How do I Start With Exercises For The Elderly? Read on…

If you are looking for one of the best online resources on exercises for the elderly, you found it! Below you will find all the information you need to get started. Please read on…

Here is the solid exercise information you will find on this page

  • Your doctor: Discover why you should talk to your doctor first.
  • Enjoy yourself: Learning to do what you enjoy is very important.
  • Goals:  Learn how to correctly set goals you can achieve.
  • Equipment: Discover the easy household items you can use.
  • Schedule: How to organize your exercises for best outcomes.
  • Intensity: Learn how much effort you need to put into a session.
  • Training zone:  What is a training zone and why you should know yours.
  • Duration: Learn how long should you exercise.
  • Weight: Learn how much weight should you use when exercising.
  • Safety Guidelines: Critical things you should and should not do.

You will improve in ALL of these areas

  • Strength: Create improved torso and leg strength to increase you stability.
  • Safety:  Increase your ability to rise from a chair, walk and exercise.
  • Mobility: Achieve a lasting ability to get around more easily.
  • Activities: Enjoy those tennis lessons or bike riding again.
  • Social: Get out and enjoy your friends and family.

First Things First: Check With Your Doctor

Picture3Before starting you should consult your doctor. Let him or her know you are going to begin exercising or increasing your activity level. This is especially true if you have any of the following:

  • Chest pain or pain in your left arm and neck
  • Any shortness of breath
  • A heart condition
  • Any bone or joint problems
  • If you are currently taking blood pressure or cardiac medications
  • Any unexplained dizziness or fainting

You better enjoy yourself!

Picture81Regular physical activity can improve your quality of life in so many ways.

Doing something you love to do is a great way to stay motivated.

Over exerting yourself or participating in an exercise program you don't really like will make you exhausted and very likely cause you to discontinue activity.

In order to gain the many benefits of regular exercise, including increased energy, weight loss, improved heart health and strong bones, you must like what you are doing.

If swimming feels great, dancing gets your excitement up, bicycling is refreshing, then by all means do what your enjoy!

In our exercise classes, my students really like strengthening and stretching.

When they miss a few sessions from time to time, they tell me that they can really feel the difference.

You won't get anywhere without this next item

exercises-for-the-elderly-1Athletes, from runners to weight-lifters, have used exercise logs and goal setting to achieve success.

By recording your progress toward your goals you will gain perspective and be able to answer the question I get most often...How do I know if I'm getting stronger?

Let’s say you want to be able to get out in the yard and garden for one hour. That is your short term goal. You decide to begin with a walking and weight lifting program.

  • On your first day of exercise you can walk for 5 minutes at a brisk pace and lift a five pound weight 10 times before getting tired.
  • You then continue to exercise and record what you are able to do at least weekly in your journal.
  • At the end of 6 weeks you have increased your walking time to 20 minutes and lifting capacity to eight pounds 10 times.

Wow! Now you can answer the question yourself…

I AM getting stronger!

And ultimately one hour in the garden is easily accomplished.

( As long as the weather holds!)

Well, do I need any special equipment?

exercise equipmentSetting up an exercises for the elderly and seniors program at home doesn't require a lot of investment in equipment.

Unless you really have your heart set on that new all purpose gym from Sears!

More than likely though it will be in your garage serving as a clothes hanger in a few short months.

All you really need is a sturdy armless dining room or kitchen chair and a few weights.

Make sure you have athletic type shoes that offer good support such as walking or running shoes.

Your clothing should also be comfortable and loose fitting. Find a sturdy kitchen chair to hold on to for balance.

You can use a water bottle or can of soup to lift if you don't have weights.

If you can afford to purchase small hand weights, try picking up a 2 pound, 3 pound, 5 pound and 8 pound weight.

These will likely serve the needs of most older adult exercisers.

Oh no! The dreaded schedule thing!

exercises-for-the-elderly-3How do ants make an ant hill so tall?

They consistently add one grain of sand at a time.

It’s the little bit you do every day that will over time increase your strength and endurance.

To be consistent requires taking a good look at your day and week.

What days will I most likely be able to fit in exercise? What time of day would be best?

The longer you are faithful to the schedule the easier it will be to stick to the exercise program.

I haven't exercised in years. How hard should I exercise?

senior strengthStrength exercises are vital to maintain your ability to function independently in your home.

If you are only using weights for a strengthening workout, start with 1 to 2 pounds for women, and 3 to 5 pound weights for men.

Perform 8 to 12 repetitions (Reps).

Rest 1 minute and perform another (set) of these exercises.

You should not have any pain with these exercises.

When you can comfortably perform more than 15 to 20 repetitions, you should consider increasing your weight by a pound or two.

Strengthen a minimum of twice a week.

3 to 5 times per week is optimal to maintain a strong body that withstands the rigors of daily life as we grow older.

I am so stiff and tight. What do I need to know about stretching?

exercises-for-the-elderly-5Flexibility exercises allow you to more easily move and reach when doing your daily tasks around the home.

Select a stretch to perform for the upper or lower body.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

Then repeat the stretch 2 to 3 more times.

You should not feel any pain.

Generally stretches should feel good.

Only hold your neck stretches for 5 seconds if you feel any dizziness.

Stretch a minimum of twice a week.

To increase your flexibility, try stretching at leas 5 days per week.

Why not, it feels great!

Finding your correct training range for elderly endurance exercises

Picture123Endurance exercises include brisk walking, stationary bike riding, running, low impact aerobics, swimming, water aerobics, cycling or any exercise that makes you breathe faster and your heart to speed up.

Endurance exercises or activities should be performed at least 2 times per week.

For optimal improvement in your heart and lungs and muscles, try 3 to 5 times per week.

Think of how much easier it will be to walk, grocery shop and play with your grandchildren!

Your workout should be intense enough to make your heart beat faster and your breathing to increase but not so high as to over stress your system.

This is your training zone. Try to work out in this range to get the most benefit out of your endurance exercises.

Below you will find three good ways of monitoring your intensity level for your endurance activities and finding your training zone. Pick one that will work for you and your situation.

Method 1: Maximum Heart rate :

This method is the most precise when finding your training zone for your endurance exercises, but can be the hardest to learn.

Take a breath... and see if you can follow along...

A good range for the typical senior exerciser is between 65% to 80% of your maximum heart rate, which is 220 minus your age.

If you have been inactive for a while or have limiting health problems, keep your heart rate between 50% and 75% of your maximum.

For example....

A healthy 75 year old man with a maximum heart rate of 145

needs to exercise between 16 and 21 beats

when counting for 10 seconds.

Find your age on the chart below, and follow to get your heart rate range for a 10 second count.


Take your pulse at approximately 5 minutes into the exercise.

Take your pulse again at approximately 10 minutes into your endurance exercise or after the hardest part.

Take your pulse just after your cool-down.

Picture120To find your pulse on your wrist: Use the pads of your two fingers tips.

Place your finger tips just below the wrist creases at the base of the thumb.

Press lightly until you feel a pulse

(which is the blood pulsing under your fingers).

If necessary, move fingers around until you feel the pulse.

Picture16Review the 10 second counts so that you don't have to do math in your head while exercising.

Slow down for the pulse count but keep your legs moving.

It is usually better to take your pulse at your wrist (radial artery) instead of your neck ( carotid artery).

It is possible to press too hard on the carotid artery which could cause slowing of the pulse.


I know this sounds complicated.....

But once you find how many beats per 10 seconds you need to have.... you are done!

Method 2: Rate of Perceived Exertion:

Don't like the previous heart rate method?

Too complicated?

Want an easier way to tell how hard you are working during your workout?

An easier method is to just rate your feeling of how hard you are working on the 0 to 10 scale.

This is called the "Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion."

For most older adult exercisers, you can work in the "moderate" to "strong" range which is 4 - 5.

Give it a try.. it actually works quite well.

Method 3: Talk Test:

Still too complicated?

Want a VERY easy method to tell how hard you are working and make sure you are training correctly and safely in your training zone?

Try the talk test. It doesn't get much simpler...

Picture27Basically, you should be able to speak in your normal voice and tone during your exercise session.

If you are out of breath and are unable to speak regularly, then you need to lower your intensity level by slowing down.

How's that? Easy, eehh?

I am soooo busy. How long should I exercise?

You don't need to work hard for a long time to gain benefit from exercise.

30 minutes is a good daily goal.

You can exercise 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes after lunch and 10 minutes at night.

Don't be in a hurry. Start slowly and gradually get used to exercising before increasing your exercise.

Begin with 10 -20 minutes of exercise to start.

Build up to 30 minutes if you are able. Most seniors can tolerate up to an hour or more of exercise.

There are only so many days in a week. How often do I need to exercise?

Picture116The National Institute of Health reports you can get health benefits with as little as 60 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

Try working out 2 days a week to start leaving a day or two between sessions.

Then increase a day or two as you get comfortable with exercising.

3 to 5 days a week is usually well tolerated. Don't work the same muscle group on consecutive days.

It is a good idea to get personal instruction and a professionally designed program if you workout more than 5 days per week.

I am really weak right now. How much weight should I use?

exercises-for-the-elderly-4Arms: Try starting with 2 pounds.

This is usually tolerated by most seniors.

Women can safely train up to 5 pounds and men can safely train up to 8 pounds for the upper body.

Legs: Our legs are fairly heavy and may not require additional weight.

If you choose to use weights for the legs, use ankle weights.

Seniors can usually safely start with 1 pound ankle weights.

Work up to 3 pounds if you are tolerating the weight well and can do at least 15 to 20 repetitions comfortably.

I have diabetes and arthritis. What if I have a Medical Condition?

exercises-for-the-elderly-10There are several special exercises for the elderly training considerations that must be kept in mind for these conditions.

You can safely exercise with these conditions by following some simple suggestions and checking with your doctor.

I have been inactive for so long. What are some general safety guidelines for exercise for the elderly?

  • Remember that with age, sudden intense exercise may be a challenge for your heart.Try to prepare your muscles with a 10 minute warm-up  before exercising.
  • Also, quickly stopping during a workout may cause blood to pool in your legs, increasing the strain on your heart.That is why a 10 minute cool-down session is important.
  • Monitor yourself for overexertion which is indicated by shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness or getting that shaky feeling.Make sure you listen to your body!
  • Make sure you increase your activity level gradually.Only add 5 to 10% increase to any workout.
  • Think "posture" as much as you can during your workout.Good posture will help protect your joints and prevent any unnecessary injuries.
  • Practice good breathing. Never hold your breath.Try to breathe in through the nose and out the mouth.
  • Train at the Goldie Locks intensity. Not too high and not too low. We want your heart to make improvements in its aerobic fitness which requires training at least in the 50% to 75% range of your maximum heart rate.
  • Remember, exercises for the elderly training will only show benefits if it is done regularly with the correct duration, frequency, and intensity. "Practice makes....permanent!" So don't practice sitting in your recliner!

I'm ready. Let's get started!

Start with posture

First let's learn correct posture before you start in order to help maximize the benefits of exercise. Watch our 6 posture videos for important exercises.


Review the proper techniques of breathing to improve your lung function and energy level. This video will show you how.


Increase your flexibility to allow full motion in your shoulders, hips, and legs with these exercises. Watch our 24 upper and lower body stretching videos for valuable instruction.


Build strength in the arms, legs and back to greatly enhance your functional independence with our 24 upper and lower body strengthening videos.


Gain endurance and improve your ability to walk and participate in energetic social activities like dancing and nature outings.


Develop better balance to increase your safety and help prevent falls. Watch the 12 best balance exercise videos now.

Want a quick start?

Did you know you can download the exercises here along with a 4 week exercise program? Download my FREE ebook now!
Good Luck!


  1. I am a stage four cancer patient currently experiencing a remission. My problem is that I have now been bedridden since mid August previous to that I was in a weakened state. Prior to my diagnosis (2013), surgeries, and treatments I was active, walked every day and exercised. I need in bed exercises to regain my strength and get out of this bed. My doc strongly agrees with me starting an exercise program. Cheers Susan

  2. I am an 80 year old male with PAD. I can walk about a block before pain sets in and I have to stop. I would like to begin an excercise program but do not know what I should do or how to begin. Any suggestions? Thanks.

    1. Ron
      You are at a great age to begin exercising. For those seniors with PAD (peripheral arterial disease), pain can be a limiting factor when exercising. Usually it is in the lower leg area. Certainly speak with your doctor on the type and intensity of exercise you are able to safely perform. Generally, try to increase your pain-free walking time slowly. Begin with walking your one block, then rest until symptoms subside. Then walk again as tolerated until symptoms return. Studies show that you can increase your pain free walking time, just by walking and resting, depending on when the pain begins. A wonderful tool for this is using a rolator walker with a seat. This way you can walk as far as comfortable, the rest on the seat when the pain is 4 out of 5 on the pain scale, then resume walking when the pain is better. Set a goal of say, 4 blocks without sitting.

  3. I haven’t exercised in a long time. I have recently started what I call “remedial” yoga, one-on-one with a teacher who has experience working with people with disabilities. I have also tried walking–gently!– for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.

    The problem: I’m so STIFF! Even though the yoga sessions are gentle, the rest of the day, and the next day too, I’m stiff and slow-moving. When I walk for 20-30 minutes, I’m tired and sore into the next day. This, of course, doesn’t make me eager to resume my exercise!

    What am I failing to consider? How can I reduce the stiffness after exercising? How long should I give myself to “heal up” before trying another session?

    Many thanks!

    1. JHH
      Stiffness and soreness are a common complaint of seniors that have not exercised in a while. This is the secret: “Start slowly”. When we do something that is more than our usual daily activity, we are at risk of being sore, tired, and stiff. I always tell seniors to begin with just a few minutes a day, as little as 3 to 5 minutes. Be patient, you will improve. Your goal is 20 to 30 minutes a day. If you need to “heel up” then your are likely doing too much. Try a few exercises a day, or just walking 5 minutes, then slowly adding more exercises and time. Good luck!

  4. Doug,

    I hit my knee and have a bone contusion (almost three months ago). I saw a doctor and she said I don’t have cartledge damage.

    I stopped my usual two mile daily walk and now I am very weak in my legs.
    I am up to a slow one mile walk daily.

    I was told a bone contusion can take up to a year to heal.

    I saw your exercises for leg strengthening on your website. Will these 12 exercises be good for my weak leg muscles, even with the contusion?

    I ask these questions because different website say different things about exercising after a knee contusion. I am not an athlete, so don’t do basketball, jogging, etc.

    I want to heal in the best and safest way.

    Also, do you recommend an open patella knee neoprene wrap when I walk?

    1. Lisa
      Bone bruises are definitely painful and can take a year to heal. The exercises on this site should be fine as long as they don’t increase your pain. Decrease the motion and intensity of the exercise if painful. MRI is usually the best way to diagnose a contusion. A wrap can help if there is swelling in the knee joint. If it has been 3 months since the injury it is time to get back to strengthening. Start slowly and gradually increase your time exercising for best results. Don’t aggravate your injury with too much exercise. You will not be a happy camper. Thanks for your interest!

  5. Hi and to Kathryn…and anyone else
    Exercise does’nt always have to be walking or swimming
    Though they help a lot
    Watching tv
    I saw a heavy set bloke on a horse size treadmill
    He said as long as you walk even very slowly
    That got me thinking of bed exercising for my elderly father
    He’s not big but just older
    But getting him to do different exercises in bed
    Moving arms and feet
    Has helped him to finally walk..
    Pain free and finally get him to do
    Thai che..any movement though slowly is always good
    No need for moderate or intense workouts
    If you are weak in body
    Until build strength up in all of your dads body..

    Sincerely hope this helps you as it has helped my dad too.

  6. I am 80 years old with severe COPD and chronic asthma. I live in the mountains were I walk in the summer a minimum of 5 miles a day up and down the hills. This together with my gardening and movement in my house are my only exercises. My breathing is my problem: I use my inhaler in the morning upon arising and before I walk. I need to be more flexible: I can no longer get up if I fall or slip. Is there an exercise regimen that I could follow to help me?

    1. Pat. Walking 5 miles a day with COPD is an AMAZING feat! Congratulations. Getting up off the floor requires a lot of strength. Strength is the most important component of senior fitness. Try some of the exercises on my leg strengthening page here:

      Warm Regards
      Doug Schrift

  7. My 66-yr-old father has had significant muscle loss/weakness in his calf muscles since retirement. His balance has also been off with a few falls – luckily nothing broken. He does suffer from gout and bone spurs in his feet, but it looks like these exercises could be done to help strengthen his leg muscles without causing pain in his feet. True?

    1. Gout and bone spurs are certainly very painful. If these conditions are aggravated by lower body exercises like these, then I would check with your doctor. Exercise should not be painful. Especially in a joint. When we avoid using a muscle due to pain or immobility, it only takes a few days to start deteriorating. The gout and bone spur will have to be fixed before exercise. Take care.

  8. I’m so sorry, Doug. I also meant to ask you how high the two objects should be and how I can improvise the correct shape. If I need to purchase them, where should I go? Thank you again!

    1. Maggie
      I usually recommend strengthening both legs but you certainly can increase the exercise for the weaker leg.
      A good exercise for side hip problems is on this page:
      A good stretch for the side hip is here:

      When selecting objects to step over, I recommend 6″ high if you can find something. You can stack some books up on the floor or find a soft stuffed animal that is about that high when laid down.
      Warm Regards

  9. Sorry about the previous blank comment! (DUH) I have bursitis in my left hip, occasional lower back pain and had an unsuccessful knee operation about 30 years ago, which has left my right leg stronger than my left. I have some exercises for my bursitis and I was wondering if I can do the leg exercises with my left leg only. Also, I haven’t been able to find a lot of exercises, on the web, for my bursitis. Do you have any suggestions where I might find more? Thank you!

    1. Shunee. Thanks for your comments. I have a great way to get started in my free ebook. It has exercises for every major muscle group in addition to balance exercises. It contains a 4 week exercise program to get you stronger. You can sign up for it on my website here.

      Warm Regards
      Doug Schrift

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