How to Continue Exercising Well Into Your Senior Years

From left, Joan Targonski, Barbara Gilly and Tootie Herman dance in a Zumba class, a fitness program inspired by Latin dance, at the Enfield Senior Center in Enfield, Conn.
From left, Joan Targonski, Barbara Gilly and Tootie Herman dance in a Zumba class, a fitness program inspired by Latin dance, at the Enfield Senior Center in Enfield, Conn., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

Staying active as we age is as essential as eating food and drinking water. Some need to start with daily habits of moving more than yesterday, while others need fresh ideas to make their activities more interesting. Here is a great question from a retired gentleman asking for ideas for his already active life.

Stew! I enjoy your articles/ideas/strategy tips and often share them with my teenage grandchildren! But what about us old guys? I'm 80, long retired, healthy, and still do most of my work around our home. Use it or lose it, right? I work out 4-5 days/week with bodyweight exercises and light dumbbells. I can no longer run or raise my arms to do pull-ups and only walk about two miles daily. 

I'm getting bored with my exercise activities and would really value your thoughts. Please continue your good work! Be sure you're helping many of us at all ages!!! Thanx! V/r, Tom 

Tom, thank you so much for calling me out. While I distribute beginner and longevity fitness tips throughout the fitness section at, I realize I could do it with more frequency. First, you are doing great, and right -- you need to use it or lose it. That philosophy is needed, regardless of age, and demonstrates the seriousness of moving more than sitting. But for your situation, consider the following ideas:

Walking Combination

If you are limiting your walking to two miles several days a week, that is excellent. Think about walking every other day and adding in a nonimpact cardio activity, such as a stationary bike or elliptical machine, on the days in-between. You may find that adding another cardio option will add to your aerobic training without the impact pains that can be seen when only walking. Adding nonimpact options will help you in the years to come.

Resistance Training Options

I like the calisthenics and dumbbell workouts you are doing. Adding in plank poses when you are doing push-ups is a challenging way to build your core and see progress over time. After every set of push-ups, stay in the plank pose or up push-up position for another minute. Eventually, you can build to 3-5 minutes in the plank position and add in 5-10 push-ups every minute on the minute as a solid core and upper-body exercise.

If you are a member of a fitness facility, try using a five-machine circuit that works the legs (leg extensions, leg curls or leg press), chest (bench press), and back and biceps (row machine). Then try to simulate the same movements with dumbbells or calisthenics. Do squats and lunges for the legs (with or without dumbbells), do push-ups instead of the bench press and dumbbell rows instead of the row machine.

This combination offers a stable and unstable platform for the push, pull and leg muscles. These dumbbell exercises can also work stability muscles and balance.

Stretching, Balance and Mobility

Every day can be a form of stretching, mobility and stability exercise. Whether adding static stretches at the end of a workout, adding mobility days or shorter sessions to the end of walking days, or standing on one leg during standing dumbbell exercises, adding these Big Three components is easy to do and only takes minutes a day.

Keep doing what you are doing, but find quick ways to rearrange the choreography of your exercises. Even if you change only the order, you may find a new and exciting method of training. A classic trio of exercise arrangements is the Pyramid, Super Set and the Max-Rep Set Workout (just do what you can). Do not skip stretching, big movements (sitting/standing, lying down/standing) and strengthening with balance drills, as they are as important to our health as cardiovascular and strength training, eating well and sleeping.

Adding these easy activities to your day can make a difference in how you feel when you move and may even help you prevent pulling muscles, spraining joints or falling.

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Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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