Even though staying active might become more challenging with age, it’s vital to your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for older adults, as well as strength training activities on two or more days a week. That’s because a workout routine has the power to keep you independent. It’ll prevent injury, alleviate stress and help ward off illness, such as heart disease and osteoporosis. Our experts share advice on how to create a workout routine over 65 so that you can protect your body from age-related problems and remain more than just young at heart.
What should a workout routine over 65 include each week to help achieve optimal results?
“The ideal weekly workout should consist of at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity, such as brisk walking and muscle strengthening exercises, at least two days each week,” says Dr. Zachary Rethorn, a physical therapist with experience supporting older adults.
Aaptiv Trainer Candice Cunningham notes that as our bodies grow older, the most important thing that we can do for our health involves exercise. The less we move, the more muscle mass we lose. She recommends a weekly routine that includes a mix of cardio workouts, rest days, tai chi or yoga, and strength training.
“The main things I would encourage anyone to work on, whether you’re a senior or not, are strength training, cardiovascular training, and balance training,” adds Physical Therapist Lauren Lobert. “This will create a strong and stable foundation for you to be able to stay active and continue to do the activities you love, safely.”
What workout modifications should be made, if any?
According to Taylor Kennon, a movement specialist at San Francisco-based fitness studio Perform for Life, as you age, physiological changes in the body may lead to a decreased tolerance for intense workouts. That’s why the 50+ crowd is smart to adjust accordingly. He suggests these five tips:
- Allow at least 48 hours of recovery before exercising the same muscle group.
- Shift training zones toward lower intensities.
- Reduce rest intervals slowly, and monitor how your body reacts.
- Do not go to absolute failure, as this can put unnecessary stress on joints and muscles.
- Start slowly, but increase intensity over time.
However, Dr. Rethorn points out that modifying an exercise doesn’t mean that you’re too fragile for physical activity. Many older adults assume that because they’re aging, they need to handle their bodies with care. But the reality is working out will likely increase energy levels, particularly if it’s a challenging activity.
“Most people aren’t doing maximal weight lifting. Therefore they can tolerate consecutive days of training,” says Lobert. “You can also spread out different types of exercise so [that] you don’t get too sore. However, if you are just starting, it is best to go slow and progress duration and frequency of training as your body gets used to it.”
What exercises are ideal for anyone over the age of 65?
“Brisk walking is the most common aerobic exercise I recommend,” says Dr. Rethorn. “It is free, available anytime, anywhere, and can be a great workout. The trick with it is to make sure that the intensity is enough. It should be hard enough that you are breathing harder, but not so hard so [that] you can’t talk.”
For balance, Lobert says that you can stand on one foot for one simple exercise. If it’s too difficult, stand near something that you can hold onto. Or stand with your feet in a line, heel-to-toe. If you need more of a challenge, you can stand on something squishy, like a pillow or foam pad, or close your eyes.
“My personal favorite balance exercise for older adults is a balance walk,” offers Dr. Rethorn. “It’s fun, challenging, and usually very relevant to a person’s goals. To perform, raise your arms to your sides, shoulder height. Choose a spot ahead of you and focus on it to keep you steady as you walk. Walk in a straight line with one foot in front of the other. As you walk, lift your back leg. Pause for one second before stepping forward. Repeat for 20 steps, alternating legs.”
Cunningham seconds yoga for balance and core strength, but also looks to functional movement training for flexibility as well. Her favorites include bridges and planks for core and glute activation and squats or lunges for everyday activities.
“Strength training is the single most important thing you can do to maintain overall health and function,” says Lobert. “This can include resistance band work, hand weights, or barbells. Squats, lunges, step-ups, biceps curls, overhead presses, front raises, [and] lateral raises are all great ways to get stronger. If you prefer, you can also use weight machines, which can be safer and less intimidating, but also do not require as much balance or stabilizing.”
How many times per week should someone 65+ work out?
“It is all dependent upon the individual. If you’ve been working out your entire life, then five or so days a week is fine,” says Cunningham. “If you’re newer or recovering from an injury, then it would be less, and a gradual increase like walking and some bodyweight exercises or yoga a few times a week.”
Kennon advises anyone over the age of 65 to work out two to three times a week, with rest days in between, especially if they haven’t been exercising on a regular basis. Lobert says a mix of three days of full body strength and balance training for 30-60 minutes, plus two days per week of walking or some other form of cardio you enjoy, works well, too. But, if you don’t have that kind of time, doing a little bit every day, she says, is convenient and can help you stay dedicated to your workout goals.
“The reality is that by the age of 75, one in three men and one in two women are not engaging in any physical activity,” says Dr. Rethorn. “Some activity is better than none. The benefits begin accumulating after as little [as] five to ten minutes of moderate intensity activity.”