How To Get Seniors Started With Exercise? A Guide For Practitioners

A mysterious drug with little to no side effects can save you from almost every disease. Curious? Well, it's exercise, an absolute miracle. But it's sad to know that their motivation to get out and move gets lost as people age. In fact, the stats show that elderly persons spend 9 hours a day on average being inactive.

That's where you come in. Being a healthcare practitioner, you can encourage older people to start exercising by revealing how it benefits them. In this article, we will talk about the emerging evidence of the usefulness of exercise on the older body and how to get seniors started with exercise.

Benefits of Exercise For Seniors

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We already know exercise is healthy for all people. But for the elderly, gain from physical activity is even huge. It helps them deal with the health crisis of old age and lessens the chance of unplanned hospital visits. Here is how your senior patients can gain advantages from regular exercise.

1. Decrease the Risk of Falls

Falls are much more common among older people than others. On average, one-third of people aged over 65 years fall per year. The reason is simple, our muscle mass and strength decrease as we get older due to inactivity and aging. The loss of strength in lower limbs contributes to the risk. Further, aging also brings some sensory and motor changes, which disturbs balance and posture stability.

That's where exercise comes as a savior. It builds up muscle mass and helps them regain strength. Besides, it improves balance, coordination, and posture. In this regard, balance and training activities are pretty effective. For example, a study showed that an exercise program focused on leg strengthening and balance retraining reduced falls and injuries in one-third of seniors.

2. Improves Range of Motion

We often witness elders face difficulty in activities like walking, climbing stairs, and getting out of bed. It happens because of the loss of connective tissues and fluids that cause joints to become stiff. As a result, these stiff and painful joints make it difficult to move and decrease the range of motion. Besides aging, lack of physical activity is also a reason for this condition.

Exercise can save seniors from getting bedridden and being dependent on someone else. In addition, it helps relieve pain and enhance strength and flexibility. Also, physical activity is quite helpful in easing symptoms of knee osteoarthritis in older patients that cause pain and debility. In fact, the American College of Rheumatology declares it as a mainstay of treatment for knee osteoarthritis.

3. Mange Body Composition And Weight

One of the changes the age brings is body composition. With age, muscle mass and strength decrease while body fat relatively increases. This increased fat mass is distributed around the belly and linked with heart diseases and diabetes.

Exercise not only builds muscle mass but also helps manage weight. It burns off extra calories and lowers the fat percentage in the body. Several studies revealed moderate to high-intensity resistance training can decrease total body fat mass by 1.6 to 3.4%.

4. Prevents Chronic Diseases

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 85% of elders suffers from at least one chronic condition, and 60% develop no less than two chronic disorder. Considering seniors' age and sedentary lifestyle, it is no surprise to see such numbers.

However, staying active and having a healthy diet can save your patient from getting in trouble. It is well established that exercise prevents many chronic conditions and lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

It improves insulin sensitivity, thus helping manage diabetes type 2. Further, it lowers the risk of stroke, hypertension, colon, and breast cancer in older people.

5. Improves Longevity

A sedentary lifestyle increases the chance of developing age-related diseases and early death. On the other hand, exercise makes older adults fit, so your patient is likely to live longer. Further, it lowers the risk of many illnesses and cancers associated with increased mortality.

A review published in the Journal of Aging Research suggests that exercise may increase life expectancy by 0.4 to 6.9 years. However, another article founds that only 11 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise can make people live longer than expected.

6. Improves Psychological Health

Depression spares no one regardless of age, gender, and race. And although it's not linked with aging, seniors hospitalized or living with any medical condition are at high risk of getting it.

Exercise helps the elderly improve their mental health by reducing stress and managing depression symptoms. It releases endorphins and happy hormones that lift the mood. A review published reveals that exercise protects seniors from depressive symptoms and improves their sleep quality.

7. Improves Cognitive Function

You may often see older patients forgetting little things. It's because of the shrinkage of the part of the brain, hippocampus, and the wearing down of myelin sheath around nerve fibers. It slows down the communication between neurons. This, in turn, makes it difficult to encode new information and retrieve previous ones.

Further, dementia is more common in older people as it affects one-third of people aged 85 or older. It is a syndrome that affects people's memory and their ability to think and perform everyday life activities.

That's where exercise comes in as a hero. It promotes the release of hormones that make the brain form new cells. Apart from that, better mental health and good sleep from physical activity improve cognitive skills.

A published study confirms exercise's effectiveness in boosting episodic memory, working memory, attention, and cognitive speed. Another article found that 52 hours of physical activity is linked with better cognitive skills.

8. Kick Starts Social Life

Understandably, people might feel lonely at old age. But exercise allows them to indulge in social activities and make new buddies. In fact, several studies suggest that staying socially active keeps your brain energetic for a longer duration and lowers the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Some Exercises For Seniors

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To make the most of physical activity, seniors must involve in different workouts focused on various age-related problems. Here's a list of some kinds of exercises that older adults must need to do to gain the above benefits.

1. Aerobic Exercise

It is called a cardiovascular workout as it improves heart health. It makes the heart pump and beat harder and faster. In this exercise, the lungs breathe more air and deliver extra oxygen to muscles that strengthen them.

Everything counts as aerobic exercise, from walking, jogging, dancing, and hiking to pushing a lawn mover. The Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week for seniors.

2. Muscle Strengthing Exercises

In addition to an aerobic workout, muscle strengthening activities are equally important to make up for the lost muscle mass in older age. It includes exercises that move your body weight like weight lifting and push-ups.

CDC recommends muscle-strengthening activities for elders at least two or more days per week. And to get most of them, it is necessary to continue exercising until the individual can't make another repetition (one complete movement) without help. This is because 12-13 repetitions make a set, and the aim should be to do at least one set.

3. Balance Exercise

As the name suggests, it improves postural stability and prevents the risk of falling in old age. In addition, it works out the core, leg, and lower back muscles. Along with aerobic and muscle-strengthening workouts, CDC also recommends adding balance exercises for at least two or more days per week.

A Guide For Practitioners to Get Seniors Started With Exercise

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Exercise is a medicine, and it's essential to treat it like one. Unfortunately, most healthcare professionals make random statements such as you need to lose weight; you need to exercise., etc. The sentences like these don't stress the importance of a regular workout. And there is a strong likelihood that the patient will either forget or won't follow the advice.

The outcomes would be much better if a systematic approach is developed to encourage the elders to exercise. For example, prescribing exercise on a prescription pad emphasizes urgency. This, in turn, makes the patient follow the doctor's order. Here is a way to approach and motivate older sedentary patients to exercise.

1. Educate Patient and Take Exercise History

First, you need to educate the elders or patients about the benefits of exercise on their long-term health. Educating patients on how exercise will help them in a given condition will make them stick to the workout routine.

The next step is to take an exercise history about how much they were active previously and obtain the following information.

What is your longlife pattern of activities and interests?

This will reveal any exercises in a modified form patient is interested in at the moment. For example, an older man who has never been into vigorous activity is less likely to adopt a high-intensity program while an athlete may be able to do so.

How much were you active in the following past 2-3 months?

It will give you an idea of at what pace the patient should start exercising and when to change the intensity.

What are the barriers you face regarding exercise?

This question will shed light on why the patient cannot stick to an exercise routine. In addition, it provides you with an opportunity to deal with perceived barriers. For instance, a patient might say it's challenging to manage the time, and he can't afford the equipment. Explaining to him walking 10 minutes per day and a good pair of shoes would do fine will overcome the perceived barrier.

What is your level of interest and motivation for exercise?

Determining a patient's level of interest in exercise will help you decide the starting point. Also, in this stage, you can increase their motivation to exercise by raising awareness that it helps optimize their health.

What is your social preference for exercise? Patients who face transportation issues and are tight on a budget may prefer a home-based exercise program. At the same time, older adults who find it easier to stick to the program if supported by a friend, relative, or spouse can join an exercise club.

2. Write Exercise Prescription

Now you know the patient's exercise history, it's time to tailor the prescription to the individual's specific need. Also, you must take comorbidities into account while writing an exercise order. Finally, it would be best to familiarize older adults (who can afford it) with certified trainers and clubs to get most of the regimen.


1. What if an elder adult can't achieve the minimum threshold for exercise?

Although CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, you can still benefit if you cannot achieve these numbers. Any little activity improves health; the target is to sit less and move more. 

2. Is it safe to exercise with heart diseases?

Exercise for heart patients is entirely safe. It is even more important for them as it improves blood circulation and lowers cholesterol levels in the body.


Exercise for every age is essential, but seniors need it even more to optimize their health. It deals with old age health crises and is helpful in the prevention and management of various disorders. Healthcare professionals can play their role in encouraging seniors to start exercising. A system approach to motivate patients can bring fruitful results regarding adherence to exercise. Writing a prescription tailored to the needs of individuals is a step toward making them stick to an exercise regimen.


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