Exercise is an important part of your overall health from the time you are born until the end of your life.
Just because you stop working doesn’t mean you have to stop working out. In fact, post-retirement, you may have more time to invest in a beneficial exercise routine.
If you don’t like exercise but realize its importance in maintaining your health as you age, then you probably know that something is better than nothing. Even just 10-minute increments that you increase over time will make a difference. There are a lot of different types of exercise, with one of the most beneficial being cardio-related. In this guide we cover the best senior cardio exercises, so you know exactly what to do to improve your cardio.
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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.
What is Cardio?
Cardio is any workout that gets your heart rate up.
- Aerobic-based hobbies like gardening.
(Aerobic exercises are just another name for cardio routines because they require increased oxygen to help move the blood through the body better. If you want to know your target heart rate for your age, the AHA has a good article with a chart.
To get the most out of your cardio routine, consistency is key. You’re more likely to be consistent in your routine if you enjoy what you’re doing.
By breaking workouts into 10-minute sessions, it should be easier to find things you enjoy doing. The intensity levels you can handle will vary depending on your age and health status, so it’s essential to consider your current health, physical limitations, and doctor’s recommendations before starting any new exercise routine.
Don’t worry if you can’t keep up with your grandkids; even the smallest amount of exercise has health benefits!
Benefits of Cardio for Seniors
There are numerous benefits of making cardio exercises part of your daily life, and they go beyond the heart. They include:
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved lung function
- Reduced chronic pain symptoms
- Weight management
- Strengthened immunity
- Improved cognitive and brain health
- Improved balance
- Lower stress levels
- Better sleep
- More energy
- Enhanced quality of life
While not every person will see every benefit immediately or as much as the next person, cardio exercise is still helpful.
Just like other muscles, the heart becomes stronger and more efficient with exercise, so it can do its job better when cardio is a regular part of your routine. This is especially true of people that have already undergone heart procedures or are dealing with a cardiovascular condition. Even walking is beneficial if you fall in this category, as low-intensity workouts enhance heart health significantly.
Low-intensity exercises are also recommended for seniors with asthma or difficulty breathing. Higher-intensity workouts improve sleep quality in the elderly if done at least two hours before bedtime and done regularly. And you can even find exercises that work best for injuries, too, so there’s really no reason not to get on board with exercising.
The Right Amount of Cardio
For most people, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends people engage in 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week or 25 minutes of more vigorous activity three times per week.
To know how hard you’re working, you can use the RPE scale to gauge your intensity.
The CDC also says you should still be able to talk when doing low-intensity and most moderate-intensity workouts. Low-intensity workouts will feel like a 3-4 for more people, while moderate feels like a 5-6 and vigorous feels like a 7-9.
It’s okay to build up your endurance over time; starting is the point. As you get stronger, you’ll feel better and will be able to do even more. To determine your strength and what you can handle, taking an assessment before you start can give you an idea of where you’re at.
Best Senior Cardio Exercises
When it comes to knowing the best cardio exercises for seniors, you might think that it’s as simple as walking or running around the block. But each person has a different situation that will determine the type of exercise they should try. For example, if you have knee pain, you probably won’t want to go for a run. If you have heart issues already, higher intensity workouts probably won’t be best for you.
While the exercises below all fall under the cardio category, each is used for a different purpose or works well in different situations.
Remember that warming up and cooling down are both important to your cardio routine and should only take a few more minutes of your time.
Warming up is easy – it’s just a slower pace of whatever you’re doing and gradually ramping up to your desiring intensity, like walking for a few minutes before you run.
Cooling down is meant to do the opposite, letting your heart rate come back down to normal and presenting a good opportunity to stretch so your muscles can recover easier.
Cardio exercises for seniors at home
If you can’t get to the gym, you don’t need to worry because there are plenty of things at home that qualify as working out – even things you do every day! That’s because things as simple as vacuuming or gardening can be cardio with the pushing, pulling, digging, and raking. So can walking around the block.
Here are a few more ideas.
Jogging – If you enjoy walking but want to try jogging and you jog for at least 30 minutes three times a week, studies show that you’ll be less likely to experience age-related physical decline. Try starting with brisk walking as a 5-minute warm-up and then start jogging at a moderate pace for up to 20 minutes. Cool down with another brisk walk for about 5 minutes.
Dancing – Dancing can be low impact or high impact depending on your fitness level, and it’s relatively easy to do at home. You just need some clear floor space to move. In the video shown, the teacher goes through some traditional low-impact, Latin-influenced moves that are perfect for beginners or seniors. It will engage your core and provide an entire body workout while raising your heart rate to boost your cardio health.
Gym Machines – Machines like ellipticals, rowers, and stationary bikes are easy to use and incredibly easy on the joints. They are suitable for seniors who can’t get out to exercise and offer many types to fit different needs and levels. Even something as simple as a foot peddling machine can help you workout from home. You’ll also get to catch up on your favorite show while you’re working out. Watch how the teacher in the video incorporates a foot peddler into a quick exercise routine.
Basic exercises – These are your general exercises like jump rope, stretches, jogging in place, and more that you see on workout videos. They get your heart rate going, and there are a multitude of options out there. Each one can typically be modified for your skill level. A few are described below:
High Knees are like running in place and work in a small area.
- 1Stand with your arms at your side and feet together.
- 2Stand with your arms at your side and feet together.
- 3As you continue alternating knees, pump your arms up and down.
Butt Kicks are the opposite of high knees. You can also hold onto a chair to help you balance if needed.
- 1Stand with your arms at your side and feet together.
- 2One at a time, lift a heel toward your butt. Repeat with the other leg.
- 3As you continue alternating heels, pump your arms up and down.
Squats are beneficial to seniors because they boost the heart rate, promote lower body strength, and help you stay independent. These can be done to suit any level using a chair, wall support, or just yourself. Watch the video to learn the proper form.
Power Jacks are modified jumping jacks.
- 1Stand with arms at your side and feet together.
- 2Move one leg to the side and both arms in the air.
- 3Bring it back to the starting pose.
- 4Repeat with the other leg.
Low impact cardio for seniors
While some of the activities you can do from home qualify as low-impact, there are specific exercises that are especially good for this purpose. Low impact reduces the stress on the body without losing the benefits. It’s good for seniors with osteoporosis, those that have injuries, or those with heart conditions.
Walking – Walking is considered the low-impact version of jogging or running. It doesn’t place as much pressure on your joints. However, it is still considered a weight-bearing exercise since your body pushes against gravity, so if you need to avoid weight-bearing activities, this won’t be an option.
Low Impact Aerobics
Low-Impact Aerobics – Taking your standard aerobics or jazzercise class down a notch to make it even more low-impact can help ease the strain on the body. This video shows some great ways to do just that and is especially geared toward seniors.
Cycling – When you ride a bike, your body makes smooth motions to turn the pedals, so it places very little pressure on your joints. It can be done at home, outdoors, or in a gym.
Swimming – When you swim, the water takes on your weight, so no pressure is put on your body. It increases your heart rate, helps you build strength, but avoids the added stress to your body. Check out your local aquatics fitness class, or simply take a swim at your neighborhood pool.
Yoga – Yoga is excellent for strengthening, toning, and flexibility, but it also boosts your cardiovascular health like cardio does. However, it has the benefits of being low-impact, too! Here’s a great article from Kristin McGee that shows seven poses and how they benefit seniors. One of her favorites is shown below – the Downward Facing Dog.
- 1Start on your hands and knees.
- 2Tuck your toes under and lift your hips and back up to form a triangle with your body.
- 3Use your core strength along with your legs to bring the weight back/up as possible.
- 4Stay for five to eight breaths, then lower and repeat a few more times.
How to Modify Your Cardio
Sometimes, you’ll need to modify your cardio exercises beyond just the level of impact you endure. Options exist to help you do just that.
Chair cardio exercises for seniors
Chair exercises are a way to modify most exercises to accommodate seniors who aren’t physically able to do some of the more demanding activities but still want exercise benefits.
Chair Yoga – You can try this on your own by doing your existing yoga poses from a chair, or you can take one of the many classes now available online, like the one below. Chair yoga allows you to increase your workout level gradually and is good for seniors who don’t want to get down on the floor.
Chair Exercises – For non-yoga moves that are a bit more intense, there’s also chair exercising, which is modified versions of the regular exercises you’re used to, such as jumping jacks and the already modified power jacks. This takes it one step further. The video below shows both the regular exercise and the chair version so that anyone can do this video together.
Chair cardio exercises for seniors with knee problem
For seniors with knee problems, exercising can be even harder, not to mention painful. While it may seem counterintuitive, even walking can help your knee problems. That’s because any exercise that strengthens the muscle around the knee will help with the knee pain since it takes pressure off the joints. Luckily, there are ways to modify your exercise to ensure that your pain doesn’t worsen and sometimes even make it better. For example, St. Louis University found that a 12-week program of low-impact dancing for seniors averaging 80 years old resulted in a decrease in the number of pain medications by 39%.
Here are the best cardio exercises to do for pain problems.
- Low-impact dancing
- Chair and other modified exercises
- Tai Chi
Some specific exercises include:
Straight leg raises – if you deal with osteoarthritis in your knee, this can help.
- 1Lie on the floor with your arms and elbows lined up with your shoulders.
- 2Bend one knee so that your foot is flat on the floor.
- 3Lift your straight leg off the floor about six inches and hold for five seconds.
- 4Repeat 10 times and switch to the other leg.
Knee extension – this moves a different part of the knee and leg to give some relief and build strength.
- 1Sit on the edge of a chair with your back straight and belly button pushed toward your spine.
- 2Slowly lift one leg as high as you can, toes pointed upward, so that you straighten your knee.
- 3Hold for two seconds and return to the floor. Repeat for eight times and then switch legs.
Getting Started with Senior Cardio Exercises
If you’re ready to add more cardio to your routine and see the benefits first-hand, there’s no better time. Remember that it’s most important to simply start. Do what works for you and modify where you need to. And most importantly, be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning any new routine to make sure that it’s the best fit for your situation.
Supporting Scientific Studies
- 1The use of step aerobics and the stability ball to improve balance and quality of life in community-dwelling older adults – a randomized exploratory study
- 2Programs on People Older Than 80 Years
- 3Effectiveness of the Pilates method versus aerobic exercises in the treatment of older adults with chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial protocol
- 4Effects of Tai Chi and Western Exercise on Physical and Cognitive Functioning in Healthy Community-Dwelling Older Adults
- 5Effects of long term Tai Chi practice and jogging exercise on muscle strength and endurance in older people
- 6Effect of Nordic Walking and Water Aerobics Training on Body Composition and the Blood Flow in Lower Extremities in Elderly Women
- 7Exercise for improving balance in older people
- 8The effects of endurance and weight-bearing exercises on reaction time and postural balance in postmenopausal women
- 9Long‐Term Exercise and its Effect on Balance in Older, Osteoarthritic Adults: Results from the Fitness, Arthritis, and Seniors Trial (FAST)
- 10Aerobic walking or strengthening exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee? A systematic review