The 10 Best Exercises for People Over 50
Updated: Apr 21
It may be tempting to think of exercise as something best left to young people. But exercise is just as important for people over 50, and it has many benefits to offer. Exercise for older adults can be a great way to gain muscle, improve mental and emotional health, lose weight, enhance mobility, and prolong life by helping avoid injury and reduce falls. As we age, we are more vulnerable to muscular loss and prone to fragility or falls as our bodies change. The best exercises for older people suit a broad range of physical abilities while reinforcing stability, muscle and strength. Exercise is well worth the effort you put in at any age; you may be surprised at how easy it is to lift groceries or climb those dreaded stairs to the top floor after a few weeks of a new exercise regimen. Exercise is essential for a full, healthy life and can help you prevent injury as you build up cardiovascular and physical stamina. In this article, we’ll explore the best exercises for older people and the benefits that physical exercise offers for those over 50. Let’s explore how your approach to exercise might change as you age, why it matters, and how to get started with a new exercise routine for seniors.
The importance of exercise for older adults
We all know exercise is important, but the benefits become even more relevant as we head into our senior years.
In addition to physical benefits like losing weight and improving energy levels, regular exercise can also provide mental health benefits.
Activities like strength training can reinforce muscle strength and help you avoid injury in a myriad of ways. But the cognitive benefits are just as valuable as the physical.
Strength-based exercise has even been shown to lower mortality across the board in elderly adults; this includes cardiac-based mortality, cancer, and all other causes of death.
As you become more conscious of your body, you may also be more aware of where you put that set of keys you always lose or find your breathing to be more steady and deep.
Let’s look at how exercise benefits seniors and how you can begin.
Limitations for exercise in seniors
We know that exercise is incredibly effective in improving physical and mental health in people of all ages, but ageing can also make it more difficult to exercise. We’ve all seen inspiring stories about 90-year-old marathon runners and triathletes who started their careers later in life, but your journey with exercise can be as big or small as you like.
Whether you have health complications to consider or are noticing the natural wear and tear that comes with growing older, you can find a form of exercise that perfectly suits your goals and limitations. You may feel intimidated by a new workout routine. But it’s easier than ever to learn a new exercise or habit that suits your individual limitations. Whether you choose to take an online chair yoga class modified for mobility issues or implement a daily nature walk into your daily habits, your limitations offer a great way to get creative with an exercise routine that works for you.
How can I start working out after 50?
Perhaps it’s been a while since you went to the gym, played a sport, or felt inspired about being active. Some of us are reminded of the importance of exercise when a doctor tells us we’ve put on a bit too much weight or when we’re given a new diagnosis that affects our health. If you’re ready to start exercising but haven’t been in shape for a while, here’s how you can begin:
Consider your goals. What do you want to achieve? Are you hoping to feel more stable, run a long distance, pick up the grandkids, feel more confident, learn to swim, or just walk confidently to the other room?
Consider your limitations. What keeps you from doing the forms of exercise you may have done before? What do you need from a new exercise routine? Perhaps you need to stay seated, include a mobility aid, or you’re a former runner who’s noticing that the impact of your usual activities isn’t comfortable anymore.
Talk to your doctor. What exercises are appropriate for you, and what considerations might be important with any medications you’re taking? Which benefits do you need from your workout routine?
Read the rest of this article to explore some starting points, and consider taking an online class to learn a new exercise.
The 10 best exercises for older people
The five top exercises for those over 50 offer low-impact movement with maximum benefits, including strength, stability, mobility, flexibility, and more. Don’t forget that physical exercise also reinforces your mental and emotional health. So even if it feels like trying to introduce a new exercise routine at first, you can look forward to a rush of endorphins and the rewarding feeling of knowing you are doing something good for yourself.
This one may seem obvious, but walking is far from boring. A regular walk is a great way to process emotions, ponder new ideas, and marvel at the world around you. Whether you’re a speed walker, a slow walker, or need a mobility aid to guide you, walking can help you build up your strength, enhance your circulation, and set you on a new healthy path. Whether your goal is to walk a marathon, walk to the mailbox, or build up strength, a daily walk can do wonders. The best part? You don’t need any equipment. If you want to make walking more challenging, try timing yourself daily to see if you can build up speed and cardiovascular strength or choose a more hilly route. If you want to engage your upper body, consider using walking sticks to engage your arms and your core with every step.
Why walking is great for seniors
Walking is a low-impact activity that easily fits into a daily routine. It doesn’t require props and can be modified for a large range of mobility issues or limitations. A faster-paced walk can also reinforce cardiovascular strength and lower blood pressure.
Yoga is a holistic practice that can provide a great form of exercise for those over 50. The physical aspect of yoga involves a series of asanas or movements that are good for strength, flexibility, stability, digestion, and posture. At Boomerang, we’re pleased to offer modified yoga classes, including chair yoga, restorative yoga, somatic yoga for pain relief, and more. Now there are more online yoga classes than ever, and all you need to get started is a yoga mat. Yoga is also a personal practice that allows you to move at your own pace and listen to your body.
Why yoga is great for seniors
There are many benefits for seniors who practice yoga. Yoga alleviates aches and pains, helps improve balance and stability, can lower blood pressure, and builds up the core and full-body strength to help you feel more confident. There is a variety of beginner yoga poses best suited for seniors and older adults. Most yoga poses offer multiple modifications, so you can use blocks or props to interpret a pose in a way that best benefits you.
Pilates is easy to modify, with clear movements that help improve your core strength and balance, building muscle. Pilates offers a low-impact form of exercise that helps with alignment, strength, posture, and mobility. You’ll be focusing on your core for many of these movements, with careful attention to technique and alignment. Pilates is a modifiable exercise and is often recommended for rehabilitation, so it’s appropriate for most people.
Why Pilates is great for seniors
Pilates can help alleviate joint pain, improve posture, enhance stability, and build core strength. All of these benefits can help make everyday life a bit more comfortable and help minimize injury in the future.
4. Tai Chi
Tai Chi is an ancient exercise built on a series of gentle martial arts movements that reinforce strength, awareness and mobility. In tai chi, the flow or movement is important, focusing a flow of energy powerfully throughout the body to unite body, mind, and spirit. Breathwork combined with a series of movements makes for a form of exercise that is both meditative and stabilizing.
Why tai chi is great for seniors
Tai chi is a low-impact way to build up strength and stability. As a low-risk aerobic activity, it’s suitable for a wide range of mobilities and can enhance mental function. Tai chi can reduce your risk of falls and enhance your awareness of your body in space. Get started with beginner tai chi and learn more about tai chi benefits here.
5. Strength Training
Strength training is personal to each individual and can be modified to suit your unique needs and goals. You can choose to build up strength with a personal trainer, take an online class or build a daily routine to slowly build up muscle strength. The benefit of having a personal trainer or taking an online class is the personal application; you’ll want to be careful to build strength up slowly without causing injury. Consider using your own body weight instead of weights if you’re new to strength training. This is a great way to build up muscle strength slowly. If you choose weights, begin with lighter weights until you feel confident. By introducing a daily exercise regimen of modified strength exercises and stretching, you’ll slowly build up strength and muscle.
Why strength training is great for seniors
Strength training can be modified to suit an individual fitness plan and your own goals for your health. Strength training can help seniors avoid obesity, improve overall health, lessen arthritis and osteoporosis symptoms, and more.
6. Swimming or water exercise
Swimming as an older adult can bring back a feeling of freedom and youth as our bodies move comfortably through the water. Without the hard impact of the earth, each movement in the water can feel soothing and free. Do you have pain or stiffness? The healing benefits of water can help you heal from an injury and regain flexibility without straining or risking further injury. Whether you take an aerobic water class or choose to swim lengths, swimming can strengthen multiple muscle groups as it improves cardiovascular and holistic fitness.
Try walking briskly in the water for some subtle resistance
Use a paddle board and practice kicking to build up leg strength.
Feeling nervous about getting back in the water? Start out wearing a life vest and just enjoy the feeling of floating and kicking your legs.
Once swimming becomes a healthy habit, you can challenge yourself with new swimming exercises or without a flotation device.
Why swimming is great for seniors
Swimming is gentle on the joints and great for rehabilitation. It’s easy to modify your water activities for all skills and fitness levels. If you’re seeking a more intense workout, swimming is an effective way for seniors to build up great cardiovascular fitness with a low risk of injury. Increased stability and balance are a proven benefit of aquatic exercise in elderly groups. Swimming for seniors can be a fun and comfortable way to challenge yourself as you ease back into regular workouts after an injury or a long time without exercise.
Many of us have fond memories of riding a bicycle. For many people, learning to ride a bike is one of their earliest memories. Cycling can elicit a feeling of freedom and confidence, giving you a chance to explore as you build up lung strength and physical fitness. It’s also easy to introduce cycling as exercise without leaving the house. Do you have a show you love to watch? Buy a stationary bicycle and position it in front of the TV. Maybe a slow bike ride while watching your favourite cooking show is the perfect addition to your afternoon routine. Online cycling classes and programs like Peloton also give you a chance to build a sense of accomplishment and community from home. If you’re looking to build up leg strength so you can walk or run again, cycling can be an intermediate exercise to prepare your legs to bear more impact in the future.
Why cycling is great for seniors
Cycling can be a comfortable alternative for older people who struggle with the impact or coordination that walking, running, or other workouts require. If you miss challenging yourself with intense workouts, cycling offers a chance to develop skill, flexibility and strength without intense joint impact. Cycling builds up leg and core strength, which can also help you feel more confident in your everyday life.
Barre classes have gained increasing popularity over the last decade for their accessible, effective exercise regimens. Barre incorporates elements of ballet, yoga, and pilates. Barre classes are designed to reinforce stability, flexibility, strength, and graceful movement. These exercises use your own body weight, so as an older person you won’t need to worry about the risk of injury that comes with weights or machines. Barre is an all-over toning workout that many people feel in multiple muscle groups after just one class. Barre class is a great way to whip yourself into shape with easy, subtle movements that target your whole body as you get stronger.
Why barre is great for seniors
Barre is low-impact and can be easily modified for different skill groups. Barre is also often recommended for rehabilitation or strength-building, making barre a great exercise for seniors who are looking to feel strong and confident in their bodies.
The best exercises for seniors give you a chance to feel great in your body again. Introducing dancing into everyday life can heal and inspire you as you elevate your heart rate and intuitively use your body. Consider these ideas to incorporate dancing exercise into your everyday routine:
Take an online dance class. This might feel intimidating at first, but many online classes prioritize being safe, inclusive, and non-judgemental spaces where you’re surrounded by first-timers. Challenge yourself by learning a new kind of choreography or get lost in the creative fun of improvising with other people.
Commit to 15 minutes of dancing every day. This is a great way to enjoy your favourite music or break up the monotony of a grey day. Choose an album that has positive memories or always makes you feel good, and let yourself dance freely. This is a great way to show your body some love, ease up tired joints, and get creative without anyone watching. Well, maybe the neighbours! But they might want to join in too.
Try a fusion class that combines dance with other exercises. Latin-inspired Zumba classes let you move your body with dance choreography that’s easy to learn, and Chair Yoga Dance classes let you move creatively with the support of a seated stance.
Why dance is great for seniors
Dancing lets us feel like ourselves at any stage of life. It’s easy to modify for all abilities and skill levels and lets you experience the benefits of a full workout with a low risk of injury. Modify your dance routine to suit your body’s needs, and you can use dance as a useful tool to feel great in your body.
Osteofit is a popular exercise program that helps improve the quality of life for individuals living with osteoporosis or concerns about bone density. Online osteofit classes can be a great way to improve posture and target back pain for more mobility and confident movement. Most osteofit classes involve strengthening, toning, and stretching-based exercises to gently improve muscle mass, bone density, flexibility, and confidence in seniors. This exercise program is great for elderly people or those especially concerned about stability or injury. There’s nothing like the assurance that comes from knowing your body is strong and stable, and osteofit can help get you back into that confident mindset.
Why osteofit is great for seniors
Osteofit classes for seniors can help reduce the risk of fractures, falls, or injuries from brittle bones or low muscle mass. It’s normal to experience a deterioration of bone tissue as we age, and osteofit is a program specifically designed to help reinforce and protect your body as you get older.
Start exercising with Boomerang’s online classes
Our online community at Boomerang is a great place to start a new health journey from the comfort of your home. Our community members love to share workout ideas, tips, information, and ideas. Whether you’re looking to try something new or develop skills you already have, our community learns by doing.
Are you someone who is over 50 and looking to get active? Time for something new. Join one of our upcoming workshops to try barre, learn about osteoporosis and exercise, or explore mindful movement and relaxation.
This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.