Exercise Classes for Seniors: Your Guide to Active Aging

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There are great health benefits for staying active as you get older, even if your exercises are modified. Working out as a senior does not have to be strenuous. Simple activities like walking or yoga, when done consistently, can still be very effective. Here are some ideas for exercise classes to help keep older adults active and healthy.

What Types of Activity Do Older Adults Need?

There are several types of activities that older adults can do to stay healthy. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are three different types of physical activity that seniors should get: aerobic activity, strength-training activity, and balance activity. Again, exercises under these categories shouldn’t be too hard on the body. However, regular light or moderate activity can keep seniors active and strong.

Older adults should aim to get at least 150 minutes a week of activity. This can potentially be broken down into 30 minutes a day, five times a week. Aerobic activities like walking or bike rides can help seniors manage daily tasks like chores or spending time with their grandchildren. Strength training with light dumbbells or bodyweight can assist with joints and overall strength. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least two days a week of muscle-strengthening activities. Finally, working on balance and flexibility a few times a week helps seniors to remain steady while standing and walking.

What Are the Best Types of Exercise Classes for Older Adults?

To stay active, older adults can find exercise classes or activities that they can perform and actually enjoy! Below are some lower or moderate-impact activities that seniors can incorporate into their daily lives. 

Walking is still an excellent workout for everyone across the board, especially for older adults. It is a workout that can be done outdoors or even inside with different walk-at-home videos. The important part is getting in as many steps as comfortably possible. Those who get in at least 10,000 steps a day were found to be 46% less likely to die in the following 10 years than those who are inactive, according to a study from PLOS One. You can decrease that amount to accommodate joint pain or difficulty walking.  

The Chinese martial art, tai chi, is a popular activity for seniors. It centers on breathing, meditation, and repetitive, deliberate movements led by an instructor. This exercise is low impact but still helps to improve balance, increase flexibility, and strengthen muscles. 

Muscle loss can be a serious issue for older adults. Simple bodyweight exercises, like squats (using a chair), step-ups using a low stepper platform, wall pushups, and lying hip bridges can help tackle muscle atrophy. 

Many seniors turn to water aerobics or swimming to help their cardiovascular health in a way that’s easier on their joints. This is especially helpful for those who have arthritis or other aches. The buoyancy of water puts less stress on joints and acts as a form of resistance. Aqua jogging, leg lifts, and flutter kicking are some low-impact exercises that can be done in the water. 

Another area of exercise that older adults can try is strength training. They can use light dumbbells to perform exercises like bent-over rows, bicep curls, overhead presses, and front raises. Though the dumbbells may be light in weight, they are still effective. Strength training may assist with diabetes, osteoporosis, back pain, and depression symptoms. 

Yoga is yet another low-impact exercise that seniors can participate in. Yoga helps to build muscle strength and core stability. It also focuses on breathing and meditation, which can help to relieve stress. For those seniors who may not want to stand or get on the ground for yoga poses, some classes offer chairs so they can participate in a comfortable seat.

Where Can I Find an Exercise Class Near Me?

There are many different programs and resources available for seniors to stay active and manage their nutrition. Many local recreation centers and YMCA locations across the country have classes that focus on older adults. These classes — including dancing, yoga, and strength training — are often modified to fit different exercise levels for older adults. 

Another great resource is SilverSneakers, a free fitness and wellness program for seniors ages 65 and up who are enrolled in eligible Medicare plans. This program offers exercise classes for all fitness levels online and in-person at 15,000 live locations across the country with cardio equipment, pools, and more. Instructors provide modifications to exercise moves and chairs for those who use them to work out or sit down for a break. SilverSneakers also provides nutrition tips for healthier eating. The National Council on Aging also has connected with several organizations across the country that have programs to help older adults exercise regularly. For example, Active Choices is a six-month program developed by behavioral scientists at the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California that works to improve cardiovascular health for older adults who may not be getting enough exercise. Other great programs include the Aquatic Exercise Association Arthritis Foundation’s Aquatic and Exercise programs that work with seniors to build or improve endurance, mobility, and strength.