7 Daily Exercises for Aging Adults

Exercises for Seniors

7 Functional Strength Training Exercises for Seniors to Enhance Daily Movements

As people age, there are several changes that occur in the body that can affect muscle strength and increase the risk of falls and impact functional activity tolerance. Research indicates that on average, people can expect to lose about 3-8% of their muscle mass per decade after the age of 30. This rate of muscle loss tends to accelerate after the age of 60. The term used to describe this age-related loss of muscle mass is “sarcopenia.” Sarcopenia is a natural part of the aging process, but it can be accelerated by factors such as inactivity, poor nutrition, chronic illness, and certain medications. Strength training is vital for seniors to maintain muscle mass, bone density, and overall functional fitness as they age. Incorporating strength training exercises into your routine can help improve strength, balance, and mobility, reducing the risk of falls and enhancing quality of life.

Regular physical activity, particularly strength training exercises, can help slow down the loss of muscle mass and maintain muscle strength as people age. Adequate protein intake is also essential for supporting muscle health and function. It’s important for older adults to engage in activities that promote muscle strength and overall physical function to help mitigate the effects of sarcopenia and maintain independence and quality of life as they age. Other effects of aging include:

1. Decreased muscle quality: In addition to a loss of muscle mass, aging can also lead to a decrease in muscle quality. This means that the remaining muscle fibers may not function as efficiently as they did when a person was younger, further impairing muscle strength and function.

2. Loss of bone density: Aging is also associated with a decrease in bone density, which can lead to an increased risk of fractures in the event of a fall. Weak muscles coupled with fragile bones can make older adults more susceptible to falls and injuries.

3. Changes in balance and coordination: Aging can also affect balance and coordination, making it more difficult for older adults to maintain their balance and prevent falls. Muscle weakness, along with changes in sensory perception and reflexes, can contribute to difficulties with balance and coordination.

To address these issues and mitigate the effects of aging on muscle strength and functional ability, older adults can benefit from incorporating regular exercise, including strength training and balance exercises, into their routine. Additionally, maintaining a healthy diet rich in protein and nutrients can help support muscle health and function as people age. It’s also important for older adults to consult with healthcare providers and physical therapists to develop personalized strategies to improve muscle strength, balance, and overall physical function.

Benefits of strength training

Functional strength training focuses on exercises that mimic everyday movements, helping seniors improve their ability to perform daily tasks with ease and reduced risk of injury. By incorporating functional strength exercises into your routine, you can enhance mobility, balance, and overall functional fitness. Here are seven functional strength training exercises for seniors that relate to daily movements.

1. Squat to Press – 10 to 15 repetitions

Hold a dumbbell or a household item in each hand at shoulder height, squat down, then stand up and press the weights overhead. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.

Benefits of this exercise

This exercise mimics the motion of picking up an object from the floor and lifting it overhead, improving lower body strength, core stability, and shoulder mobility.

2. Lunge with or without Rotation – 10 to 15 repetitions/leg

Step forward into a lunge position, rotate your torso towards the front leg, return to the starting position, and switch sides. Perform 10-15 repetitions on each leg.

Benefits of this exercise

This exercise enhances balance, core strength, and rotational stability needed for activities like getting in and out of a car or reaching for items on high shelves.

3. Deadlift – 10 to 15 repetitions

Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your thighs, hinge at the hips with a slight bend in the knees, lower the weight towards the floor, then return to the standing position. Complete 10-15 repetitions.

Benefits of this exercise

Improves the ability to lift and carry heavy objects safely by strengthening the back, glutes, and hamstrings, essential for activities like grocery shopping or gardening.

4. Step-Ups – 10 to 15 repetitions/leg

Step onto a sturdy bench or platform with one foot, push through the heel to lift yourself up, then lower back down. Alternate legs and perform 10-15 repetitions on each side.

Benefits of this exercise

Enhances leg strength, balance, and coordination for activities such as climbing stairs, stepping up onto curbs, or getting in and out of chairs.

5. Plank with Alternating Leg Lift – 10 to 15 repetitions/leg

Get into a plank position on hands or forearms on the floor  (Or try using a countertop to begin and progress), engage the core muscles, lift one leg off the floor, hold for a few seconds, then switch legs. (To increase difficulty try lifting opposite arm while also lifting leg) Repeat for 10-15 leg lifts on each side.

Benefits of this exercise

Strengthens the core muscles, improves balance, and enhances stability required for activities like getting out of bed, bending to tie shoelaces, or reaching low objects.

6. Farmers Walk – 10 to 15 repetitions/leg

Hold a weight in each hand (dumbbells or household items), stand tall, engage your core, and walk forward for a set distance or time. Focus on keeping abdominals tight and shoulders back. Add marches to increase difficulty and work on balance. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions on each leg.

Benefits of this exercise

Improves grip strength, posture, and overall upper body strength needed for carrying groceries, lifting objects, or performing household chores.

7. Seated Leg Extensions – 10 to 15 repetitions/leg

Sit on a chair with back support, extend one leg straight out in front of you, hold for a few seconds, then lower back down. Perform 10-15 repetitions on each leg.

Benefits of this exercise

Targets the quadriceps muscles, improving leg strength for activities like standing up from a seated position, walking, or climbing stairs.

Incorporating these functional strengthening exercises can help multiple health benefits. Before starting any strength training program be sure to consult your primary care provider or licensed health professional to be sure that you are safe to begin exercise. In many states Doctors of Physical Therapy have direct access healthcare which means that you do not require a referral to be evaluated. This is an excellent option as physical therapists are highly trained and able to accurately assess strength, balance and other parameters that can affect quality of life. Once evaluated they can create a customized program tailored to your specific needs. 

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