Exercising at home is a fantastic way for older adults to remain healthy and strong. Physical activity is one of the main contributors to living a longer and healthier life, with a multitude of benefits associated with regular exercise. Even if you have never been a big fan of exercise, it’s never too late to start.
There are many programs and classes available for seniors. Try to choose activities that you find interesting and enjoyable so that exercise doesn’t feel like a chore. Remember, when starting a new routine it’s a good idea to speak to your health professionals for advice, and always take necessary precautions.
Benefits of Exercise for Older Adults
There are many reasons why older adults should ensure that they keep moving as they age. A lot of us slow down in our senior years as our bodies become less capable of doing what we used to. Tiredness, pain and fear of falling can make us less motivated to exercise. But in fact, this is the time of your life when you should be most concerned about maintaining an active lifestyle.
Physical Health Benefits
One of the benefits of exercise for seniors includes reducing the effects of illness. Older adults are more likely to suffer from chronic disease and a range of health problems. However, exercise can assist to slow the progression of some of these conditions, and to reduce the risk of disease.
Exercising boosts your immune system so you are better equipped to fight off infection. It improves bone density so you are less likely to suffer a fracture if you have a fall. When we keep moving, it helps along our digestive systems too, assisting people who experience constipation or intestinal issues. Studies have shown that people who engage in regular physical exercise are at a lower risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Exercise can also assist in maintaining a healthy weight. Many older adults struggle with weight—either gaining weight as your metabolism slows down with age, or experiencing unplanned weight loss. Exercise assists to increase your metabolism so that your body burns more calories. It builds muscle mass so that you don’t experience any loss of muscle tissue.
Quality sleep is important at all stages of life, but as we age, we can find it more difficult to sleep through the night. Regular activity can assist in improving sleep. When you exercise, you are more likely to sleep deeply and wake up feeling more refreshed.
Mental Health Benefits
Along with our bodies, our minds benefit from regular exercise and movement. Some of the mental health benefits experienced by older adults with an exercise routine include increased positivity and a sense of wellbeing. Exercise is proven to relieve stress and it produces endorphins in the body that can reduce feelings of sadness and anxiety. If you feel that you are experiencing depression, exercise can improve your mood.
Regular activity also boosts your brain function. Just like our bodies get stronger as we work them, getting active trains our brain as well. Exercise can improve brain functionality to prevent memory loss, making it particularly beneficial for people with dementia. It also assists in reducing cognitive decline so we feel more creative and are better at problem solving.
Finally, exercise is something that can promote social interactions. Whether it’s attending a class, meeting a friend for a walk, or working regularly with a trainer or physiotherapist, activity can put us in contact with people. This is great for your mental health and your confidence, keeping you connected with the wider community and preventing loneliness.
Exercise Programs for Older Adults
Exercise is a fantastic way to stay healthy and boost overall wellbeing, but it can be hard to know what to do when you’re starting a routine for the first time. How often should you exercise? How long do you need to exercise for? And what activities will suit you best?
A good way to get some guidance and structure for your exercise routine is to access some of the many free or low-cost programs available.
Check in with local council or YMCA to see what kind of activities are on offer. Councils will often run sessions developed specifically for seniors, catering for a range of abilities and conditions. There are also programs run by national bodies that are designed for people with health conditions. For example, the Heart Foundation has developed Heartmoves, a specialised exercise program for people with heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Within different states, some of the programs on offer include:
- Get Active Victoria. This program provides free workout routines to anyone living in Victoria, with guided classes for all levels of ability
- Healthier. Happier. This Queensland Government program allows you to find exercises suited for over 60s.
- Active & Healthy. The New South Wales government has developed a 10-week program for older adults.
- Strength for Life. South Australia and Western Australia allow accredited providers to run their specialised seniors training sessions.
- Healthy Darwin. This program features a range of low-cost activities developed especially for seniors.
Exercises to Try At Home
If you have limited mobility or you find it hard to access programs and classes in your area, exercising at home might be a good option for you. Exercise at home can still be a very rewarding experience. It is highly convenient and avoids any issues you may have getting to a fitness class. The ease of exercising in your own home can also help with motivation and staying in a familiar environment can help you feel safe. You can also use exercise to break up your day, like going for a walk before lunch or completing exercises during the ad breaks of your favourite television show.
The Safe Exercise at Home website provides a good resource for seniors wanting to exercise at home. It has been developed by physiotherapists and provides information, advice, and success stories to inspire you.
As we age and gradually lose muscle mass, some of the things we used to find easy can become much harder. But regular strength training can make our muscles stronger and more capable of doing everyday tasks, like lifting objects around the house, walking up stairs, and standing up out of a chair. Try some of these exercises to improve strength.
Stand Up / Sit Down
- Position yourself in front of a chair
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees pointing straight forward
- Slowly sit down into the chair
- Stand up again, using your hands for support if required
- Repeat sitting and standing, using both legs to distribute your weight evenly
- Tip: Choose a chair that isn’t too deep or squishy—i.e., a dining chair, rather than an armchair.
Wall Push Up
- Stand facing a wall
- Place your hands flat on the wall, shoulder width apart
- Keep your body straight and bend your elbows so your upper body moves closer to the wall
- Stop when you are close to the wall
- Push back to your original position
- Tip: You can make this exercise harder by moving your feet further away from the wall, putting more weight on your arms.
Bilateral calf raises
- Position yourself facing a support, such as a table or back of a chair
- Stand with your feet together and heels on the ground
- Slowly lift your heels off the ground to a tip toe position
- Return your heels to the ground and repeat
- Tip: You can make this more challenging by using less hand support.
Balance is very important as we age and our risk of injury increases. If you feel unsteady when walking or moving around the home, some balance-based exercises can help.
Stepping to targets
- Mark some targets in a semi-circle on the floor
- Position yourself standing in the middle of the semi-circle
- Practice stepping to each target, one at a time, returning to your starting position after each one
- Tip: Use a support if necessary. Increase distance to targets for added difficulty.
- Position yourself standing with one foot in front of the other, with no space between your feet
- Hold this position, using a hand support if needed
- If it feels comfortable, try twisting your head and body in different directions
- Tip: You can position your feet further apart for extra balance.
Stiffness, especially in the morning, can decrease our motivation. But regular stretching and flexibility exercises improves our ability to move freely. Try some of these.
- Stand with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed
- Turn your head to one side until you feel a stretch in your neck
- Return your head to straight position
- Turn your head the other way
- Tip: Keep your upper body still and strong, only moving your neck muscles.
- Sit in a straight-backed chair with your feet planted on the floor
- Raise your arms out to the sides to shoulder height
- Return your arms to your sides
- Lower one arm down towards the floor, allowing your other shoulder to rise higher
- Return to a neutral position
- Lower the opposite arm towards the floor and then return to neutral
- Tip: When moving your upper body, listen to what it’s telling you. Some stretches will feel especially good, others might not.
Improving Aerobic Fitness
Aerobic fitness, sometimes called ‘cardio’, improves your body’s ability to pump blood and deliver oxygen to your muscles. It’s a good idea for people who sometimes feel out of breath or who tire quickly.
Marching on the Spot
- Stand on a flat and solid surface, like your kitchen floor
- March on the spot, moving your arms and lifting your knees high
- March for five minutes continuously
- Tip: If you feel unsteady, stand near a support like the kitchen bench that you can hold onto as needed.
Walking up and down stairs
- Position yourself at the bottom of a flight of stairs
- Walk up to the top, lifting your feet and using the handrail for balance
- Turn around and walk back down
- Tip: The more stairs, the harder it is. Begin with just one or two steps and build up to more.
- Put on some music for motivation
- Move your feet side to side
- Move your arms up and down and around your body
- Tip: Your favourite song makes this a lot of fun!
Precautions for Older People when Exercising
While exercise has many benefits, there are some safety measures to consider when doing any activity. If you haven’t exercised for a while, it’s a good idea to speak to your health professionals ahead of starting a new program. They will be able to advise you of anything specific to be aware of, and the best types of exercises suited to your ability level and general health.
When exercising at home, it’s also a good idea to begin with exercises that don’t require equipment. Although equipment such as weight machines, balance balls and treadmills can be beneficial, these add complication and can be dangerous if used incorrectly.
If you’re just beginning to exercise, have specific health problems, or you lack confidence, it’s a good idea to always have someone with you when you exercise. A carer or family member can assist you to safely complete exercises. They can also provide additional encouragement if you’re finding the activity a bit hard or tiring.
Dehydration is not just feeling thirsty—it’s a serious medical condition that can be dangerous, particularly to older adults. Older people have a lower volume of water in their bodies and some medications can increase the risk of dehydration.
Dehydration can occur when exercising because when we move, we sweat, releasing fluids from the body. To counter this, it’s important to drink plenty of water before, during and after you exercise. Keep water close by at all times.
Inappropriate clothing can make movement more difficult, reducing the benefits and your enjoyment of the activity. Wear clothes that are loose, comfortable and won’t restrict your movement in any way. You may also get warm as you exercise; wearing layers can make it easy to remove some clothing as you go. Always wear proper shoes and see a podiatrist if you need help with support.
Online classes are great for people everywhere to access exercise, but they can also pose challenges. While exercising and watching a screen, keep aware of your surroundings. Place your computer somewhere that is easy to see while doing the exercise. If you miss something, don’t worry—there’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to pause and then joining in again.
Many seniors may be wary of lifting weights. However, strength training is one of the most important things you can do in older age. Weight training can develop stronger muscles and increase bone density, so it’s a good idea to add this to your routine if you’re comfortable.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, older adults should participate in resistance or weight training at least twice per week. You can use free weights in a gym or class, or heavy items at home—just make sure you can hold them easily. Proper technique is vital so if you’re not sure what to do, speak to a physiotherapist or other expert. Always warm up your muscles with some easy movement before lifting heavy weights.
Exercising for Older Adults in Australia
Exercising may seem intimidating or difficult when you first begin, but it’s an important part of staying healthy as you age. Finding activities that you enjoy and a way to fit exercise into your daily life will help to make it easier. When exercising at home, always stay safe and use supports where needed to ensure you can complete exercises. If you need help with forming a safe exercise routine, our support workers are able to help you with that! Speak to Homage Care Advisors to find out how you can better engaged your elderly loved ones at home today!
Dehydration – Symptoms and causes. (2019, September 19). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/symptoms-causes/syc-20354086
Department of Health & Human Services. (2020, June 3). Get Active! Seniors Online. https://www.seniorsonline.vic.gov.au/services-information/social-support-hub/keep-active-safe-and-strong
McDermott, A., & Mernitz, H. (2004). Exercise and the Elderly: Guidelines and Practical Prescription Applications for the Clinician. JCOM, 11(2), 117–127. https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/kine_fac/51
Pelecas, P. (2019, November 8). Shape up: Free or low-cost fitness programs in Australia. Starts at 60. https://startsat60.com/media/health/free-low-cost-fitness-programs-australia
Physical activity for seniors. (2021). Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/physical-activity-for-seniors
Robinson, L. (2021, April 19). Senior Exercise and Fitness Tips. HelpGuide.Org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/exercise-and-fitness-as-you-age.htm
Safe Exercise at Home. (2020). Safe Exercise at Home. https://www.safeexerciseathome.org.au