The best exercises for older people must be convenient and as simple as possible. However, when it comes to exercising, you have to do what is best for you body, no matter your age. It just so happens that older adults may be slightly more limited in the types of exercises that can be performed secondary to medical problems or joint pain. It’s a fact of life that metabolism slows and pain can increase because of age. However, there are few reasons not to exercise, as long as it is done safely and with your doctor’s permission. In fact, regular exercise can help to improve your body in many ways!

Here is an excellent resource from the CDC that shows the benefits of exercise for older people.

Along with a healthy diet, regular exercise is definitely one of the best things you can do on a daily basis. 

Best Exercises for Older People

Now the question is what are the best exercises for older people?

First and foremost, any additional movement is beneficial! This includes gardening, walking, playing with children, playing with pets, etc. Also, choosing to park in the back of the parking lot and taking stairs whenever possible is absolutely beneficial.

I am a believer that bodyweight exercises are the best exercises for older people looking to build muscle. Bodyweight exercises are great because there is no need for equipment, and bodyweight exercises are more functional. They can also be done anywhere! Bodyweight exercises should be performed at least 3 times per week and 3 sets should be performed of each exercise per session.

What about repetitions?

Similar to my exercise recommendations for younger adults, the number of repetitions performed for bodyweight only exercises is dependent on the person. You should do as many repetitions for each set that your body allows you to do. In other words, keep going until your arms, abs or legs will not let you continue. Also, be sure to stop if you experience any other concerning feelings, such as lightheadedness, joint pain, shortness of breath or chest pain (which should definitely let your doctor know about).

So to sum it up – do bodyweight exercises, 3 times per week, 3 sets per session, and as many repetitions as you can do with each set.

As far as structured exercises, here are the best exercises for older people based on my experiences in working with older clients (always check with your doctor to ensure safety):

  1. Squats – Squats are one of the best exercises for the lower body, particularly for older people. The Squat improves flexibility in your ankles, knees and hips; as well as, increases strength in your quadriceps, hip muscles, thighs and calf muscles. Strong legs are of utmost importance for older people because older adults are at a significantly increased risk for falls. Of course, a fall can be disastrous, and difficult to rebound from. Therefore, if there is one exercise that I recommend doing 3-5 times per week, it would be squats.  I recommend performing 3 sets without weights, performing as many repetitions for each set that feels good for you. If you get to a point where you are doing 25-30 repetitions per set, consider holding a pair of 5-10 pound dumbbells to make the Squat more difficult. Here is how to perform the Squat. 
  2. Ab Plank – The second best exercise for older people is the Ab Plank. The Ab Plank is not easy, but virtually works every single muscle in the body, particularly those that are important to keep strong in older people. The Ab Plank works the core back and abdominal muscles to help to improve stability and balance. In addition, the Ab Plank also works the legs and the arms to keep them toned. Now I must be honest, the Ab Plank is not easy, no matter what age. So you may only be able to hold the position for a few seconds, and that is perfectly okay! You will build up strength and stamina and be able to hold the position longer. Just make sure you have a good pad for those elbows 🙂 I recommend also performing the Ab Plank 3-5 times per week, and performing 3-5 sets each time you visit the exercise. For each set, hold the position for as long as you can, while making sure that you are breathing regularly and keeping all of your muscles tight. For those with back pain, this exercise may help to provide pain relief. Here is how to perform the Ab Plank.
  3. Decline Push Up – Last in the trifecta of best exercises for older people, I recommend performing the Decline Push Up (or regular Push Ups if you can). Push Ups work every muscle in your upper arm and back. They also help to improve core stability, which is of particular importance in the older population. I recommend the Decline Push Up, because it is a bit easier than the regular Push Up, which you can work up to doing. Similar to the Squats and Ab Planks exercises, the Decline Push Up exercise should be done 3-5 times per week. Three sets should be performed each time. Perform as many as you safely can with each set. Allow yourself adequate rest between sets. Here is how to perform the Decline Push Up.

While there are other exercises that are beneficial for older people, these are the best three that should be performed on a regular basis. It doesn’t take much. But if you can find a way to become disciplined in performing these exercises regularly, you will stay far younger physically than time would tell 😉