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Weight Bearing Exercise for Seniors: How to Get Started + Best Exercises

By Maurice

Weight Bearing Exercise for Seniors

What do you think of when someone suggests weight bearing exercises? Young muscular bodies straining against mountains of weight?

Well, those are indeed weight bearing exercises, but they aren’t the only kind. In fact, even if you’re an older adult, you’re already doing weight bearing exercise in your day-to-day activities. Here’s how to put those exercises, and other weight bearing exercises, to work for you.

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.  

What Are Weight Bearing Exercises for Seniors?

Weight bearing exercises are any exercises that make the body work against gravity. That’s a lot of what we do naturally. It includes walking, climbing stairs, lifting grandchildren and carrying in the groceries. It includes aerobics, dancing, yoga, tennis and pickleball.

What it doesn’t include is bicycling, horseback riding and swimming. In those activities, beneficial though they are, you’re not holding up your own body weight. Something else is doing it for you.

Though older adults get some weight bearing exercise just by moving around, most of us could use a little more. There are specific routines we can add to our day to get the most out of this form of strength training.

What Are the Benefits of Weight Bearing Exercises for Seniors?

There’s nothing like weight bearing exercise for strengthening the bones and muscles. The stress of this sort of exercise makes the muscles stronger and the bones denser. Osteoporosis, in which the bones become weak and brittle, is a threat to elderly folk, especially women. A program of weight bearing exercises can help keep osteoporosis at bay.

When muscles become stronger, they’re better able to protect the bones. They improve the body’s balance, coordination and flexibility. Building muscles burns calories and can help those who would like to lose some weight.

Exercise in general can reduce stress and lower blood pressure. It can improve sleep. Seniors who exercise are less susceptible to every kind of ailment from heart disease to cancer to dementia. A regular exercise program is a great way to look and feel healthy no matter what age you are.

Best Weight Bearing Exercises for Seniors

If your daily routine provides you with some weight bearing exercise, great. Here a few ways to be deliberate about it and add a little more.

Light Weight Exercises for Seniors

Here are some easy weight bearing exercises based on things you do every way.

1. Walking

One of the best weight bearing exercises is also one of the easiest. Here’s how you do it.

  • Put your left foot in front of your right foot.
  • Next, put your right foot in front of your left foot.
  • Repeat many times.

Keep your back straight and your head up. About 30 minutes of walking 5 days a week is a good goal. Or use a pedometer and shoot for 10,000 steps a day. For an extra workout, carry a light dumbbell in each hand and exaggerate your arm motions as you walk.

2. Sit to Stand

You already do this several times a day, so why not make an exercise of it.

  • Sit toward the front edge of a chair.
  • Rest your feet flat on the floor with your heels close to the edge
  • Use your legs and glute muscles to stand up. If you need to, use one or both hands.
  • Do 2 sets or 5-10 reps.

You can get a little extra exercise any time you stand up by using your arms lightly or not at all.

3. Step Up

Walking up a flight of stairs is an excellent daily-living workout. Here’s a way to get even more out of it.

  • Stand at the bottom of a stairway.
  • Lift your right foot onto the first step.
  • Optionally, raise your left foot and straighten the right leg.
  • Step back down.
  • Repeat with your left foot.

There are many variations.

  • Step on the first step with one foot first and then the other, so both feet are on the step before you step down.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Bring your arms overhead as you step up.
  • Walk up two steps then come back down.

Body Weight Exercises for Seniors

In these exercises, you’re using your arms or legs to lift your entire body weight.

4. Heel Raise

You can do these with your hands on the wall or on the back of a chair. Or hands by your side for a bigger challenge.

Stand straight with your legs shoulder width apart.

  • Stand on your tiptoes.
  • Hold for a second or two. For a stronger workout, hold 5-10 seconds.
  • Do 2 sets of 10-20 reps.

As a variation, stand on a stair with your heels hanging beyond the edge, and lower your heels as well as raising them.

5. Push-ups or Knee Push-ups

Drop down and give me twenty! Do these the old fashioned basic training way, or give yourself a break and keep your knees on the floor.

  • Lie with your stomach on the floor and your hands palms down under your shoulders.
  • Straighten your elbows and push yourself up. Keep your body straight. Straight from your head to your toes or from your head to your knees, depending on which type you’re doing.
  • Lower your chest to the floor, but don’t let it rest on the floor.
  • Push up again.
  • Do 1-2 sets of 10-20 reps. Rest a minute or so between sets.

As a variation on the knee push-up, raise your feet.

6. Wall Push-ups

You can also do a push-up without getting down on the floor.

  • Stand up straight, facing a wall, about two feet away.
  • Place your palms on the wall at shoulder level.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed.
  • Keeping your body straight, let your elbows bend until your head barely touches the wall.
  • Push back to the upright position.
  • Do 1-2 sets of 10-20 reps.

For a harder exercise, do it with one arm at a time.

7. Squats

Do these between two chairs with your hands on the backs, or hands free if you trust your balance.

  • Stand straight with your feet slightly wider than hip width. Rest your hands on chair backs or hold them straight out in front for balance, palms down.
  • Bend your hips and lower your butt as if you’re sitting in an imaginary chair.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed.
  • Bend as far as is comfortable. If you can, bring your thighs parallel to the floor.
  • Bend as far as is comfortable. If you can, bring your thighs parallel to the floor.
  • Rise to the original position. If your hands are on chairs, use them only for balance. Use your legs to raise yourself.
  • Do 1-2 sets of about 10 reps.

Hand Weight Exercises for Seniors

There are lots of exercises you can do without equipment, but dumbbells are inexpensive and don’t take up much space. They don’t have to be heavy. Even 2-3 pounds dumbbells enhance your workouts, but use more weight if you like.

These dumbbell exercises can be done in a chair, but the standing version provides the better weight bearing workout.

8. Curls

  • Stand straight, arms at your side.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your wrists facing forward.
  • Keep your core engaged so your body doesn’t sway during the exercise.
  • Inhale.
  • On the exhale, curl the weights up against your shoulders. It’s a movement of the arms. If you have to use your back, you’re using too much weight.
  • Inhale as you lower your arms to the starting position. For the best muscle workout, do this “negative” part of the rep slowly.
  • Do 1-2 sets of 10-20 reps.

9. Presses

  • Stand up straight with your arms by your sides and a dumbbell in each hand, wrists facing inward.
  • Bend your elbows to bring the weights up next to your shoulder.
  • As with the curls, use your abs to keep your body straight.
  • Inhale.
  • Inhale as you lower the dumbbells to your shoulder.
  • Do 1-2 sets of 10-20 reps.

10. Lateral Raise

  • Stand straight with your arms at your sides, a dumbbell in each hand and the wrists facing inward.
  • Use your abdominals to keep your body straight.
  • Inhale.
  • As you exhale, raise your arms out from your sides until they’re parallel to the floor.
  • Lower the weights to the starting position.
  • Do 1-2 sets or 10-20 reps.

Free Weight Exercises for Seniors

Free weights such as dumbbells can be used for exercises that concentrate on the arms or for routines that work the entire body.

11. Dumbbell Crunch

The classic crunch is a leading exercise for building core strength, and the addition of weights brings a little more to it.

  • Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
  • Hold a dumbbell against your chest in each hand with your elbows in tight to your side.
  • Initiate the motion from your upper back, and raise your head, neck and shoulders from the floor.
  • Come only as high as you can without using your lower back. Once you start bending your lower back you’re doing old-fashioned sit-ups, which do at least as much harm as good.
  • Lower yourself to the starting position.
  • Do 1-2 sets of 15-20 reps.

There are many variations.

  • As you come off the floor, straighten your elbows and extend your arms.
  • Start with your arms extended out to the side on the floor and bring the hands together as you come up.
  • Do the entire motion with your arms and the weights extended.

12. Dumbbell Squats

If you were able to do regular squats without holding on to anything, try these for a more advanced workout.

  • Stand straight with your feet slightly wider than hip width.
  • Let your arms hang at your side, a dumbbell in each hand, wrists facing in.
  • Keep your body straight. Don’t lean forward.
  • Bend your hips and knees and lower yourself as if sitting in a chair.
  • Bend as far as is comfortable while maintaining a straight upper body. If you can, bring your thighs parallel to the floor
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Do about 10 repetitions.

Yoga and Tai Chi as Weight Bearing Exercise for Seniors

For a different approach to weight bearing exercise, consider yoga or tai chi. A lot of older adults practice yoga for relaxation and general fitness, but many of the postures bear weight, building flexibility and strength. Tai Chi is also a comfortable and relaxing practice that builds bone strength and fights osteoporosis.

Tai chi and yoga are offered at many clubs and senior fitness centers, and there are instructions online for all levels, including beginners and seniors. It’s easy, it’s approachable and anyone can do it.

You’re already doing weight bearing exercises!

When you get up in the morning and walk to the kitchen for your coffee, you’ve started off your day with a weight bearing exercise. From there it’s only a few steps (pun intended!) to doing even more.

When you’re getting up from your chair, do an extra sit-to-stand or two. As you get ready to walk up the steps, pause at the bottom for some step-ups. When you’re standing in your kitchen, pass the time with some heel raises.

Do a couple kinds of weight bearing exercises. Continue those you do naturally as your pursue your hobbies, and supplement them with a planned exercise routine several times a week. You’ll feel better, you’ll be stronger and you’ll keep your balance, flexibility and strength well into the golden years.


What Are Weight Bearing Exercises?

5 Weight-bearing Exercises for Retirees

Five weight-bearing exercises all over-60s should know

Weight-Bearing Exercises for Seniors

Weight-Bearing Exercises Improve Seniors Bone Density

Dumbbell Exercises for Arms: 10 Best Strengthening and Toning Exercises

Osteoporosis – OrthoInfo

Top 10 Reasons Exercise Is Important for Senior Health

Sit to Stand Exercise

Getting Started With Yoga for Fitness

The Benefits of Tai Chi for Osteoporosis

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