Exercise for the Elderly


Early old age often coincides with retirement, and as such this is a time when many people who have been physically inactive due to work commitments up to retirement suddenly find the time to commence some sort of physical activity. By middle old age many have developed some physical disability, making exercise difficult if not impossible.

Today we look at a few different forms of exercise which are suitable in old age.

Advantages of Exercising in old age.

  • Aerobic exercise makes the heart stronger, this has been proven. Exercise can also keep blood pressure under control. Thus through exercise we can reduce our risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
  • Weight bearing exercise maintains bone mineral density, which naturally declines with old age. Loss of bone mineral density increases the risk of osteoporosis (thinning of bones) and fractures.
  • Exercise increases muscle strength, which also naturally declines with old age. Muscle weakness can lead to osteoarthritis, a painful condition affecting joints, which can be ameliorated by building muscle strength around the affected joint.
  • The immune system benefits through exercise. This means we can better ward off colds and flus, and may even lower our risk of many cancers.
  • Stress, anxiety and depression can also be reduced to some extent by exercise.
  • Being mobile in old age helps to control incontinence, constipation, poor wound healing and deep vein thrombosis.

Cautions to Exercising in old age

  • The health risks of exercising increase with age. Any senior person considering commencing an exercise program should certainly obtain a medical clearance beforehand.
  • Fast walking would be better than running or jogging, as it offers less strain on the heart, less stress on knees, and less chance of slipping.
  • As you age your vision, hearing and sense of balance deteriorate. Sports where there is a risk of collision with opponents or stationary objects should be avoided.
  • If you have a history of falls then be careful in pursuing activities which require a good sense of balance – like climbing, skiing, and cycling.

What should exercise in old age achieve?

No single form of exercise will achieve the six key objectives in old age – to improve

  1. Strength – to perform everyday tasks – walking, climbing the stairs, getting out of a chair
  2. Bone mineral density – particularly in the wrist, hip and spine
  3. Stamina – to avoid undue tiredness
  4. Power – the ability to use our muscles fast when we need them – eg. to prevent a trip from becoming a fall
  5. Balance
  6. Flexibility -to be able to perform everyday tasks.

We need to adopt a mix of exercise types to achieve all these goals.

Exercise options for the elderly

These are the ideal exercise options and their prescribed benefits:-

  1. Brisk Walking-  stamina and cardiovascular fitness, maintain muscle strength in the legs and help prevent bone loss.
  2. Swimming- develop muscle strength as well as cardiovascular fitness, improve flexibility in the shoulders. Weightlessness in water is an added benefit.
  3. Cycling- develop cardiovascular health, lower body strength and power, balance, ankle and foot flexibility. This requires balance.
  4. Tennis and badminton – maintain cardiovascular fitness, speed, stamina, muscle tone and power. Also bone density in the preferred arm, balance and flexibility.
  5. Keep fit classes/aerobics – structured class can bring all the benefits of different types of exercise. Teacher must be qualified to teach older people.
  6. Yoga, Pilates, Tai chi – Maintain and improve flexibility, muscle tone and strength. Reduce anxiety. Develop body awareness, and realize which body parts are becoming less efficient with age.

How much exercise do you need?

Not much. Once or twice a week for half an hour will be sufficient to maintain your independence. Exercise, once completed, should leave you feeling no more than pleasantly tired the next day.

Remember, exercise cannot restore tissue which has already been destroyed by old age or disease. It can, however, protect against a number of chronic diseases of old age. It will help to make the most of the residual function. Life expectancy can be increased, and partial and total disability delayed. In some cases, biological age can be reduced by as much as 20 years.  Thus exercise is a very important part of healthy living for senior citizens.

Senior Station fitness guru – Sajeda Akbarally.


Sajeda Akbarally has been a fitness trainer and consultant at Lifestyle Fitness Lanka Pvt Ltd for about 15 years, training men, women and seniors in various exercise modes, and conducting fitness assessments and consultations.  Sajeda has conducted group classes specifically for seniors, focusing on the key areas of balance, strength and flexibility.  She advocates regular exercise in order to maintain a healthy body and mind. With the aging process the muscle mass and bone density in our bodies is reduced, making it increasingly difficult to exercise. Those who are able to keep up with a modest exercise regime find the greatest benefits to their daily lives.


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