6 gentle exercise options to kickstart your fitness journey
Exercise is something that helps everyone in all phases of life, but is especially important as we age. The benefits of gentle exercise for seniors ages 70 and up include better heart health, easing pain in joints, and increased agility and balance. Gentle exercise can even help with mental health by releasing serotonin and endorphins.
In fact, studies show that exercise can decrease the chance of memory loss and cognitive decline. So, just 20 to 30 minutes of body movement a day can increase your quality of life and help you to feel better, mentally and physically.
Gentle exercise for seniors ages 70 and up
It's hard to begin if you’re out of the habit. So, here is a list of six types of gentle exercise for seniors ages 70 and up to kickstart your efforts.
As with all exercise, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before you begin. And, don't forget to ask around in your community about free and inexpensive classes and groups that match your interests.
Many people may not think of walking as being an opportunity for exercise. For example, something as simple as choosing to walk to the mailbox (instead of driving) or taking your dog for a walk can be beneficial.
- Find an exercise buddy to walk with you. This can be a Papa Pal companion caregiver, neighbor, friend or family member. There might even be a walking club or group where you live.
- Head to a park with paved paths
- Take a slow walk on a treadmill if you have one
- Walk around the block in your neighborhood
- Use your space at home for a walk inside
- Walk around the mall if the weather is bad, especially when it’s very hot, very cold, or sidewalks are slippery or unsafe
- Accompany a friend while they walk their dog
There are so many benefits to dancing, not only for seniors and older adults but for everyone.
Dance lifts your mood and provides endless amounts of fun in addition to the health benefits. There are many free online classes that cover a variety of styles.
Here are a few styles to explore:
- Ballroom dancing
- Line dancing
- Square dancing
- Seated or chair dancing, which is great for anyone with balance worries
- Gentle movement to a favorite song, including waltzing or two-stepping around the room
#3: Chair Exercises
Modifying “classic” weight lifting exercises into chair exercises is a great option for all ages.
For example, this type of exercise is also an option for anyone recovering from an injury or with chronic illness. Its medical benefits range from helping with posture to increasing the strength and endurance needed for movement.
Chair exercises use many of the same motions you would see in the gym. However, you do each exercise in a seated position and without use of dumbbells or workout machines. Click here to see some examples.
Try searching YouTube for chair exercises and start with these movements:
- Knee lifts
- Toe and heel raises
- Leg extensions/raise hold
- Arm circles
- Bicep curls
- “Sit and stand” — this is a safer and less strenuous standard squat. It helps maintain the muscles needed to get in and out of sitting or lying down positions.
For an extra challenge, you can use any number of objects that add resistance while exercising. Anything from a throw pillow to a ball, or even a small one- to two-pound dumbbell works as long as you feel comfortable.
#4: Swimming and Water Aerobics
Swimming and water aerobics can be perfect for older adults because both are easy on joint pain and arthritis. In fact, just getting into the water can offer some people instant relief of discomfort.
Aside from water aerobics and swimming, here are some other gentle, low impact water exercises that are great for all ages.
- Water jogging or walking: No need for a class or instructor here. Just stay in the shallow area of the pool where you can easily stand and go for a nice slow walk or jog.
- Leg lifts or knee lifts in the shallow area
- Arm curls and arm circles in the shallow area
- Standing push ups: Head to the edge of the pool, place both hands on the side of the pool (wall), then do the normal arm motions as a push up. Here is an example of a wall pushup.
#5: Exercise Ball
Using an exercise ball is a great choice for anyone who can't put too much strain on their joints and muscles. Because it’s easy on the body, it allows for a longer cardio workout.
While there are many workout options with an exercise ball, some are easier for beginners:
- Hip circles: rotate your hips in a circular motion while sitting on the ball like a chair. This is a good exercise for loosening up hip joints and decreasing inflammation.
- Leg extensions: while in a seated position, slowly raise one leg at a time until it is straight out and in line with the hip. Hold it as long as you can. Then do the other leg. Repeat.
- Marching: alternate your legs back and forth in a gently marching motion.
- Arm exercises: you can do any arm motions while balancing on the ball, including arm curls ups and arm circles.
Wondering where to buy an exercise ball? Begin by asking friends and family for recommendations or even the loan of an exercise ball. Like all exercise equipment, try using it before you buy.
#6: Chair Yoga
To make yoga more accessible to all ages, yoga instructors have made many modifications to standard yoga exercises.
Yoga has many benefits, whether you’re doing the standard moves or the modified ones. For example, the most noticeable benefits include flexibility, as well as improved circulation.
All you need for chair yoga is a stable, armless chair, a flat level surface for your chair, and clothing that’s easy to move in.
Here are some chair yoga exercises to try. You can find descriptions here.
- Overhead stretch
- Neck stretch
- Reverse arm hold
- Chair pigeon
- Seated forward bend
- Chair warrior
- Cat-cow stretch
- Spinal twist
- Seated mountain
Gentle exercise for seniors: free and inexpensive options
If you're searching for free and inexpensive options for gentle exercise for seniors, the best place to start is your local senior center. If none exists in your area, ask about community centers or other local programs offered through nonprofits and local city programs. Many offer discounts, scholarships, and fee waivers.
Start by reaching out to these community resources:
- Senior centers and community centers
- Parks and Recreation departments
- The YMCA or YWCA
- Gyms, which often offer specialized classes for older adults
- Dance schools
- Neighborhood clubs and groups
Next, explore online options for free online classes and on-demand videos. You'll find a wealth of free yoga videos on YouTube.
Work as a Papa Pal and help fellow community members
Would you like to help others enjoy the benefits of exercise? Consider becoming a Papa Pal companion caregiver. You can work part-time supporting people in your community on their exercise journeys.
However, Papa Pals aren’t personal trainers. Papa Pals are companions who do light exercises with a Papa member or provide car rides for them to and from fitness classes.
There’s a lot you can do as a Pala Pal, including going on walks with Papa members. Plus, Papa Pals help fellow community members in many other meaningful ways.
If you’re interested in doing good while earning part-time, it’s a great gig—especially if you’re into fitness yourself!
Get started with gentle exercise for seniors
Participating in any of these gentle exercises will have a valuable effect on your mind and body in lasting ways.
Exercise can improve your heart health, balance, and endurance. And in some cases, it can also ease joint pain. Plus, it has many other health benefits, including mental health, which is hugely important as we age.
It goes without saying that it's essential to invest in exercise whether you are 13, 39 or 70.
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