For older adults and seniors who want to stay healthy and independent, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend four types of exercises:

 

  • Strength exercises build older adult muscles and increase your metabolism, which helps to keep your weight and blood sugar in check.
  • Balance exercises build leg muscles, and this helps to prevent falls. According to the NIH, U.S. hospitals have 300,000 admissions for broken hips each year, many of them seniors, and falling is often the cause of those fractures. If you are an older adult, balance exercises will help you avoid problems ar you get older. 
And if you are a senior, balance exercises can help you stay independent by helping you avoid the disabilities that could result from falling.
  • Stretching exercises can give you more freedom of movement, which will allow you to be more active during your senior years. Stretching exercises alone will not improve your endurance or strength.
  • Endurance exercises are any activity—walking, jogging, swimming, biking, even raking leaves—that increases your heart rate and breathing for an extended period of time. Build up your endurance gradually, starting with as little as 5 minutes of endurance activities at a time.

 

Strength Exercises: Before You Start

Before you start, please read these important safety tips:

 

  • Don’t hold your breath during strength exercises. This could affect your blood pressure.
  • Use smooth, steady movements to bring weights into position. Avoid jerking or thrusting movements.
  • Avoid locking the joints of your arms and legs into a strained position. Breathe out as you lift or push a weight and breathe in as you relax.
  • Muscle soreness lasting a few days and slight fatigue are normal after muscle building exercises.
  • Exhaustion, sore joints, and painful muscle pulls are not normal.

 

 

Arm Raises: strengthen your shoulder muscles

  • Sit in a chair with your back straight.
  • Keep feet flat on the floor even with your shoulders.
  • Hold hand weights straight down at your sides with palms facing inward.
  • Raise both arms to side, shoulder height.
  • Hold the position for 1 second.
  • Slowly lower arms to the sides. Pause. Repeat 8 to 15 times.
  • Rest. Do another set of 8 to 15 repetitions.

Note: Start without weights, and as you gain strength you can add weight in increments of 1 or 2 pounds. Cans of soup make a good substitute for weights.

Chair Stands: strengthen stomach and thigh muscles

  • Place pillows against back of chair.
  • Sit in middle or toward front of chair, knees bent, feet flat on floor.
  • Lean back on pillows in half-reclining position, keeping your back and shoulders straight.
  • Raise upper body forward until sitting upright, using hands as little as possible, or not at all if possible. Your back should no longer lean against the pillows.
  • Slowly stand up, using hands as little as possible.
  • Slowly sit back down. Keep back and shoulders straight throughout exercise.
  • Repeat 8 to 15 times. Rest. Then repeat 8 to 15 times more.

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Bicep Curls: strengthen upper-arm muscles

  • Sit in armless chair. Keep feet flat and even with shoulders.
  • Hold hand weights at sides, arms straight, palms facing toward your body.
  • Slowly bend one elbow, lifting weight toward chest. Be sure to rotate palm to face shoulder while lifting weight.
  • Hold position for 1 second. Slowly lower arm to starting position.
  • Repeat with other arm. Alternate until you have repeated the exercise 8 to 15 times on each side.
  • Rest. Then do another set of 8 to 15 alternating repetitions.

 

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Tricep Extensions: strengthen muscles in the back of the arm

  • Sit near the front edge of the chair, feet flat on floor and even with shoulders.
  • Hold a weight in one hand, raise that arm straight toward the ceiling, palm facing in.
  • Support arm below the elbow with the other hand.
  • Slowly bend raised arm at elbow, bringing hand weight toward same shoulder.
  • Slowly re-straighten arm toward ceiling. Hold position for 1 second.
  • Slowly bend arm toward shoulder again.
  • Pause, then repeat the bending and straightening until you have done the exercise 8 to 15 times. Repeat 8 to 15 times with your other arm.

Rest. Then repeat another set of 8 to 15 repetitions on each side.

 

 

Knee Flexion: strengthen muscles in the back of the thigh

  • Stand straight, holding onto table or chair for balance.
  • Slowly bend one knee as far as possible, so foot lifts up behind you. Don’t move your upper leg at all; bend your knee only. Hold position.
  • Slowly lower foot all the way back down. Repeat with other leg.
  • Alternate legs until you have 8 to 15 repetitions with each leg.
  • Rest. Then do another set of 8 to 15 alternating repetitions.

 

How Much Should I Exercise, and How Often?

  • Do strength exercises for all your major muscle groups at least twice a week, but vary the exercises so you don’t work the same muscle group 2 days in a row.
  • Lift a minimum of weight the first week, then gradually build up the weight. Depending on your level of fitness, you can start with no weights. Starting with weights that are too heavy can cause injuries.
  • It’s important to gradually add a challenging amount of weight in order to benefit from strength exercises. If you don’t challenge your muscles, you won’t get stronger. You can build up to using 1 or 2 pound weights as your strength grows and your body adapts to these strength exercises.
  • Take 3 seconds to lift or push a weight into place. Hold the position for 1 second, and take another 3 seconds to lower the weight. Don’t let the weight drop — lowering it slowly is very important.
  • It should feel somewhat hard for you to lift or push the weight. It should not feel very, very hard. If you can’t lift or push a weight 8 times in a row, it’s too heavy for you and you should reduce the amount of weight. If you can lift a weight more than 15 times in a row, it’s too light for you. Increase the amount of weight.
  • Do 8 to 15 repetitions in a row. Wait a minute, then do another set of 8 to 15 repetitions in a row of the same exercise.

Note: While you are waiting to do the next set of reps, you might want to stretch the muscle you just worked, or do a different strength exercise that works a different set of muscles.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)