor.
  • Be alert to air quality if you work out at a gymnasium. Exercise at less-crowded times during the cold and flu season. Exercise outdoors whenever weather permits.
  • If you live near an enclosed shopping mall, consider becoming a mall walker. Many malls open before the stores do and allow people to walk around. This allows you to exercise even if the weather is bad.


  • Eat smaller meals, but eat more frequently during the day.
  • Drink plenty of water. Your body needs more fluid when you exercise. Don't wait until you are thirsty to drink. Be sure to check with your physician. Some health conditions require restricted fluid intake.

Types of Exercise

  • Choose activities that you enjoy and can do regularly. Exercise with a friend who will help you keep your resolve.
  • Try Tai Chi or yoga. Tai Chi is a program of exercises, breathing, and movements based on ancient Chinese practices. Seniors who practice Tai Chi or yoga have fewer falls and less fear of falling. These classes can also increase self-confidence and improve body balance.

Last reviewed and updated: August 2007