For many seniors, finding exercises that are strengthening yet gentle on joints can be challenging. Low-impact exercises may be a great option for staying active while preserving joint health. These exercises can be high or low intensity, practiced outdoors or indoors, and vary greatly depending on training preferences.
Read on to learn the wide array of benefits and types of low-impact exercises for seniors.
An exercise is low-impact when one or both feet are planted on the ground (or on a bike) at any given time. Swimming is also a low-impact workout. Low-impact exercises avoid jumping and greatly reduce joint strain and shock while still being incredibly effective and challenging. Though the movements are safer, the intensity of low-impact exercise can still vary from light to moderate to high.
Low-impact exercises for seniors can have many health benefits, with improvement in physical health being the most obvious. But, did you know there are also mental, social, and even spiritual benefits to exercise? Regular exercise can strengthen the body while sharpening the mind, and it can support a spiritual practice and healthy socialization.
Researchers from the Department of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago cite regular exercise as key to reducing the risk of respiratory complications from COVID-19 as well as reducing instances of poor mental health due to lockdowns.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, recommends that older adults, even those with chronic medical conditions, incorporate at least 150 and as much as 300 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.
The science-backed benefits of low-impact exercise for seniors go on and on.
Physical health. Manage cholesterol, build muscle, improve motor function, increase mobility, reduce risk of falls, and improve heart health with low-impact exercises. Low-impact aerobic exercises for seniors get the heart rate up while keeping cholesterol levels down.
Mental health. Work off unused energy, stress, and anxiety all while connecting with others. Feelings of satisfaction and joy are all positive effects of a regular exercise practice. There is even promising research showing a connection between an active lifestyle and enhanced cognition in seniors, according to the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.
Social benefits. Attending a fitness class with peers is a great way to make and maintain friendships and develop healthy social bonds. There is also evidence suggesting that exercising with a friend leads to more calmness and stress-reducing, positive psychological effects.
Spiritual benefits. For some seniors, exercise can be an opportunity to get in touch with their faith or spiritual side. Tai chi, yoga, and even just walking can be great opportunities for seniors to pray, meditate, or express gratitude.
There are many types of low-impact workouts for seniors across various levels of strength and mobility. Many of these activities are accessible at nearby community centers and gyms or can be completed at home.
Check out some of these examples of low-impact exercises for seniors to do at home or at a nearby gym or studio.
Scientific research consistently cites the numerous benefits of yoga on a senior’s health, including improved sleep and overall quality of life.
Yoga has also been shown to have a positive impact on the following:
Yoga is a diverse and dynamic practice with plenty of variety. It puts less strain on the body than other forms of exercise, making it a fantastic workout for seniors. The only limiting considerations are your physical abilities and preferences.
The Chopra Centre, a leading provider of yoga education and products, suggests that yoga is especially beneficial for seniors as it directly addresses health concerns that many seniors face. Their article on the 10 benefits of restorative yoga explains in detail the ways in which yoga can gently restore the body and mind.
Chair-based aerobics are offered at many fitness centers and senior communities and help to improve balance, cardiovascular health, and muscle strength. Aerobics can also improve energy. Light weights or resistance bands can be added to aerobics for strength training, which builds muscle and protects bones.
Swimming is a great way to improve cardiovascular health, energy, and strength while protecting aching or arthritic joints. The buoyancy offered by the water enables a full range of motion to strengthen muscles without the strain of weight on the body. If you don’t have a pool, check to see if your local health club or gym does.
Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.
Cycling is both an indoor and outdoor sport, depending on if you prefer a stationary bike or a real one. This exercise is easy on the joints while also getting the heart rate up. Indoor cycling, or “spinning,” studios are now common in many cities as well as at gyms offering group classes. If your senior prefers to exercise at home, they can purchase a spinning or stationary bike of their own.
Walking is a great way to get your heart rate up while seeing the local sites. It is also a great way to connect with friends, neighbors, or loved ones — grab a cup of coffee or tea and a friend and go for a stroll. Walks can be as easy or strenuous as one prefers depending on the terrain, weather, or chosen speed.
Tai chi is a martial art with slow-moving sequences that focus on meditation and mental strength. Tai chi improves flexibility and focus and offers many of the same health benefits as yoga. A study notes that tai chi improves balance with regular practice, and thus it can help seniors avoid falls.
Depending on the exercise and mobility level, Pilates can be done on a yoga mat, standing, or using a reformer machine. It consists of slow, pulsing, intentional movements meant to improve range of motion and strengthen muscles. Light weights may sometimes be used. It is great for seniors who want to keep their heart rate low while getting stronger. Pilates is also known to improve bone density of adult postmenopausal women.
Whether you or your senior loved one are drawn to aerobics, swimming, tai chi, or yoga, it’s hard to know what you will like until you try it. Find a class in your area and invite some friends.
Convenience is important for many seniors. Low-impact exercises for seniors at home are easy if you simply make a little space for them. Most of the above workouts can be practiced with online video tutorials and require minimal equipment or supervision. Just remember that safety is key if working out at home. So make proper home modifications as necessary when implementing a workout space.
Brady, A. (2015, February 6). 10 benefits of restorative yoga. Chopra
Eisler, M. (2016, September 30). 6 benefits of yoga for seniors. Chopra
Hertzog, C., Kramer, A. F., Wilson, R. S., & Lindenberger, U. (2008) Enrichment effects on adult cognitive development: Can the functional capacity of older adults be preserved and enhanced?Psychological Science in the Public Interest.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Fall prevention: Balance and strength exercises for older adults.
Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas (MANA). High-impact and low-impact exercise. ManaMD.
Moovenathan, A., & Nivethitha, L. (2017). Evidence based effects of yoga practice on various health related problems of elderly people: A review. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.
Piercy, K. L., Troiano, R. P., & Ballard, R. M. (2018, November 20). The physical activity guidelines for Americans. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Plante, T. G., Coscarelli, L. & For, M. (2001) Does exercising with another enhance the stress-reducing benefits of exercise?International Journal of Stress Management.
Fernández-Rodríguez, R., Alvarez-Bueno, C., Reina-Guitierrez, S., Torres-Costoso, de Arenas-Arroyo, S. N., & Martinez-Vizcaino, V. (2021). Effectiveness of Pilates and yoga to improve bone density in adult women: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE.
Nyenhuis, S. M., Greiwe, J., Zeiger, J. S., Nanda, A., & Cooke, A. (2020). Exercise and fitness in the age of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.
Woollacott, M. (2006). How tai chi improves balance: Biomechanics of recovery to a walking slip in impaired seniors. Gait & Posture.