best exercise to stay fit into you 80s

Best Exercise to Stay Fit into your 80’s

Hi! Thank you for your site and information. My father is 85 years old and is having difficulty with circulation (resulting in swollen legs), bone on bone knee issues/arthritis, weakness/shakiness when walking and occasional dizziness. His arm muscles are getting smaller – he was always a healthy strapping man he had bypass surgery several years ago and is on no drugs except Coumadin. What type of exercises and advice can you recommend that would help him gain arm strength and leg strength considering knee pain and stiffness is a problem. He uses a rollator and the only place he feels most comfortable walking is in the local casino, as there are chairs there to hold on to for extra security. He is having difficulty rising from chairs, the commode and from his bed. Please advise what he can do to strengthen his muscles in legs and arms and the frequency recommended. Thanks in advance for your help. -JB

Older seniors can suddenly be faced with an overwhelming number of obstacles as they celebrate 80 or more birthdays. Not only do we find ourselves getting weaker, but medical problems also seem to appear out of nowhere. Today’s question is a great example of a real world situation many of us will face.
Limitations in our functional activities generally increase as we age. 85% of seniors between 65 years old and 69 years old report no problems with self-care or walking. That number drops to 51% of seniors aged 85 or older reporting no problems with self-care or walking.

And we experience these changes differently according to our genetics and our lifestyle choices through the years. Smoking, inactivity, overeating, and stress, can have a great effect on how we age. Recently a 96 year old patient of mine said, “I was fine until 93, and then I started to slow down.” Personally, I will consider myself very fortunate to make it to 93 with most of my health intact.

Staying Strong

To stay strong and vital, include a program of progressive resistance exercise into your fitness routine. That is, use weights, resistance bands, or your own body weight to gradually build up your strength. Muscular strength is the foundation of successful ageing. Our physical strength will determine our independence and to a large extent, our happiness as we age.

As a physical therapist working in a hospital, I will be asked for a simple exercise to perform at home to maintain strength. Well, I like to make things as simple as possible and for patients because there is so much other stuff happening at discharge. Not only are seniors getting over an illness, but the hospital physician likely has also added some prescriptions and other orders to the discharge instructions. So I basically give them one simple exercise.

Simple Home Exercise

Ok, here it is. This simple exercise not only strengthens the legs and arms, but also works on improving balance, posture, aerobic endurance and the flexibility of the shoulders and upper back. Wow, that is a lot of benefits from one exercise! Let’s see how it works.

First things first. Find a chair without arms; usually a kitchen chair will work wonderfully. This will allow the arms to move freely and provide a stable base to exercise. Then find something to hold in your hands. This could be a two small books or two cans of soup.

To begin the exercise, sit on the front edge of the chair, bring toes underneath knees, hold arms with the book or soup can lightly at sides, lift the chest, raise the chin and look straight ahead at a vertical line like a doorway or window.

Take a breath in slowly through your nose, filling the lungs to the very bottom of the chest. Then, breathe out slowly through your lips, bend forward from the hips bringing the torso over the ankles, and slowly push up to standing during a count of four. That is, it should take four seconds to stand. When fully standing, bring shoulders back, chest is raised, chin is up and eyes are forward.

Inhale again through your nose, and as you exhale through your lips, slowly bend your elbows while raising both hands to shoulder level, and continue extending your arms toward the ceiling to a count of four. Bring arms down slowly, take a bow from the hips and sit down again on the edge of the chair.
This movement can then be repeated 10 times.

You can do it!

That’s it! Try standing slowly and lifting your arms slowly. It will not only improve leg strength, but work on balance too. If performed 10 times in a row, your heart and lungs will also benefit. Challenge yourself as you improve by bringing one foot in front of the other when standing. Select a heavier object to lift overhead to progress in upper body strength. Now it is your turn. Give it a try.

For other leg strengthening exercises, check out my exercise page.

About the Author Coach Doug

Doug Schrift is a Physical Therapist, Certified Geriatric Specialist, and senior fitness coach. Doug helps seniors become strong and stable even if they have never exercised before.

  • GAY JOZWIAK says:


    • Coach Doug says:

      Absolutely. This is good for your legs and heart and lungs. try to work up to 10 minutes. then repeat again later in the day for a total of 20 minutes

  • GAY JOZWIAK says:


  • Dottie says:

    Is doing just one set of ten reps sufficient to gain muscle strength.Is it the amount of wiight you have to increase.? How heavy should a senior aym for?

    • Coach Doug says:

      Yes. You will get stronger with just one set of exercise. Optimal strength training methods will follow this: Repetitions should be 8 to 15, sets should be 1 to 3 and frequency should be 2 or 3 times a week with 48 hour rest inbetween. In terms of how heavy, I recommend starting with 2 pounds for women and 5 pounds for men. Then increase by a small amount when this becomes easy. For example go from 2 pounds to 2.5 or 3 pounds.

  • Dorothy says:

    Do you have any just using your body weight
    exercises for some one 88 years old in very good shape. I have been doing your 12 upper body and 12 leg exercises and am looking for something more challenging.

    • Coach Doug says:

      That is a great idea for another video. Body weight exercises. I don’t have any on this site but do have them on my membership site at Just click on the Academy link on the navigation bar.

  • Derrill Richards says:

    I am a retired army ranger and i am aware of loss of strength although i play golf four times a week and work in my garden. what can i do for exercises. I am eighty years old and still hunt in a limited way. What is a good exercise for me:? Thanks.

    • Doug Schrift says:

      Thank you for your service! I like to tell seniors that they are a different person every birthday. Your health challenges change, your physiology changes, your ability to adapt to your environment changes, and your brain changes. So as the years pass we must adjust our life a little bit here and there. The only thing that remains the same is how wonderful exercise is no matter what your age. You just need to find the perfect mix for your personality and lifestyle demands. I recommend looking at all the things you like to do in a day, a week, a month, and a year. Whether it is hunting, riding a bike, dancing, hiking etc. Then make sure your body is able to easily handle those activities. If you like hunting, then work on building your leg strength for stepping, kneeling, squatting. Also work on your shoulder and upper back muscles for stabilizing your rifle. Also work on your brain-eye connection with visual exercises. Hold your thumbs up and look quickly from one to the other for 2 minutes with your head still, then two minutes with your eyes and head moving together. Doing what you enjoy with more easy, less pain, and better performance will add alot to your enjoyment of your senior years. Good luck and God bless.

  • William P Gloege says:

    Encouraging 80+ to exercise is good, but sitting on your butt pulling a rubber band won’t do it. Healthy 80 year olds can do much more, especially after shaping up. Like running. Like hiking. Like some pretty serious weight lifting.

    One has to work up to the higher levels of exercise carefully and after asking the doctor to approve (Assuming he/she knows anything about elder exercise possibilities. I’m not sure its covered in Med School).

    But please – don’t recommend fake “exercise”. It worse than fake news!

  • I am familiar with this exercise but with less emphasis to the breathing and more to the fact that when one looks forward / up to the place where one will stand, it helps with the movement. Same while sitting down- of course making sure that the chair is in the right place! Keep the gaze forward rather than looking down makes a huge difference with the ease of rising and sitting.

  • Anonymous says:

    I would like some information on exercises for the elderly who are in constant pain. I encourage simple exercises but I was concered that it might increase the pain.Is simple excersises a way to help the pain soften?

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi again. I am sorry but i tied to include my informationi on my first post but was not able to do so.
      Kristin Anderson

    • Doug Schrift says:

      As physical therapists, we try to reduce the pain first, then work on strengthening. When in chronic pain, it is very difficult to exercise. In this case, just focus on movement. I like simple stretching and limbering exercises first, then begin strengthening as your pain improves. Try upper body stretches first for a while like these:
      Also, it is good to know the location, intensity, feeling, and duration of the pain. In other words, is it a joint pain from arthritis, a muscle pain from a new exercise, or an actual medical problem. And as I always say, my golden rule with senior exercise is “Start slowly”. I can never emphasise that enough. Start with as little as a few minutes a day, then work up from there.

  • zrose says:

    I think the explanation of the exercise above should be simplified. A video would be very helpful. Perhaps not worry about breathing properly or posture, etc. for the first few days. After all, 80 year olds can’t remember details very well and have to ‘ease’ into a simple routine. In my case my 81 year old brother lives alone in Texas with no one nearby and I am 1400 miles away in Florida. He is frail and extremely tired and his weight has dropped dramatically. He has also fallen 8 times in the last 2 months and was black and blue and bloody from the fall (He is on Coumadin). He is 35 miles from the VA and isn’t capable of driving there. They will not let him use their ‘choice program’ unless he is 41 miles away….so because of 6 miles….he cannot go to a local doctor. he does not have insurance and is not signed up for Medicare. (Only God knows why)
    I have told him that simple exercises sitting in a chair and doing simple arm lifts (at first holding nothing, then graduating to soup cans…and doing simple marching leg lifts while sitting in a chair will help him with balance and strength, but I did not mention breathing properly or posture. I am simply trying him to do SOMETHING SIMPLE, until he feels a little better. This man is SO STUBBORN, and he is circling the drain so to speak. PLEASE help me to help him with some simple suggestions. Thank you, Rose

    • Doug Schrift says:

      That is a very good idea. I will include a video of the exercise soon so your brother can watch.

      • JOANNA says:


        • Roger Williams says:

          I have started doing Paula Moore’s Posturecise. I am not sure which, if any, of the postures are ok for a man of my age, and which are too much for me. I am 92+, had a TIA recently, but am otherwise in excellent health. I take only one medication (for lazy thyroid), am not athletic in any sense of the word, but I’d like to keep active. I’d like to keep walking (with cane), without wobbling, strengthen my neck and my knees.
          I’d appreciate any advice you could give me.
          Thank you.

          • Doug Schrift says:

            Best is to start slowly with a easy limbering program for the legs and arms for a few weeks then progress into strengthening. Here are my arm and leg limbering pages. Keep moving and good luck.

          • William P Gloege says:

            Building muscle that automatically leaves us as we age is one thing you should do. Work on balance. You might not need the cane. Keep positive and push back on aging. Its working for me at 80. I’m 95% plant based diet and have been for decades. I really believe in it, and its supported scientifically. See the video “Forks over Knives” for an easy to understand program of plant based eating.

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