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Benefits of Exercise in the Elderly

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We all know that exercise is good for us both physically and mentally throughout our lifetime, but do you know how exercise benefits the elderly? The list below may surprise you.

  • Improves mood
  • Increases energy
  • Increases circulation
  • Improves cognitive function
  • Promotes better sleep
  • Decreases pain
  • Decreases stress
  • Helps manage, and may lower risk of, diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Arthritis, Osteoporosis, High blood pressure, Obesity, Depression, and certain types of Cancer.
  • Improves bone density
  • Improves endurance
  • Improves muscle tone
  • Enhances mobility and increases range of movement
  • Improves posture
  • Improves cardiopulmonary function
  • Improves lipid profile
  • Maintains and/or improves strength and function of joints and muscles. “Use it, or lose it”
  • Helps to repair and maintain a healthy immune system
  • Improves sex drive
  • Controls weight gain, improves weight loss
  • Improves digestion and bowel performance
  • Improves functional reach and balance
  • Decreases risk of falls in the elderly
  • Improves attitude
  • Improves memory
  • Helps to maintain independence
  • Overall improved quality of life and sense of well-being

Follow these 3 tips


While a good overall exercise program consists of doing aerobics, strength training, and balance and flexibility exercises; it may not be possible medically or physically for someone to do them all. Functional and/or physical limitations, disease processes, and age may prevent someone from doing aerobics; however, they can perform strength, balance and flexibility routines. Range of motion exercises (ROM-The measure of motion/movement available at any given joint in the body) can be done with the arms, legs, feet, fingers, toes, head, and neck while sitting, standing or lying down. Remember doing any physical activity or exercise is better than not doing any at all.
For some people gym routines, aerobics, water sports, exercise equipment, weight lifting, sports activities and walking/running are everyday activities. For persons that have functional, physical or age related limitations, exercise is less enjoyable and more of a task. Encourage activities that the person enjoys so that they are more apt to stick with it. It is important to always get medical clearance from a physician (and any possible contraindications) for the individual, before beginning any exercise routine. Follow these 3 tips when a assisting an elderly individual with their exercises:

  1. Always start slow and don’t overdo.
  2. Stop if there is pain or if the individual has signs and/or symptoms of illness.
  3. Encourage hydration, preferably water, before, during and after any exercise routine.

A Few Exercise Suggestions for the Elderly


  • If the person enjoys walking, take a walk with them. Vary the path to make it interesting. Take a walk in an indoor mall, or store; or walk in their backyard area, the trails at a local park, or rail trail; or walk the perimeter of a safe parking area. If homebound, walk around in the house several times or back and forth in a hallway. (Count tiles on ceiling or floor to see how far they walked. (Most tiles are 1foot to 2 feet in length.)
  • Walk the dog outdoors. Walk back and forth to mailbox or up and down the street.
  • For people who like gardening, plant flowers and plants, weed the garden, water it, etc.
  • If someone likes to sit and watch TV, have them do ROM at every commercial. First commercial Do ROM on right leg, second commercial Do ROM left leg, then the arms, then the feet, then the hands, then the neck, etc. Make it fun. Do it with them.
  • If someone likes to dance put on music they like and dance with them. Dance by doing leg raises, arm raises, heel/toe kicks, swaying the arms, cha-cha movements, and hip action. Even if in a chair, they can “dance” to the music with arms and legs.
  • If someone likes sports, use a program like WII for bowling, tennis, dance, basketball, swimming, darts, bicycling, soccer, etc., do it with them. Challenging and fun.
  • If a person is wheelchair bound, use colorful napkins and have them wave them to a musical beat or have them mimic your movements up/down, side to side, bending over to swing it toward their toes, or “shake it out” with both hands/wrists, swing it round and round with each hand, or bring it straight out to each side with each arm/hand.
  • Encourage stretching of limbs and spine several times per day. “Bend and Stretch, Reach for the Stars” and stretch side to side and stretch the head and neck slowly side to side.
  • Use DVD’s for Yoga, Pilates or Line Dancing if the person enjoys those activities.
  • If Passive ROM is needed, use gentle physical assistance, one body part at a time, while supporting the limb/joint through all its’ available motion/movement. Tell the person what you are doing with them and provide verbal cues throughout.
  • If a person is cognitively impaired, stack soft, colorful, blocks, have them knock them down and pick them up and restack; fold washcloths, towels or laundry; feed the birds and have them throw the bird food in different locations using both arms;
  • Sweep with a broom, mop, dust using both arms, hands; or put on a TV show, or DVD or sing a children’s song like “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and follow along to music.
  • Swimming, water aerobics and water sports classes for the elderly are available at YMCA/YWCA and other Physical Fitness and gym locations for a membership fee.
  • Attend Senior Center activities that focus on movement and exercise.

Now that you know the benefits of exercise and have some ideas of what activities you can do, go shake things up, move, dance, walk and most of all have fun while enjoying all the benefits that exercise can provide!