Most seniors are aware that exercise is good for them. What they may not realize, though, is that it's never too late to start (as long as they check with their doctor first). So, whether you're a senior yourself or have a special one in your life, read on for simple ways to get in shape.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), every senior needs:

  • Endurance activities such as walking, swimming, or riding a bike to build "staying power" and improve heart and circulatory health.
  • Strengthening exercises to build muscle tissue and reduce age-related muscle loss. This can include weight training, resistance bands, and yoga.
  • Stretching exercises to keep the body limber and flexible.
  • Balance exercises to reduce the chance of falling.

Remember, a little can go a long way. Studies show: 

  • Six months of strengthening exercises increases bone density in hips.
  • People who do moderate to high levels of exercise live nearly four years longer than sedentary people.
  • Men and women experience equal cardiac benefits.
  • 300,000 American seniors are hospitalized annually with broken hips caused by falls. Balance exercises build muscles and help prevent falls.

How much exercise do seniors need?  The guidelines are the same as for all adults.  The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends: 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and weight-training/muscle-strengthening activities 2 or more days a week


1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (jogging or running) every week and weight training/muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week. 

In addition, seniors need to focus on flexibility and balance. Balance, strength and flexibility work together to keep seniors on their feet.  Most gyms, including the YMCA, offer exercise programs specifically for seniors that address the 4 components of senior fitness.  

Getting all that exercise may seem daunting for sedentary seniors or those with minimal exercise experience.  The CDC offers this advice:

  • Pick activities you enjoy and that match your abilities. This will help ensure you stick with them, make exercise more enjoyable and reduce your risk of injury.
  • Exercise is still safe and beneficial even if you have problems doing normal daily activities, like climbing stairs or walking.
  • If you must take a workout break due to an illness, start again at a lower level and slowly work back up to your usual level of activity.

Once they start exercising, seniors find a huge increase in their energy level and sense of well-being and a decrease in isolation, illness, and risk of injury.