10 best exercises for senior adults

May 09, 2016 | by John DePasquale
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Several things happen as we age that can affect our fitness level and everyday functioning. For example, decreasing hormones cause our muscles to atrophy, our bones to weaken and we become better “insulated” with fat.

You don’t have to give in to aging without a fight! A proper exercise plan can not only slow these processes but potentially reverse them.

So what’s the secret? Exercise, of course! One of the most important things we can do as we get older is stick with a proper fitness program, especially one that emphasizes weight training.

Exercising with machines or free weights can increase natural levels of muscle-building hormones, decrease the rate at which we accumulate fat, and increase our overall lean body or muscle mass. As we build muscle and get stronger, our bodies burn more calories to stay alive every day. This is because muscle mass requires more calories, even at rest.

Weight training is key for seniors

Working with weights — body weight, machines, or free weights — slows bone loss associated with osteoporosis. The stress placed on the bones and muscles by weight-bearing exercises, or even walking, causes the body to respond by building up the bones. Proper supplementation with vitamin D and calcium can also slow bone loss.

Training with weights increases hormone levels like testosterone and estrogen, both of which are responsible for building up our muscles and bones. Insulin is another hormone that is altered by regular exercise. This hormone is responsible for regulating our blood sugar and storing carbs for later use during exercise. Exercise enhances insulin sensitivity, or the ability of the hormone to work, even in people with diabetes.

Regular exercise enhances fat loss too. Losing weight is a math equation that is solved by burning more calories than you take in. Exercise makes it easy to burn calories and therefore lose weight, provided the intensity and type is right.

How do you start exercising?

If you are curious what an exercise program should look like, the answer is much simpler than you think. Start with lower body exercises and work your way up!

Choose exercises that work large muscle groups at an intensity that is right for you. For example, use the leg press for lower body exercise. This machine choice allows you to use a higher amount of weight than a free weight squat with a lower amount of stress on the back and the hips. Large muscle group exercises, like leg, back and chest exercises, burn the most calories due to the larger muscle groups involved.

To get all the benefits mentioned above, add these exercises to your current routine:

  • Chair Squat. Grab a free weight or a kettlebell for this exercise. Hold the weight in your hands and let it hang naturally. Place your feet about shoulder width apart and have your heels about four inches away from the legs of the chair. Sit back into the chair, letting your hips start the movement and placing the stress on your heels. Once your backside finds the chair, drive off your heels and push your hips through to stand back up. Do not sit fully down in the chair. Perform 10 repetitions for three sets, or 30 repetitions total.
  • Leg Press. Use this machine to increase your leg strength and work the large muscle groups of your lower body, which will enhance hormone function, weight loss and bone building! Perform 10 repetitions for three sets, or 30 repetitions total.
  • Hamstring Curl. This is another machine that will strengthen your hamstrings (the muscles in the back of your legs). Don’t forget about these guys! Perform 10 repetitions for three sets, or 30 repetitions total.
  • Bent-Over Dumbbell Row. Grab one dumbbell for this exercise. Place the hand not holding the dumbbell on a chair or bench, lean your torso forward over the bench while keeping your back straight, and pull the weight up towards your chest in the opposite hand. When you finish the movement, your working arm (with the dumbbell) should be pulled up near your armpit. Reverse the movement by lowering your arm slowly back down to the starting position. Perform 10 repetitions for three sets, or 30 repetitions total on each arm. This exercise is good for your back muscles as well as your biceps!
  • Chest Press. Use this machine to increase the strength of your chest muscles and your anterior deltoids, or the muscles on the front of your shoulders. Perform 10 repetitions for three sets, or 30 repetitions total.
  • Overhead Dumbbell Press. Take two dumbbells and press them up and over your head while standing. This exercise is good for your shoulder muscles as well as your core due to the stabilization required to stand and balance the weights. Perform 10 repetitions for three sets, or 30 repetitions total.
  • Bicep Curl. Take two weights and curl them up to your shoulders with your palms facing upward. Lower the weights slowly back down to the starting position.
  • Triceps Press-down. Find the nearest cable machine and place a rope attachment on one side. Grab it with both hands and press the rope down in a controlled fashion. This exercise is great for your triceps (the muscles on the back of your arms). Perform 10 repetitions for three sets, or 30 repetitions total.
  • Core Cable Rotation. Don’t forget about your core! On the same cable machine that you performed the triceps press-down, attach a single handle, grab it in both hands, and take two big steps out. With your torso facing forward and arms extended with the cable, rotate your body away from the cable machine to work your core as well as your lower back. Perform 10 repetitions for three sets, or 30 repetitions total on each side of your body.
  • Cardiovascular Exercise. Don’t forget about cardio! Pick a weight-bearing exercise such as walking that will increase your heart rate to a level that is challenging yet manageable. Cardiovascular exercise should be performed at least three days a week, ideally five. Start off with what you think you can handle and work your way up to your goal. Cardiovascular exercise should be at least 30 minutes long.
Set up your program

Strength training should be done 2-3 days per week with at least 24-48 hours rest between sessions, as your muscles need time to recover. A sample exercise program should look something like this:

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: Strength training

Tuesday, Thursday: Cardiovascular training


Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Cardiovascular training

Tuesday, Thursday: Strength training

Need help getting started on an exercise program? Sign up for a session with a personal trainer at Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness!

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