They say variety is the spice of life, and it’s certainly a great spice when it comes to exercises for older adults.
Any kind of exercise seniors can do is good, and up to a point more is better. However, if you really want to make the most of your workouts and stay mentally engaged, while not go for a variety of routines.
The benefits? Switching up your workout will prevent overuse of specific muscle groups, give new muscles a chance to participate and make your fitness efforts more interesting. You’ll be more likely to stick with it.
In this guide to the best mobility exercises for seniors, we cover the four most important categories of exercises, the best exercises for different muscles and parts of the body, and (as they say in late night infomercials) much, much more!
Please click the button below to download a free PDF of the exercises in this article:
Keep in Mind:
Before starting any new exercise(s), we strongly recommend you follow the advice of the National Institute on Aging and consult your doctor.
Four Major Categories of Exercises for Seniors
What’s your exercise goal? Is it to improve your flexibility? Increase your cardiovascular fitness and your endurance? Build strength? Maintain good balance? Why not incorporate a little of each!
Flexibility Exercises for Seniors
Flexibility exercises help keep you limber. They make sure muscles get enough stretching, and some are also good as warm up exercises.
You need flexibility to turn your neck when you’re driving, to reach for things, to participate in sports and activities that you love. Shoulders, arms, legs, back and ankles all need stretching. Anything that gets these parts to use their full range of motion is a stretching exercise. Here’s one that stretches your back, your torso and your arms.
Overhead Side Stretch
- Stand straight with your feet hip width apart
- Raise your hands over your head. For more stretch, interlace your fingers.
- Keep your torso long and gently lean left.
- Hold for 15-30 seconds.
- Repeat up to 3 times on each side.
If it’s hard to raise your hands overhead, you may rest them on your hips. Also, this stretch can be done in a chair.
Endurance/cardio Exercises for Seniors
What’s a cardio exercise? Anything that gets your heart rate moving. It includes brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling and playing tennis. Most experts recommend about 30 minutes of cardio 3-5 days a week. Aim to go hard enough so you can talk only in short sentences but not so hard that you can’t talk at all.
Most of us do some of this as part of our daily activities. You can look for opportunities to climb stairs, or you can deliberately turn stair climbing into a workout. For example:
- After you walk upstairs, turn around, go back down and walk up again.
- Do repeated “ups and downs” on the bottom step. For example, step up left foot, step up right, step down left, then step down right.
- Bring your knees high each time you take a step.
Balance Exercises for Seniors
Falls are the leading cause of injuries for the elderly. The older body just doesn’t as readily recognize its positioning and the effect gravity is having on that position. Continued balance depends on core strength but also on the vestibular function of the middle ear (“functional” exercises are also important).
Foot taps are a balance exercise you can do as you get ready to climb the stairs or when you’re just standing around in any room. All you need is something to hold onto and something to step up onto.
- Stand with your feet hip width apart at the bottom of a staircase or in front of something to step on.
- Optionally, put your palm on the wall or hold a chairback for balance.
- Use your hand for balance only, not to assist the movement.
- Slowly lift your foot, tap the stair with your toe and put your foot back down.
- The slower the motion the more your balance is challenged.
- Do 15-20 taps with each foot.
Strength Exercises for Seniors
We all lose muscle mass as we get older, but strength training helps us retain as much as possible. It keeps bones strong and helps promote mobility and prevent falls, as well as helping you maintain good posture. You can use barbells, dumbbells and resistance cords for strength training, and you can even use your own body weight.
Even if you can no longer drop down for a quick 20, you can still realize the upper body benefit of push-ups.
- Lie on your stomach with your palms up the floor under your shoulders.
- Optionally, raise your lower legs and cross your ankles.
- Leaving your knees on the floor, straighten the elbows and push yourself up.
- Keep your back straight. Don’t let yourself hunch.
- Come back down until your chest touches the floor, but don’t let it rest on the floor.
- Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 push-ups.
If you can still do the old-fashioned kind, coming up only on your hands and toes, more power to you.
Senior Exercises for Different Parts of the Body
It’s easy to slip into a routine and exercise just your upper body, say, or just your legs. Strength, health and balance call for everything to work together. Here are a few routines to get all the body parts involved.
Arm Exercises for Seniors
We need our arms for everything from carrying in groceries to picking up grandchildren to keeping our golf swing strong. There are arm exercises for barbells, resistance bands and medicine balls, but a set of dumbbells is one of the most effective investments you can make for arm fitness. Try starting with 2-3 pound bells then go heavier if you like.
- Stand up straight with arm lowered and a dumbbell in each hand. Your wrists point forward.
- Bend your elbows and bring the weights to your shoulders.
- Hold for a second then reverse.
- To maximize the muscle work, do the return trip slowly.
- Do 1-2 sets of 10-20 reps.
There are endless variations you can do with dumbbells. Press them over your head or raise your arms straight out to your sides. Do all-direction arm extensions with them when you go for a walk.
Back Exercises for Seniors
If your back doesn’t work well, nothing works well. Anything that makes you tighten your core abdominal muscles is beneficial for your back, even if it’s also an arm or leg exercise. For example, bridges work your leg muscles but also require you to engage your core.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. This can also be done in a bed.
- Raise your hips as high as you comfortably can.
- Hold them there for a few seconds.
- Lower your hips. Keep your abs tight so you come straight up and down without swaying left and right.
- Do 1-2 sets of 10-20 reps.
For an extra challenge, straighten one leg and then lift.
Belly Fat Exercises for Seniors
Some of us have struggled with belly fat for years, while for others it’s happened only as we’ve aged. Exercises for belly fat are worthwhile in both cases. Walking and sports are a good way to attack belly fat, but there are stand-still exercises as well.
Standing Mountain Climber
- Stand straight up with your right arm extended straight over your head.
- Raise your left knee.
- Now lower your left leg and raise your right knee while raising your left arm overhead. The higher the knee, the more challenging the workout.
- Continue raising one arm and the opposite knee. It feels like you’re climbing a mountain or wall.
- Speed is up to you. You can continue at a walking pace or pick it up to a jog.
- Continue for about a minute.
Core Exercises for Seniors
In recent years there’s been a lot more emphasis on maintaining a strong core. Your core includes the muscles that support the spine, not just those along the spine but also the muscles of the abdomen, hips and pelvis. Core exercises are those that focus on these muscle groups. Strong core muscles not only prevent back pain but are important in balance and in preventing falls.
- Lie prone on the floor with arms straight out in front of you.
- At the same time, raise your head, your right arm and your left leg. Just a couple inches off the floor is plenty.
- Hold them for a few seconds.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
- Do 1-2 sets of 10-20 reps on each side.
For an extra challenge, raise one arm and both legs, or one leg and both arms. There’s a similar exercise called the Bird Dog done on the hands and knees.
Hip Mobility Exercises for Seniors
The hips connect the upper and lower body and are vital to the proper function of both. Hip exercises improve balance, build leg strength and firm the gluteal muscles.
Side Hip Raises
- Stand behind a chair and grasp the back with both hands for balance.
- Lift your right hip as high to the side as you comfortably can. Keep your upper back straight. Keep your toes pointed straight ahead.
- Do about 10 lifts on each side.
There are several ways to make this more challenging. Hold the chair with one hand, with one finger or don’t hold it at all. Raise your toes and balance on your heels. Add a light ankle weight.
Knee Exercises for Seniors
Seated Leg Lifts
- Sit in a chair with both feet flat on the floor.
- Slowly straighten your left leg.
- Hold it extended for 5 seconds.
- Slowly lower it to the starting position.
The best result comes with a slow and steady motion. For a greater challenge, add some ankle weights.
Upper Body Exercises for Seniors
It’s hard to maintain upper body strength as we age, but it’s important. It’s an area where loss of muscle mass can make day-to-day life difficult. The muscles of your arms, shoulders and upper back need exercise and strengthening to help you reach, push, pull and lift for yourself and maintain independence.
The push-up is a classic upper body exercise. Here’s another one.
Bent Arm Plank
- Lie prone with your elbows underneath your shoulder and your forearms and palms flat on the floor.
- Keep your legs hip width apart or a little wider. The closer together they are, the more work you’ll need for good form and balance.
- Lift your hips toward the ceiling. Keep your back straight so that there’s a straight line from your head to your ankles.
- Engage your upper back, abdominal muscles and gluteals and hold the plank position for a minute.
If this is too hard, keep your knees on the floor and build a straight line from your knees to your head.
Popular Types of Exercises for Seniors
One of the biggest problems some people have with exercise is that it can be boring. Another gripe is that it seems like many exercises are designed for people who are already healthy and working out regularly.
The fact is, there are plenty of ways to make exercise interesting and mentally engaging. It doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. There are clubs, groups and classes to introduce you to different disciplines such as tai chi, yoga and water aerobics. There are activities you can do if you can’t get out of a wheelchair and even routines your can benefit from while lying in bed.
Ball Exercises for Seniors
No, we’re not just talking about smacking a ball around the way you do in golf or tennis!
There are balls for sports, which are great fun, but there are also balls made for exercise.
There are small balls and medicine balls. One of the most versatile is the large spheroid call a stability ball, sometimes known as a Swiss ball. Use one that’s big enough to sit on comfortably with your feet flat on the floor. It’s ideal for core strengthening and balance.
For more exercises in this area, check out our complete guide to ball exercises.
Stability Ball Leg Lift
Just sitting on the ball is an exercise in itself. Or making small circles with your hips. Once you have the feel of it, try these leg lifts.
- Sit on a stability ball with your legs hip width or wider and your feet flat on the floor. The closer together your feet, the more strength and control you’ll have to use.
- Tighten your abs.
- Lift one leg a few inches.
- If you’re maintaining good balance and keeping the ball steady, lift your leg higher. If you can, bring it straight out in front of you.
- Repeat 8-15 times with each leg.
For more challenge, raise the opposite arm as you raise the leg. Or raise the arm on the same side. For a variation, try raising the leg with the knee bent.
Bed Exercises for Seniors
Some days you just might not be able to get out of bed, but you can still do your bed exercises. If you’re temporarily bed-bound, you don’t have to let your fitness go to pot. Bed exercises help keep your blood circulating even when you’re not moving about.
Bed Leg Lift
- Lie on your back and bend one knee so the foot is flat on the bed.
- Raise the straight leg as high as you can. A few inches is good, and so is way up off the bed.
- Hold it for about 10 seconds.
If you feel ambitious, straighten and raise both legs. Or roll onto your side and raise your upper leg for a side leg lift.
Resistance Exercises for Seniors
Resistance bands are an inexpensive and effective investment. There are probably some at your gym or fitness center, but you can pick up a few and do resistance exercises at home. There are suitable resistance band routines for arms, legs and the whole body. Here’s one to promote overall strength.
Some resistance bands come with handles. They’re convenient for this routine but not critical.
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended but your knees slightly bent.
- Place the center of the band around the soles of your feet and hold the band in your hands. Grasp the band such that your arms are extended but the band has little or no slack. Your palms face inward.
- Sitting tall, pull your elbows back and your shoulder blades toward each other.
- Slowly return to the starting position. The best muscle building comes when you go slow on the return trip.
- Do 1-2 sets of about 10 reps.
To make it easier, do it in a chair. To make it harder, do it standing up.
Tai Chi for Seniors
Tai chi started out as a martial art, but most people who practice it today aren’t looking to fight. Instead, they find that the deliberate, controlled movements are relaxing and promote flexibility, strength and balance. There are plenty of gentle tai chi positions that are excellent for older adults.
Energy to the Sky
This is a variation on a more advanced movement called Holding Up the Sky.
- Stand with your feet hip distance apart and arms at your sides.
- Now bring your arms up and extend them straight out in front, palms down, fingertips pointing in.
- Inhale, and watch your hands as you raise them above your head.
- Exhale and bring your arms back to your sides.
- Repeat 5-10 times.
Tai chi movements are done smoothly and continuously without pause between or during repetitions.
Water Aerobics for Seniors
If arthritis and joint pain keep you away from regular aerobic exercises, water aerobics may be the answer. There’s no jolting, yet the weight of the water provides resistance for strength building.
Some people use aqua shoes and a flotation belt, but you can aqua jog without special equipment. All you need is a swimming pool, pond or lake.
There are a few ways to do this:
- Jog or walk across the pool and back.
- Jog, walk or march in place.
Try to work hard enough to get your heart rate up. Take a class and be motivated by other “water walkers.”
Weight Bearing Exercises for Seniors
A weight bearing exercise is anything that lifts your body weight and works against gravity. Walking, stair climbing, tennis and dancing are weight bearing exercises. Bicycling and horseback riding are not. They’re good, but something else is bearing your weight. The best weight bearing exercises strengthen bones and are often recommended for seniors with osteoporosis.
You already know how to do it: put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Here are some ways to make it an even better workout.
- Find some hills. Walking up boosts your heart rate, and walking down challenges a different muscle group.
- Do intervals. Walk fast for two minutes then at normal pace for five.
- Is the weather lousy? March in place indoors. Or across the room and back.
Wheelchair Exercises for Seniors
Captain’s Chair Lift
The captain’s chair is a specialized piece of gym equipment, but one of the most popular captain’s chair exercises also works in a wheelchair.
- Sit up straight and grab the front corners of the seat with both hands.
- Lift your feet.
- Bend your knees to your chest or as high as you can. If you can raise your feet only a few inches, that’s fine.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and lower your feet back onto the floor.
- Repeat 3-5 times.
Yoga for Seniors
You don’t have to bend into a pretzel to benefit from yoga exercises. Yoga should be relaxing, refreshing and never hurt. You’re never too old to enjoy the benefits of yoga: better balance, improved flexibility, better sleep, less chance of depression.
The cat and cow is a classic spinal stretch. You can even modify this and do it sitting in a chair.
Cat and Cow
- Start on your hands and knees, arms under your shoulders and hips and knees at 90 degree angles.
- Inhale into the “cow” portion of the pose. Starting with the base of your spine, extend it all the way up. Lift your hips, drop your belly, come up through your upper back and neck and look up toward the ceiling. Imagine you’re extending bottom to top, one vertebra at a time.
- As you exhale, tuck your tailbone and round your spine in the other direction. Again, imagine moving one vertebra at a time. Hunch your upper back, tuck your neck and look at the floor.
- Do 5-10 sets of cats and cows.
Put Some Variety in Your Senior Workout
Even seniors who work out regularly may not have thought of all the things they can do. Whether you’re a dedicated exerciser looking for some new wrinkles or a novice who’s resolved to get into shape, try a few moves from several categories. There’s no need to get into a “workout rut.” There’s always something different to try.
Remember, it’s strength, balance, cardio and flexibility all working together that will give the biggest boost. They’ll help you keep up the tasks of independent daily living and participate in the sports and other activities you love. Variety in your workouts feels good, and it’s good for you!
- 17 Reasons to Switch Up Your Workout
- 2Exercise for Older Adults
- 3Stretching Exercises for Seniors: 7 Simple Moves to Start
- 4Cardio Exercise Guidelines for Seniors
- 5Balance Exercises for Seniors: Improve Your Stability
- 6Strength Training for Seniors: Everything You Need to Know
- 712 Best Lower Back Pain Exercises For Seniors And The Elderly
- 85 Exercises to Lose Belly Fat for Seniors – SilverSneakers
- 9The Best Core Exercises for Seniors
- 10Hip Joint Exercises For Seniors And The Elderly
- 11Upper-Body Exercises for Seniors That Aren’t Pushups
- 126 Simple and Effective Knee Exercises for Seniors
- 13Exercise Ball Workout: 20-Minute Routine for Seniors
- 14Resistance Band Workout: Total-Body Routine for Seniors
- 158 Effective Seated Exercises for Wheelchair Bound Seniors
- 165 Simple and Fun Water Aerobics Exercises for Seniors
- 17Yoga for Seniors
- 18What Are Weight Bearing Exercises?
- 19Fitness: benefits of Tai Chi for seniors