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Exercise Recommendations for Older Adults

Wondering about what an effective, optimal exercise program looks like as an older adult? These recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)are an excellent guide.

The purpose of exercise for older adults is to:

  • Perform daily activities with ease by maintaining/increasing strength, flexibility, and stamina

  • Reduce risk or manage chronic diseases such as arthritis, heart disease and dementia

  • Reduce risk of falls

ACSM’s overall recommendation is for most adults to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.The basic recommendations are as follows:


Cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, is any activity that uses the large muscle groups of the body, can be maintained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature. It is a type of exercise that overloads the heart and lungs and causes them to work harder than at rest. The benefits of this type of activity are as follows:

  • Increases stamina

  • Strengthens heart and increases lung capacity

  • Activates immune system

  • Decreases blood pressure

  • Increases insulin sensitivity

  • Raises HDL and lowers LDL

  • Increases calorie burn

  • Improves mood

It is recommended that you engage in 30 minutes of aerobic activity five times per week. This can be broken into three 10-minute increments throughout the day.

Examples of aerobic activity are walking, swimming, aerobic dance,and using cardiovascular equipmentsuch as a recumbent stepper, bicycle or treadmill.

Gradual progression of exercise time, frequency and intensity is recommended for best adherence and least injury risk.

Strength training

Strength training, or resistance training, is the collective term for various types of strength-building exercises that rely on the use of resistanceto promote muscle and bone growth. Resistance exercises can be performed using dumbbells, rubber bands, and resistance training machines. The benefits are as follows:

  • Strengthens muscles

  • Increases bone density

  • Promotes greater ease of movement

  • Improves posture

  • Raises metabolism

  • Improves balance

It is recommended that you engage in muscle building activities two to three times per week for about 30 minutes, working all of the major muscle groups.


Flexibility refers to the ability to move the joints through their entire range of motion, from a flexed to an extended position.The benefits of stretching are as follows:

  • Allows greater freedom of movement and improved posture

  • Increases physical and mental relaxation

  • Releases muscle tension, soreness, and pain

  • Reduces risk of injury

Perform flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week to improve range of motion. Each stretch should be held for 30 seconds. Stretching is most effective when the muscle is warm.

Neuromotor Exercise

Neuromotor exercise (sometimes called “functional training”) is recommended for two or three days per week for 20 to 30 minutes. These are exercises that mimic activities of daily living and involve these motor skills: balance, agility, coordination and gait. These include walking, functional exercises such as Sit to Stands, balance drills, tai chi and yoga.

Now these are only guidelines. Suggestions. It’s important to remember that the most effective exercise for overall health is the one you will do consistently. It is really, really important that you enjoy your workouts. Otherwise you’ll simply give up, and you won’t exercise at all.

So explore your options:

  • If you enjoy classes, try a yoga or spin class. Check out Zumba or Drums Alive.

  • In the gym, experiment with different pieces of strength training and aerobic equipment

  • Take dancing lessons

  • Get outside and walk or hike

Figure out what you enjoy, what you find satisfying. Create a weekly routine and stick to it. In this way you will not only lose that excess weight but you will have more energy, improve your mood, decrease your stress, and improve your health. You will look good and you will feel good.

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