7 Exercises for Seniors

In the winter months, it can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise when the weather isn’t great. What better way than to try a new exercise routine to keep you flexible and strong? Maintaining your mobility and balance is key. Increasing blood flow through cardio activity plays an important role in memory and cognition as well.

Try these seven exercises for seniors, which have been shown to countereffect the signs of aging.

1. Strength and Balance

No matter what your age, strength and balance are important to a healthy body. As we get older and begin losing muscle mass, strength training becomes even more vital. In addition to all she does running the rehabilitation center at Branchlands, Ashley Poe, director at Powerback Rehabilitation, teaches a class at the Manor House Independent Living each week to help residents enhance strength and balance.

“We recognize the diverse needs of our Branchlands residents, and so the session incorporates seated exercises to accommodate varying mobility levels,” says Ashley.  “To address balance concerns, I include standing exercises, with modifications available to ensure safety. The program aims to improve overall physical well-being by fostering a supportive environment for residents to engage in activities that promote strength, balance, and mobility. This class not only contributes to physical health but also cultivates a sense of community and well-being among the participants.”

Also every week, Blossom Dawes, Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT), teaches another strength and balance class. She welcomes individuals of all abilities and will adapt the class for those who need to do their exercises in a chair.

If group classes aren’t for you, there are a variety of YouTube videos to view from the comfort of your residence such as this one: 10 Exercises for Strength & Balance for Seniors. Building muscle and improving mobility helps ward off frailty and prevent falls that are so common with seniors.

The pond at Branchlands with a sun setting over it.
Residents love to walk around the pond at Branchlands.

2. Walking

The Branchlands community is known for its wonderful walking trails. Located in a quiet neighborhood, off Route 29, Branchlands offers a peaceful setting to get outside and take a stroll. Many residents like to walk around the pond area.

In addition to burning calories and helping you lose weight, walking just 30 minutes a day can reduce the risk of illness, such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Besides benefiting your physical health, walking has many positive effects like improving your mood and reducing stress. And you can get a group together to catch up with your friends at Branchlands while you walk around the neighborhood!

For those days when walking outside isn’t ideal, Branchlands has other options, such as exercise bikes and free weights, as well as the workout classes offered every week.

Residents participating in chair yoga.
Blossom Dawes, certified instructor, leads a chair yoga class at the Manor House.

3. Chair Yoga

Yoga is a great way to move your body at a deliberate pace. Branchlands offers Mindful Movements, a chair yoga class with Blossom. “Joint mobility is one of the things I focus on,” Blossom says. “We go through the whole body, moving joints through a full range of motion.”

She instructs them on movements from toe to head with exercises like the ankle pump to help with blood flow to the feet and the seated cat-cow to help with spinal extension and flexion.

It’s an hour-long class, and during the last 15 minutes Blossom spends time teaching participants breathing exercises, and if class attendees would like, she will even massage their shoulders. There are many benefits to breathing practices. Oxygen is one of the best things for the brain and mindful breathing helps manage stress.

The pond at Branchlands with a sun setting over it.

4. Pilates

A popular option to improve mobility, strength, and balance is Pilates. Developed by a man named Joseph Pilates in the early 1900s, this mind-body exercise is an excellent option for some seniors because it is low intensity and low impact. Pilates had several inspirations for his exercises, one of which was injured WW I vets. Charlottesville offers a variety of places where you can take Pilates classes, including area gyms, Pilates studios, and the YMCA.

Pilates can help improve bone density, posture, and even your mood. The best thing about Pilates is that it can be done anywhere. Once you have learned the exercises, you can grab a mat and exercise in the privacy of your residence, or if you need coaching you can watch a YouTube video showing you the moves. There is another type of Pilates that utilizes equipment, most commonly the reformer, which allows for a more dynamic and targeted workout. Depending on the user’s fitness level, the reformer can intensify the exercise or make it easier than it would be on a mat.

A room of seniors doing exercises in chairs.
Instructor Sheila Queen (left) leads Linden House residents in a movement class.

5. Stretching

Linden House offers exercise classes every day of the week, but on Sunday morning it’s the morning stretch class. The activity team directs the seated exercises. “We add a little more movement to parts of the body we don’t exercise as often such as wrist, ankles, necks and of course arms, legs and shoulders,” says Dana Settle, activities coordinator for Linden House. During the spring, summer, and fall, they go outside to stretch when the weather cooperates.

Sheila Queen, Certified Educator for Ageless Grace, leads a movement class at Linden House. “Each week I create a playlist of music spanning different decades and genres,” says Sheila. “I encourage moving in ways that feel good, as well as singing and we indeed do lots of stretching in between the moves.”

Stretching helps with flexibility, which helps you attain a greater range of motion in your joints. For seniors who are very active and walk or bike regularly, it is important to stretch after exercising. For those who are less mobile, stretching is a good activity throughout the day. There are many stretching options such as for the hamstring or the neck. With all the digital devices in our lives, neck stretches are important and easy to do anywhere.

6. Water Aerobics/Swimming

Swimming is an excellent cardio exercise for any age, and there are several options for pool access near Branchlands. For those who like being in the water, but don’t like to swim laps, then water aerobics might be of interest. The Charlottesville area Brooks Family YMCA calls their water class Deep Water Interval Workout, but the concept is the same: a low-impact class in the pool. Other local gyms with pools also offer water aerobics classes to members.

Water aerobics is particularly good for those who suffer from joint pain or arthritis. There are numerous health benefits including for the heart and lungs.

Seniors in a dance studio taking a tap class
Photo of a tap class courtesy of The Center.

7. Dancing

If getting wet is not your thing, there is a fun alternative to the traditional exercise class. Dancing gets your blood pumping while spending time with other people. The local Charlottesville senior center, The Center at Belvedere, offers everything from line dancing to rhythm dance party classes. So if you like to dance, then The Center is the place to be. You can meet up with other seniors who love to dance too or are learning something new.

Some of the class options include folk dancing, square dancing, Latin-style ballroom, clogging, tap, and round dancing, such as cha-cha and the waltz. The Center dance options are too many to name, although they probably won’t offer break dancing any time soon. For seniors, it’s important to move in a way that breaking anything is avoided!

There are also several studios and clubs in town where you can learn to dance if you prefer private lessons.

Stay Active at Branchlands

These are just seven ideas for exercise for seniors. Aging doesn’t mean slowing down. It often means just the opposite for retirees who have more time to explore new activities.

At Branchlands, residents can take advantage of an array of classes or equipment available, or they can take a short drive to nearby facilities that offer exercise activities that interest them. The most important thing for anyone hoping to have a healthy lifestyle is to keep on moving. As with anything involving your health, it is a good idea to have a conversation with your doctor before participating in any physical exercise.