Find out what exercises and workouts are best for older individuals.
Listener Julie recently asked:
“My mother is in her mid-70's and would like to start exercising. Do you have any suggestions? I don't want her to get hurt.”
In this article, I’ll answer Julie’s question, explain how your body and fitness needs change as you get older, and give you exercises and workouts that are best for older individuals.
Why Seniors Should Exercise
One of the best anti-aging activities you can do for your body is exercise. For years, it has been widely accepted that we start getting slower, weaker, and more fragile with age. But more recently, this has been proven otherwise by studies on the cellular process of aging and the impressive performances of older athletes.
As a matter of fact, most research is now showing that when it comes to your fitness, if you use it, you lose it far less quickly. And you’ll also age more slowly and have a higher quality of life in your older years!
The Effect of Aging on Exercise Capacity
But it can certainly get a bit more difficult to jump, sprint, and move just as powerfully as you may have been able to do in your younger years. There are a few reasons why:
Your metabolism decreases with age, by about 10% from your 30’s to your 60’s, and a further 10% from your 60’s forward. This means you main gain fat more easily.
Your maximum oxygen consumption decreases by significantly each decade from 25 to 65 years of age, and then decelerates even more quickly – which means intense cardiovascular efforts can be very difficult.
You grow less responsive to energy stimulating hormones called catecholamines (like epinephrine), and as a result, you maximum heart rate decreases, which also can decrease the intensity of hard efforts.
The total amount of blood your heart pumps per beat and the ability of your muscles to extract oxygen from that blood decrease, which can affect your cardiovascular capacity.
Your muscle strength peaks around 25 years old, plateaus through 35 or 40 years old, and then begins to decline quickly, with 25% loss of peak strength by the time you’re 65. This is due to a loss in the number of muscle fibers.
Your tendon, ligament, and joint elasticity is decreased as “cross-linkages” form between soft tissue fibers in these areas. This can cause a loss of 2-4 inches of lower-back and hip flexibility.
Your bone density decreases as the calcium content of bones gets lower and the matrix inside the bone begins to deteriorate, which can lead to increased risk of osteoporosis or fractures, especially in women.
Good Exercises for Seniors
This article isn’t meant to depress you about getting older! Most of the fitness loss just listed can be drastically decelerated by engaging in regular bouts of physical activity through adulthood and into your older years. As a matter of fact, a 56-year-old recently beat me in an Ironman triathlon – and I’m 29! If someone nearly twice my age can swim, bike, and run me into the ground, then you can certainly maintain fitness as you age.