O4 Dynamic Alert
Medically Approved

7 exercises older adults can do to get moving this summer

Older adults doing tai chi to build strength and improve balance

As you age, it’s important to keep your body moving and your bones strong. Here are some easy ways to do it.

Being active is a key way to help you stay healthy at any age. As you get older, whether you’re 40, 50, 60 or older, it’s especially important. The better you move, the more you can get out there and do the things you love to do.

A lot of that has to do with your ability to stay flexible and mobile, says Billy Ryan, a Chicago-based certified health coach at Rally.

When you improve your flexibility, you’re able to move and walk around more easily.1,2 That can help you reach for something on a high shelf in your kitchen, throw a ball with your grandchild, or go on a hike.

Being flexible and able to move can also improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling. And that’s really important, because more than 25% of older adults fall each year.3 Falling once doubles your chances of falling again.3

Falls can have different levels of severity. For example, you could stumble while you’re gardening and land softly on the grass. But it could still leave you sore. Other falls could be more serious, like slipping in the bathroom and landing on a hard surface. Some falls can even be life-threatening.4 That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor, no matter what kind of fall you have.

So, what can you do to better stay on your feet? Here are seven easy exercises you can try adding to your weekly fitness routine. But before you get going, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor. They’ll be able to tell you what moves are right for you, based on your health.

Person visiting the doctor
Discover the better choice for your health care.

At Optum, you get personalized care to help you meet your health goals. That's why more than 4 million people trust our doctors and Medicare Advantage.

Exercise #1: Yoga or chair yoga

Yoga is low-impact and easy on your joints. But it also can help you move better as you age.5

This ancient practice involves moving your body into physical poses or postures, called asanas.6 Moving through yoga poses can help improve your abdominal strength and flexibility, as well as target specific muscles, depending on the pose.

Yoga also improves strength and balance, says Heather Wilson. She specializes in health innovation strategy at the YMCA of Central New York. Plus, it may help reduce stress. That’s because meditation and breathwork are also key aspects of yoga.

There are 84 classic asanas used in yoga.7 But the practice is easy to modify and can even be done while sitting in a chair.

You can join a local yoga class and learn from your instructor and peers. Or you can find a comfortable space in your home and practice yoga solo. There are plenty of beginner yoga tutorial videos online.

Wilson recommends doing yoga or chair yoga two to three times a week.

Exercise #2: Tai chi

Tai chi is an ancient martial art that uses slow and controlled movements. It’s low impact and can even help you control your breathing and make you feel calmer.8

“Tai chi is a great practice for balance and coordination, which improves mobility,” says Ryan.

Like yoga, tai chi has many different postures. You’ll move your body through them in a slow, rhythmic way.9 You can learn tai chi from a local class or by watching beginner videos online.

Aside from making things easier on your joints, tai chi also increases:8

  • Your balance
  • Your core (and overall body) strength
  • Your ankle flexibility and stability

And it can even be a potential lifesaver: In a 2017 study, at-risk adults and older adults who practiced tai chi cut their risk of injury-related falls in half.10

Start by doing tai chi once a week, says Ryan. “Make it a habit before increasing,” he says.

Exercise #3: Single-leg balance exercises

When you climb stairs or go for a run, there are moments when you only have one foot on the ground. Having solid mobility on one leg at a time can help you stay on your feet.

Ryan suggests these easy exercises to improve single-leg balance.

Lunges:12

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Step forward with one foot. Keep your knees and hips facing forward.
  • Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle. You’ll feel the stretch in the back of your calves and front of your thighs.
  • When you’re ready, slowly straighten your knees and return to a standing position.

Standing on one leg:13

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips.
  • Lift one leg, bending at the knee. Hold for up to 30 seconds.
  • Alternate legs and repeat five times.
  • If you’re not steady, use a wall, countertop or chair to support yourself.

Heel-to-toe walking:13

  • Stand with your feet side by side and your arms straight out in front of you.
  • Focus on a spot in front of you.
  • Step forward, placing the heel of your foot directly in front of and touching the toe of your other foot.
  • Take 10 to 20 steps like this.

These exercises can help you avoid falling, too, Ryan says. To get the most out of them, he suggests doing these exercises every day. “This can be done first thing in the morning or prior to bed as part of a healthy routine,” he says.

Exercise #4: Standing back leg raise

This exercise can help improve your stability and coordination, says Wilson. That’ll help you stay upright and reduce the risk of injury. “It also supports the natural alignment of your body,” she says.

Here’s how to do a standing back leg raise, says Wilson:

  • Stand with both legs straight. Hold onto a counter or chair for stability.
  • Extend one leg behind you. Keeping that leg straight, slowly lift your foot off the floor one to two inches. Then lower your leg back down to the ground. (That’s one rep.)
  • Do 10 reps per leg.

Wilson recommends doing standing leg raises at least three days a week. But you can also do them every day.

Get health tips you can trust delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for our health and wellness newsletter today.

Exercise #5: Walking

Walking is a great low-impact exercise that will get your heart pumping and joints moving. This is good news, since about 1 in 4 Americans sit for eight or more hours a day.14

Walking gets your whole body moving. But, specifically, walking is good for your hips and knees, says Ryan. He suggests that older adults consider taking a daily walk. (When the weather’s warmer, it’s a great reason to get outdoors.)

In fact, the CDC recommends that adults ages 65 and older get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. For example, 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week.15

“Getting up to walk for 5 to 10 minutes every hour is a great place to start,” says Ryan.

(Learn some more easy body-weight exercises you can do at home.)

Exercise #6: Step-ups

This type of exercise works your entire leg and your core muscles. When your muscles are strong and flexible, your joints will be able to move through their full range of motion.

Here’s how to do a step-up:16

  • Find a flat surface, such as a step on your staircase or low wall at the park.
  • Step onto the platform with one foot.
  • Lift your other foot off the floor or ground.
  • Let it hang loosely for about five seconds.
  • Slowly lower your foot back to the floor.
  • Switch sides and repeat.

Try doing this twice a week.

Exercise #7: Push-ups or wall push-ups

Push-ups are a great way to work your core and arm muscles. “Muscles we use for push-ups help us move better, carry things or push ourselves up from the floor or a chair,” says Wilson.

Here’s how to do a push-up:17

  • Get down on your hands and knees.
  • Place your palms against the ground, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Extend your legs as far as they can go. Your body will be facing the floor.
  • Keeping your arms and legs straight, lift yourself up on the balls of your feet. (If this is too hard, keep your knees on the floor.)
  • Bend your arms to lower your body until your chest is a few inches off the ground. Then straighten your arms and push yourself back up.

If you can’t get down on the floor, you can do push-ups against a wall or your kitchen counter. “Wall push-ups decrease the load on your upper body, due to the modified version of the exercise,” says Wilson.

Wilson suggests doing push-ups 2 to 3 times a week.

Bottom line: Getting older doesn’t mean parking yourself on a couch more hours of the day. In fact, it’s even more important to stay active. What better time to get moving than in the summer?

Sources

  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Warm up, cool down and be flexible. Last reviewed December 2019. Accessed April 29, 2023.
  2. National Institute on Aging. Maintaining mobility and preventing disability are key to living independently as we age. Published November 30, 2020. Accessed April 29, 2023.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about falls. Last reviewed August 6, 2021. Accessed April 24, 2023.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Older adult fall prevention. Last reviewed April 12, 2023. Accessed April 24, 2023.
  5. BMJ Open. Effects of yoga on well-being and healthy ageing: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial (FitForAge). Published May 29, 2019. Accessed April 24, 2023.
  6. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Yoga: what you need to know. Last updated April 2021. Accessed May 2, 2023.
  7. Frontiers in Psychology. Yoga poses increase subjective energy and state self-esteem in comparison to ‘power poses’. Published May 11, 2017. Accessed May 2, 2023.
  8. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Tai Chi: What you need know. Last updated March 2022. Accessed May 30, 2023.
  9. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Tai chi for risk of falls. A meta-analysis. Published July 24, 2017. Accessed April 29, 2023.
  10. Medicine. Physical activity programs for balance and fall prevention in elderly: a systematic review. Published July 2019. Accessed April 24, 2023.
  11. American College of Sports Medicine. Forward lunge technique video. Published March 23, 2020. Accessed March 28, 2023. 
  12. Ohio Department of Aging. Exercise to prevent falls. Accessed May 2, 2023.
  13. JAMA. Joint prevalence of sitting time and leisure-time physical activity among US adults, 2015-2016. Published November 20, 2018. Accessed April 24, 2023.
  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do older adults need? Published April 13, 2023. Accessed April 24, 2023.
  15. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Knee arthroscopy exercise guide. Last reviewed October 2022. Accessed April 29, 2023.
  16. American College of Sports Medicine. How to teach the push up and bench press. Published September 6, 2019. Accessed March 28, 2023.

© 2023 Optum, Inc. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce, transmit or modify any information or content on this website in any form or by any means without the express written permission of Optum. 

The information featured in this site is general in nature. The site provides health information designed to complement your personal health management. It does not provide medical advice or health services and is not meant to replace professional advice or imply coverage of specific clinical services or products. The inclusion of links to other web sites does not imply any endorsement of the material on such websites.

Consult your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program or making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine.

Stock photo. Posed by model.