Physical Activity and Exercise

Article | April 2020

Physical Activity and Exercise

Learn how exercise and physical activity can benefit older adults—physically and mentally.

It’s never too late to get active. As you grow older, an active lifestyle becomes more important than ever for your health.

Getting active—or staying active if you already are—has definite health advantages, both physical and mental.

Physical Benefits of Staying Active

Among the many physical benefits it offers, regular exercise:

  • Can help you maintain or lose weight. Exercise increases metabolism and builds muscle mass, both of which burn more calories.
  • Can reduce the impact of illness and chronic disease. People who exercise tend to have:
    • Improved immune and digestive systems
    • Better blood pressure and bone density
    • Lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, hip fractures, and certain cancers
  • Can enhance mobility, flexibility, and balance. Exercise improves your strength, flexibility, and posture, which helps with balance and coordination and reduces the risk of falling.
  • Can extend lifespan. Exercise can help you live longer and stay independent longer.

Mental Health Benefits to Staying Active

Regular physical activity also has mental benefits, because it:

  • Can improve sleep. Regular activity can help you fall asleep more quickly, more deeply, and wake feeling more energetic and refreshed.
  • Can boost mood and self-confidence. Exercise is a huge stress reliever and the endorphins produced can reduce feelings of sadness, depression, and anxiety.
  • Can help the brain. Staying physically active can help keep your brain active.

Tips for Staying Active

Physical activities can be both enjoyable and safe for older adults. Some great ways to start are:

  • Walking. This is a perfect way to start exercising. It requires no special equipment aside from a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
  • Senior sports or fitness classes. These keep you motivated while also providing a source of fun, stress relief, and a place to meet friends.
  • Water aerobics and water sports. Working out in water improves your cardiovascular system while reducing stress and strain on your body’s joints.
  • Yoga. This combines a series of stretching poses with breathing. It can improve strength, flexibility, and balance, and it can be adapted to any level of skill and fitness.
  • Tai chi and qi gong. These martial arts-inspired programs increase balance and strength.

Classes for seniors are often available at local YMCA or community centers.

Getting Active, Safely

Getting active is one of the healthiest decisions you can make as you age, but it’s important to do it safely. Before you get started:

  • Get medical clearance from your doctor, especially if you have any preexisting medical conditions.
  • Consider other health concerns. Ongoing health issues might affect your workouts. For example, if you have diabetes, you may need to adjust the timing of your medication and meals.
  • Listen to your body. Exercise should never hurt. Stop immediately and call your doctor if you feel dizzy or short of breath, develop chest pain or pressure, or break out in a cold sweat.
  • Start slow and build up steadily. If you haven’t been active in a while, try spacing workouts in 10-minute increments twice a day. Or try just 1 class a week. If you’re concerned about falling or have an ongoing heart problem, start with chair exercises.
  • Prevent injury and discomfort by warming up, cooling down, and keeping water handy.
  • Commit to an exercise schedule for at least 3 or 4 weeks so that it becomes a habit. This is easier if you find activities you enjoy.

More Information

Learn more about the benefits of physical activity by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Senior couple jogging outside