Is Exercise Dangerous for Older People?

August 04, 2015

Is Exercise Dangerous for Older People?

Exercise for weight loss, muscle tone and mental well-being is a must for people of all ages but it is crucial for seniors, yet time and again we hear the same question asked: Should seniors exercise?

The misconception that exercise becomes dangerous as we age is a bit silly, considering that more and more adults 65 and older are running marathons, pumping iron or getting their dance on in classes like Zumba. Could you really imagine telling your parents to slow down if they didn’t want to? They’re unstoppable.

Andy Rooney once said, “it's paradoxical, that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn't appeal to anyone.” Isn’t that the truth? We don’t really want a long life, what we really want is a long and healthy life, and that’s exactly why exercise is an important component of the aging process.

Why Exercise is Crucial for Our Aging Parents

Statistics support claims that seniors who are not active have greater difficulty performing everyday tasks like loading a dishwasher, carrying groceries, climbing a short flight of stairs, opening jars and remembering familiar names and objects. These tasks are referred to as Activities of Daily Living (ADL).

According to stats provided by Everygreen Rehabilitation:

  • 42% of seniors are overweight
  • 18% of seniors are obese
  • 3 in 10 seniors will fall each year
  • 6% of emergency room visits will be from seniors who have fallen
A recent article on, showed how a sedentary lifestyle compromised of hours of sitting and TV watching is detrimental to seniors’ health and connected it to the following:
  • Reduced joint flexibility
  • Arthritis/bursitis
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased body fat and decreased lean body tissue
  • Osteoporosis
  • Low back pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Poor blood circulation
  • Vision problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Stress-related symptoms
  • Inability to sleep peacefully

With projections showing seniors 65 and over making up 20% of population in 2032, its imperative that more and more seniors get up and get moving. We know seniors are at a higher risk for injury and weight-related disease. In many cases, exercise not only prevents the onset of certain diseases but can reverse their effects in the early stages.

“Even if you haven’t been active previously, it’s important to get started and stay active,” says Dr. Richard J. Hodes, director of NIH’s National Institute on Aging. “We know that people want to live independently for as long as they possibly can. By exercising regularly and including more physical activity in their daily routine, older people can preserve their physical function, which is key to doing the everyday things they want to do.”

The ideal exercises for seniors fall into three categories: strength and resistance, cardiovascular and endurance, and balance and flexibility.

Resistance and Strength Training for Seniors

It’s a myth that older people shouldn’t lift weights because it is dangerous. When done under the supervision of a personal trainer or physical therapist, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Sarcoponia, loss of muscle mass and function, begins in our 30s and accelerates around age 50. Adults who are physically inactive and lead sedentary lives lose as much as 3 percent to 5 percent of their muscle mass per decade after age 30.  Sarcopenia is the leading cause of bone fractures due to falls. For this reason, older adults need to implement strength and resistance exercises, including weights or bodyweight exercises. Increased muscle improves ADL, like carrying groceries or lifting grandchildren.

Cardiovascular and Endurance

The lack of inactivity, sleep and production of hormones (human growth hormone, testosterone and insulin-like growth factor) makes managing healthy weight, cholesterol levels and blood sugar more difficult. Weight and body fat are gained easier than they are lost. Cardiovascular and endurance workouts combat these issues and improve stamina. Brisk walking, swimming, Zumba Gold, dancing and the use of cardio machines, such as a treadmill or stationary bike, improve the circulatory system, regulate blood sugar, and aid in weight loss.

Cardiovascular and endurance activities make common activities like climbing stairs and mowing the lawn easier.

Balance and Flexibility

Poor balance and flexibility lead to gait and balance disorders. Aging reduces the nerve cells between the brain and muscles responsible for movement. The ideal exercises to improve balance, flexibility, and the mind body connection are stretching exercises like the ones in yoga or a Silver Sneakers class.

Yes, getting older makes weight loss more challenging. Everyday activities become more difficult. Depression and isolation easily set in. But exercising 3-4 times a week can change all that.

“The traditional recommendation for frequency is to engage in three training sessions per week for individuals primarily seeking improvement in their overall health and fitness capacity. Even though some individuals may be motivated to train more frequently, resistance-training studies with the elderly have indicated a range of two to four days per week to be effective and adequate in improving strength,” states The American College of Sports Medicine.

Exercise that utilizes strength and resistance, cardiovascular and endurance, balance and flexibility training not only helps prevent disease but may also reverse poor health. Whether for weight loss, disease prevention, or just a better quality of living, exercise is the true fountain of youth.


1. Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging, July 28, 2015

2. Sarcopenia with Aging,, July 28, 2015

3. Physical Activity and Older Americans,, July 28, 2015

4. Yoga for the 50+,, July 28, 2015

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