An Exercise Prescription for Seniors

An Exercise Prescription for Seniors

Having a sedentary lifestyle is a health risk. Learn about the benefits of exercise for seniors, including people with chronic conditions.

If you think that inactivity goes along with aging, think again. According to the American Council on Fitness, many seniors exercise to keep their bodies strong and on the go. Just look around and you’ll see them walking in groups, doing Tai Chi in the parks, cycling and swimming. Senior fitness programs are springing up across the country. Seniors are finding that exercise is fun and are starting to realize the health benefits.

Inactivity is a health risk

According to the American Heart Association, physical inactivity is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease. Being inactive lowers HDL (the good cholesterol) and contributes to being overweight and obese. It can also make high blood pressure worse. Inactivity can cause osteoporosis (thinning and weakening of the bones), which increases the chances for falls and hip fractures.

Benefits of Exercise

Exercise repairs the damage caused by inactivity. Any kind of movement, like mowing the lawn, gardening or walking, is beneficial. Doing a combination of aerobic, strength-training and stretching exercises:

  • Improves endurance
  • Increases strength (good for muscles and bones)
  • Improves and maintains flexibility
  • Helps you cope with stress, feel relaxed and avoid depression
  • Improves your quality of sleep

Talk to your doctor first

Even if you’re “fit as a fiddle,” check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Your doctor will help you decide on safe exercise choices. If you have a physical condition, ask your doctor about:

  • Safe times to exercise
  • Unsafe times to exercise
  • Exercises to avoid
  • Limitations

Heart disease

  • Moderate physical activity can strengthen the heart, even if you have heart disease.
  • Exercise can improve your quality of life if you have heart failure.
  • Exercise shouldn’t be done on days when your weight has increased, when you’re retaining fluid or when you’re not feeling well.
  • Your doctor can work with you to develop an exercise plan and to teach you about heart-healthy eating.


  • Exercise helps to lower insulin resistance and makes diabetes easier to manage.
  • Your doctor and diabetes educator can give you guidelines for exercising with diabetes. A few of them are:
    • Don’t exercise if there are ketones in your urine.
    • Don’t exercise if your blood sugar is more than 250 mg/dL (type 1) or 300 mg/dL (type 2).


  • Exercise helps you build bone and prevent future bone loss.
  • Strength-training exercises, like deep knee bends and lunges, help to prevent you from falling.
  • Balance and agility training, like Tai Chi, also reduces your risks for falling.


  • Exercise is important if you have arthritis. It helps to improve range of motion.
  • Exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness.
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