Senior Fitness: Choosing the Right Program

There is no "one-size-fits-all" program of aerobic exercise. Rather, dozens of methods and combinations of methods have been proven to be effective in improving senior fitness.

Seniors in aerobic swimming class.

Dive into exercise you love—in this case, an aerobic swimming class. Workouts in water keep the pressure off of your joints.

© Arne9001 | Dreamstime.com

The key to senior fitness is to find an exercise program that works for you, one that takes into consideration your age, health status, physical condition, personality, fitness goals, and living circumstances.

Finding choices shouldn’t be a problem. A wide variety of fitness programs can be done at home or in your neighborhood. And you’ll find guidance and instruction in almost every format, including print, television, websites, videos, DVDs, and smartphone apps.

Commercial Programs

Non-profit Organizations

Government Agencies

You also may have a local senior center that promotes fitness programs. Consult your physician with the program you choose to make sure it’s right for you.

If you prefer exercising with others and with the supervision of a trained exercise instructor, here are some potential options:

  • Local/regional hospitals
  • YMCAs/YWCAs
  • Churches/synagogues
  • Fitness/wellness centers and gyms
  • Neighborhood tennis clubs, swim clubs, and golf clubs
  • Physical therapy clinics and facilities
  • Municipal recreation centers
  • Senior community centers
  • Colleges and universities
  • Workplace wellness centers
  • Personal trainers (in-home)

Where to Start

For a senior fitness program, low-intensity exercise is the place to start, especially if you haven’t remained active. Something is better than nothing. Low-intensity exercises can play a major role in getting you into a positive routine, making you more flexible, and preparing your body for more demanding exercise.

After beginning with low-intensity exercise, gradually build up to a moderate-intensity level and perhaps to a high-intensity exercise program. Examples of each:

Low-intensity exercise:

  • Walking leisurely
  • Stretching
  • Lifting hand weights (dumbbells)
  • Housework, yard work
  • Wall push-ups or modified push-ups

Moderate-intensity exercise:

  • Walking fast
  • Water aerobics
  • Riding a bicycle slower than 10 mph
  • Playing tennis (doubles)
  • Mowing a lawn
  • Light gardening

Vigorous-intensity exercise:

  • Race walking
  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Swimming laps
  • Riding a bike 10 mph or faster
  • Rope jumping
  • Playing tennis (singles)
  • Aerobic exercise or dance classes
  • Heavy gardening (digging, hoeing)

The type of exercise doesn’t matter, as long as you get your heart rate into the target zone and keep it there for 10 minutes or longer.

Stick with the Program: 10 Tips

As we know from experience, maintaining a physical fitness routine long-term is a challenge. So consider these 10 tips as encouragement to work on senior fitness

.

  1. Set realistic goals.
  2. Find a program that provides supervision and support.
  3. Find a program that is located near your home.
  4. Find a program that is appropriate to both your age and health status.
  5. Exercise with friends or in a group setting.
  6. Set a regular time and place for exercise sessions. Don’t wait until you have time or feel like it.
  7. Don’t give up if you have to miss sessions. Get back into the routine as soon as possible.
  8. Choose exercise routines that are enjoyable—either because of the physical activity or because of the people with whom you do the exercises.
  9. Choose a program that is challenging in terms of flexibility, strength, balance, or whatever your goals dictate.
  10. Measure your progress: Write it down.

Originally published in March 2016 and updated.

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