Advise Me

Slowing Down? 5 Steps for Fitting in Exercise as You Get Older

As you get older, it can be easy to find excuses to let yourself slow down. Maybe your joints ache. Maybe you’re carrying a few extra pounds. Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep. But it’s important to get some activity in your life—exercise is vitally important for seniors.

“Exercise improves your quality of life, meaning everything from how much activity we can do to what kind of mood we’re in,” said Kristina Balangue, MD, a geriatrician at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. “It helps improve all aspects of health, from feeling like you have a better quality of life to helping with chronic pain and depression.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults stay active with 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week. This can be broken down into 30 minutes, five days per week or on a schedule that fits into your lifestyle. Incorporating light weights in addition to aerobic activity can help preserve bone density, and avoid or manage health conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Follow these five steps to add more activity to your life.

Step 1: Talk to your doctor about your plans

If you’ve become inactive, it’s good to talk to your primary care provider before you start increasing your activity. “You should discuss what your current level of activity is, activities that you’re having problems completing, any recent falls you’ve had and if you use a walking aid such as a cane,” Dr. Balangue said.

Step 2: Keep it simple at first

You don’t want to overdo your activity too soon and feel overwhelmed or injure yourself. Something as simple as walking to the mailbox or around the block, or parking farther away from the door when grocery shopping might be a good place to begin. “Start low and go slow,” Dr. Balangue said. “Work week by week to increase your level of activity slowly and safely.”

Step 3: When you get stronger, increase your activity

As your fitness level increases, you can add more exercise to your routine. Make your walks longer, sign up for a fitness class or work out at a gym. And include both aerobic and strength training exercises in your routine. “Weightlifting isn’t just for professional sports players and young adults,” Dr. Balangue said. “It is super important to do strength training to maintain your functionality as a senior and to build strong bones.”

Step 4: Remember to drink plenty of water

“One of the biggest health concerns we encounter that is easily preventable is staying hydrated,” Dr. Balangue said. Your doctor can recommend the amount of water you should be drinking every day. Staying hydrated is more important than ever as you get older.

Step 5: If you’re struggling, reach out for help

If you have health conditions that are making exercise a challenge for you, talk to your primary care provider. “Physical therapy, occupational therapy, balance training and exercise programs are all things your primary care provider can talk with you about,” Dr. Balangue said.

The bottom line

Exercise is critical to staying physically and mentally strong as you get older. Start slow and gradually work more activity into your life. And if you need help getting more active, talk to your primary care provider. To connect with a provider who specializes in caring for older adults, visit

For more information about staying healthy as you get older, check out these articles:

Senior Health Wellness