11 Fun Exercises for Older Adults
- Take up dancing. Dancing helps improve seniors’ gait and balance and could help prevent dangerous injuries from falls, according to a research review in the January-February 2015 issue of the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics. “Dancing is a fantastic way to get some cardiovascular benefit, improve your coordination and balance, and meet local seniors who enjoy similar activities,” says Carrie Plummer, PhD, an instructor at the Vanderbilt School of Nursing in Nashville, Tennessee, and board-certified adult nurse practitioner. For many types of dance classes, you don’t even have to bring a partner. Check your local recreation or senior center for dance classes.
- Become a Zen master. “Research has shown that participating in low-impact exercise classes, such as tai chi or yoga, can help improve strength, balance, and coordination and reduce stress,” Plummer says. “Many yoga poses can be modified to work for those who are less flexible or have decreased upper or lower body strength.” Even adults with limited mobility have a higher quality of life and less depression with a seated yoga program, according to a July-August 2014 report in Holistic Nurse Practitioner.
- Hit the links. Golf is a go-to game for competitive seniors who want to get back to nature in a fun way. And it can be a great way to build endurance, which makes it easier to accomplish everyday tasks, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- Go for a swim. Few things are healthier — and low-impact — than a water workout. And you don’t have to swim laps, Plummer says. She recommends water aerobics and aqua jogging as great ways to get low-impact exercise and also socialize with friends. Water aerobics have been shown to improve body composition and reduce lower back pain, according to research published in the February 2015 issue of the Journal of the Physical Therapy Science.
- Garden on your patio. If you love to garden, but your joints scream from all that bending, you can still get benefits by creating a garden of raised pots and containers on your deck or patio. “Raised plant containers are helpful if you have arthritic knees and find it difficult to bend,” says Forrest Hong, PhD, a licensed clinical social worker, certified advanced social worker care manager, and vice-president of Your Care Manager, a geriatric care management company in Los Angeles, California. “Raising tomatoes or herbs in pots can be a nice mixture of fun, along with creating a healthy meal.”
- Go window shopping. Of course, walking anywhere is good, but Plummer recommends the mall for a variety of great walking opportunities in one convenient location. “Walking inside an air-conditioned mall provides a cooler environment, which not only reduces the risks of ill effects due to weather, but also provides a safe environment with less likelihood of any physical harm from strangers,” she says. “Many local malls open their doors early in the morning before the stores are open specifically for mall walkers.”
- Weight-train with groceries. Just as you don’t need a nature trail to walk, you don’t need a gym to lift weights, Plummer says. “You can use items in your pantry or refrigerator to pump some iron.” she suggests. “For example, use canned vegetables or a half-gallon milk jug to do bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, and some overhead pushes to work those shoulder muscles. You can also do some lower body work with nothing more than a chair. While seated, extend your lower legs out and up, so that the leg is fully extended, and lower it back down.”
- Dust off the bike. If you do feel like being outdoors, cycling is a fantastic way to exercise in a low-impact fashion. “It’s a great cardiovascular workout, and it also helps to improve balance and focus the work on your leg muscles,” Dr. Hong says.
- Make child’s play of exercise. As any grandparent can attest, one of the easiest and most fun ways to get exercise is to chase the grandkids around. You’ll also be setting a great example for them.
- Head to the alley. Bowling is another excellent endurance activity, according to the NIH. And you don’t have to depend on good weather to get in a few games. Joining a bowling league has the added benefit of making fitness a social activity, as well.
- Try a Wii. This handy gaming console from Nintendo offers all kinds of great ways to stay active and fit. “There are any number of games — tennis, bowling, yoga, skiing — available on the Wii Fit that provide you with a variety of fun exercises,” Plummer says. “The Wii Fit also can keep track of your weight and general fitness level and give you feedback on your progress.”
Madeline Vann, MPH, also contributed to this report.
By Wyatt Myers
Medically Reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD
The best fitness activities are those you don’t even consider to be exercise, such as playing with your grandkids.