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Best Forms of Exercise For People Over 50

8 min read

By Emily Lockhart

Medically Reviewed by Eric Leckie, PT

People entering their senior years have many reasons to remain active. One of the main reasons is that people over 60 face a number of unique health problems that may be prevented or alleviated through regular physical exercise.

Much of this involves the deterioration of muscle mass and the joints as we get older, leading to conditions like arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. Additionally, physical activity can help keep the mind sharp and may prevent or significantly delay the development of dementia and other cognitive issues.

The good news: it doesn’t have to be the most intense physical activity; generally, it requires only that workouts involve some movement of the bones, muscles, and joints. Now, let’s take a closer look at some activities that can help make a difference in your life.


One of the most effective exercises for seniors is also one of the most simple: walking. Walking, particularly prolonged walking exercises and hikes, can help build cardiovascular stamina, improve the functionality of muscles in your legs, and may help prevent the onset of bone and joint problems like arthritis. It also presents few problematic side effects since it’s considerably less intense than running or playing a sport.

For best results, try making your walks regular and part of a group activity. Consider challenging your friends to a step challenge, using a fitness tracker or simple pedometer to track your steps. You can also invite your friends to join you on your walks, giving you an opportunity to engage in conversation that can work towards keeping the mind sharp.


If you feel like walking isn’t enough of a challenge for you, and you feel confident that something more intense won’t present any serious issues, then jogging is an excellent way for seniors to stay in shape. Jogging and running typically raise the heart rate to a point where calories can be burned very effectively, along with fat. Jogging is also an effective way to build cardiovascular stamina and can improve muscular strength throughout the legs and core.

To lower your chances of sustaining an injury, make sure you’re wearing newer running shoes that fit properly and regularly discuss your physical activity with your doctor or physical therapist. If you begin to feel pain in your joints, such as your ankles, knees, or hips, take a break. To reduce the impact on your joints, consider running on softer surfaces, like a high school track or grass.


Just about everyone has enjoyed dancing at some point in their lives, whether it was a high school dance, line-dancing at a local bar, or just scooting around the house to your favorite music. But not everyone takes the time to really learn a dance routine or the ins and outs of a popular dance style.

For seniors, this represents an excellent way to get physical exercise, be social, and keep the mind and body in motion and sharp. Dance-based activities like Zumba and Jazzercise can be used to burn calories and maintain cardiovascular health while building muscle mass and endurance in the legs and core. Whatever type of dancing you choose, you’ll find that matching movement with music and a group of friends makes for an excellent workout and a generally good time.


Golfing has become one of North America’s most popular sports in recent decades, and for good reason: it combines moderate exercise with a demand for skill and agility. Depending on the size of the course you play, it can require that you walk for several miles to complete just nine holes, and even more to complete a full 18 (assuming you don’t rent a cart). It’s also a rather mental activity in that it demands participants to carefully evaluate each and every shot and all the movements that go into completing a shot. In short, it’s the perfect type of activity for seniors who want a less intense physical activity that provides an all-around challenge.

Golfing can also be an effective social activity and you’ll often see groups of four competing with each other on the course. There are many golf clubs that offer tournaments and weekly league packages that will keep things interesting for years to come.


Like golfing, softball presents a nice combination of a moderate physical activity with the opportunity to improve agility and socialize with others. For seniors, this can make it an appropriate form of exercise.

If you’re concerned about competing with people much younger than you, look for softball leagues tailored to seniors or older individuals. Most larger organizations and associations have leagues for those over 50. In any case, you’ll have the opportunity to build a bond with your teammates and engage in a sport that’s long been considered America’s pastime.


Cycling, or biking, is a great way to burn calories and fat, maintain or build muscle mass, and have fun without putting a lot of pressure on your joints. While cycling can bring the heart rate up and enhance the movement of blood throughout your body, it won’t challenge your bones, muscles and joints in the same way that running or jogging might. For that reason, it may just be the perfect physical activity for seniors.

If you’re interested in trying cycling, or getting back to an activity you once loved, you’ll need to consider the type of cycling you want to participate in. If you plan to ride your bike on the road, you may need to consider a road bike. If you’re more interested in trying trails, a mountain bike will be more appropriate. Be sure to speak with an expert you can provide you with guidance on the best activity for you and the equipment you’ll need.


Tennis is one of those sports that just about anyone can pick up and play, but requires an extensive amount of practise and patience to reach mastery. And, because it typically only involves two to four people at a time, it can easily be tailored to match the intensity of the participants. But even when that intensity is fairly low, tennis provides a way for individuals to burn calories and fat and improve their cardiovascular health.

Altogether, that makes tennis an excellent activity for seniors. As with other sports, to maximize safety, be sure to consult an expert about appropriate equipment, including footwear and racket. Also, be aware that tennis requires a lot of stopping and starting movement, which means it may place more pressure on the joints than some other sports.

Weight Lifting

When we hear the term “weight lifting,” our minds often gravitate towards competitions filled with overly muscular men and women who have dedicated years to the activity. But weight lifting, as with most of the other activities on this list, can easily be adapted to any skill level.

And that’s a good thing, as weight lifting, or “strength training,” as it’s often called, is an excellent physical activity for seniors. That’s because one of the most significant health challenges that seniors face is the deterioration of muscle. This issue can result in feeling generally less energetic and struggling to complete even fairly simple tasks, like walking to and from the grocery store. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to consider giving weight lifting a try — just be sure to work with someone who can help you do it in a safe and effective way, like a physical therapist or certified personal trainer.


Swimming is one of the best exercises for seniors, for a few important reasons. For one, it’s an incredible cardiovascular workout that can help you improve your stamina. Second, and perhaps even more importantly, it places far less pressure on the joints than many other physical activities, like running or playing sports. Finally, it’s a fun way to burn calories and fat, helping you stay in shape.

Swimming is also a great social activity and can easily be done with friends. Many community pools have group activities that you and your friends can join, or you can join for the purpose of meeting new people. In any case, swimming is a great way to get or stay in shape without putting too much pressure on the muscles, bones, and joints.


The yoga craze has swept North America in recent years, and for good reason. Like some of the other physical activities on this list, it provides a solid workout that can help you burn calories and fat without putting an excessive amount of pressure on the bones and joints. It also helps improve joint flexibility which is important to maintain as you age.

That said, it can be a little difficult to pick up yoga, since it requires some careful guidance by a qualified expert. Thankfully, many gyms and community centers now offer yoga classes taught by certified instructors who can help you learn all of the popular moves in a safe and controlled environment.

Tai Chi

If you’re looking for something along the same lines as yoga — in other words, a physical activity that blends exercise with meditation and avoids placing too much pressure on the bones and joints — then it’s worth giving tai chi a try.

Known by many people as “moving meditation,” tai chi has been practiced for thousands of years across the Pacific. It involves using slow and gentle movements that depend on deep breathing and careful concentration to complete. While tai chi may seem like a fairly relaxed activity, it has been shown to help boost bone and heart health, help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis, and may even assist in getting a better night’s sleep.


Like many of the other activities on this list, bowling provides a moderate workout capable of exercising the muscles and joints without putting too much pressure on the body. It also requires concentration and agility, making it challenging and a lot of fun to complete in a group setting. For these reasons, it’s a great activity for seniors.

Bowling can also be carried out in two ways: you can play it indoors or you can play it outside, in the form of lawn bowling. Indoors, there’s five-pin bowling and ten-pin bowling, each of which have their own challenges (and ball size). Outside, things are a bit different, with the goal being to throw a series of balls as close to a setup ball as possible. Either way, bowling is a lot of fun and a great way to meet people and get some exercise.

DPT, Doctor of Physiotherapy

Eric Leckie is a men's health Physiotherapist specializing in prostate cancer treatment. He completed his studies in Australia earning his Doctor of Physiotherapy from the University of Melbourne. He currently works in a private practice, in addition to owning his own Telehealth Physiotherapy clinic which focuses on treating men with prostate cancer.

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