Safe Exercise Guidelines For Seniors

New studies suggest that seniors may be able to slow the deterioration of bones and joints with exercise, but how much exercise will do the trick? We’ve got general guidelines to help you understand what you’ll need to do.


Research published in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS) offers promising news to people age 65 and older who do not want to lose the active lifestyle they love. Bone and joint deterioration has traditionally been linked to the process of aging, but evidence shows that musculoskeletal decline may be more strongly linked to a sedentary lifestyle than to the aging process itself.

This is great news, but raises the question: how much and what kind of exercise must seniors in order to reap the benefits of ongoing bone and joint health? There is no single exercise formula that will work for everyone. An individual patient’s health profile is always the starting point. Does the patient have a history of injuries such as sprains, strains and fractures? Are they affected by diseases, such as obesity and diabetes? Do they have osteoarthritis or other bone and joint conditions? A senior exercise program, particularly for fragile or health-compromised elderly patients, should be designed and overseen by a physician and/or physical therapist to ensure the patient’s safety.

That said, the studies of elite senior athletes revealed that the following exercise guidelines are optimal for maintaining bone and joint health as we age:

  • Resistance training. Although aerobic exercise is also necessary, it is not sufficient to consistently increase muscle strength, lean muscle, and bone mass. This strengthening can only be accomplished through prolonged, intense lower and upper body resistance training. Resistance training provides bonus benefits by decreasing fat mass and reducing the risk of strains, sprains, and acute fractures.
  • Endurance training. Sustained aerobic training promotes heart health, increases oxygen consumption, and has been linked to other benefits like maintenance of cartilage volumes. To maximize the benefit, seniors in good condition are encouraged to do a minimum of 150 to 300 minute of endurance training every week, in 10 to 30 minute episodes. When it is medically safe, seniors can increase the benefits by continually exceeding these minimum requirements. A lower amount of regular exercise is better than none, but may provide a more limited benefit.
  • Flexibility and balance. Seniors who devote two days a week to flexibility training, like sustained stretches, reap benefits in range of motion maintenance, improved balance, and reduced risk of injury. Just as progressive challenge increases the benefits of endurance training, progressively increasing the difficulty of balance postures is recommended to maximize results.

Understanding your exercise goals is a great place to start when designing an exercise program with your physician. These guidelines can help direct safe and healthy exercise habits that will support a happy, active lifestyle for a lifetime.

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