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Easy Cardio and Endurance Exercise Activities for Seniors

Updated on November 30, 2012

Seniors can do just as many activities as the younger population if they are in good health. In fact, many seniors continue competing in sports and defying age stereotypes into their 90's and beyond. As with people of any age, they need to get a proper warm-up and use good form to prevent injury and get the most benefit from their workout; and the benefits are many.

Elderly cardio and endurance activities for seniors improve cardiovascular fitness which declines as we get older, while even low impact activities such as walking can improve bone density and discourage osteoporosis.

Incorporating resistance training into elderly exercise programs helps prevent muscle loss and makes everyday activities easier. In addition to regular cardio and endurance activities, the National Institute of Health recommends including flexibility and balance exercises for older adults to create a well-rounded exercise program.

Walking at the beach offers a variety of surfaces and even better views.
Walking at the beach offers a variety of surfaces and even better views. | Source

Cardio and Balance Exercises for Seniors


Walking is an easy exercise to get started on. It can be done anywhere, it is low impact and it is an excellent way to get the heart rate up without overdoing it. For beginners, or those resuming an exercise program after a long layoff, start with 5-10 minutes of easy walking on a flat surface 2-3 times a week. Gradually work up to 30 minutes of walking 2-3 times a week.

As your fitness level improves, try walking on grass or sand to improve balance. Walk with someone if you need support. Another way to add variation to your routine is to walk up and down a gentle incline. This can be as simple as walking along a ramp with a railing for support, such as those found outside many buildings. Streets and easy hiking trails are also a good choice for this variation.

For an added challenge, a warm-up, or as part of an overall workout routine, try walking on a Bosu ball while supporting yourself against a wall or rail. Start by balancing on each leg for 10-20 seconds at a time while standing on the ball, then ‘walk’ in place for 30 seconds. These exercises will improve balance and are a good addition to a walking routine.

  • Treadmills

Treadmills may not be the most exciting form of exercise, but they have several advantages. Support rails make them a safe choice to start on or when you are ready to increase your intensity. How do you do that? Increase intensity by gradually increasing speed and/or incline. To help alleviate boredom, many treadmills today are equipped with, or set in front of a television.

  • Step or regular aerobics classes for seniors.

These classes incorporate low to moderate intensity (and typically low impact) aerobics to fun music with a beat. A good instructor will raise and lower the intensity throughout the class, giving participants a chance to catch their breath. Working out with a group can be very motivating, so give these classes a try if they are offered at your gym or in your community.

An ergo bike waiting for a rider.
An ergo bike waiting for a rider. | Source

Low Impact Machines for Elderly Fitness

  • Eliptical Trainers

The elliptical trainer is a low impact cardio machine that improves coordination as well. Requiring hands and feet to work together, it is a total body workout and completely adjustable to the participant using it.

  • Total Body Ergometer

These machines allow the user to sit and pedal with the feet while pushing with their hands. Often seen in rehabilitation centers, the total body ergometer is completely adjustable, offers resistance through the entire range of motion and has multiple seat adjustments for user comfort.

  • Bicycling

Going for a ride on a bicycle or spending a few minutes on a stationary bike is excellent for cardiovascular conditioning and leg strength/endurance. If hip or knee flexibility is a problem, try the total body ergometer or a recumbent bike.


Swimming the basic strokes, freestyle, breast, back and butterfly, is a great low impact cardio endurance activity for seniors and people of any age. But there are other low impact workouts seniors can do in the water as well.

  • Underwater Aerobics

Underwater aerobics classes offer the same cardio benefits of indoor aerobic classes, with much less impact on the body. As with indoor classes, instructors put the moves to music.

  • Aqua Jogging

Jogging in the pool is a great elderly cardio exercise, or for anyone who wants the benefits of running without the impact on their body. In addition, water resistance is around 12 times that of air resistance, and consequently, it burns more calories than regular jogging.

While no special equipment is needed to perform aqua jogging, using a flotation belt will prevent you from pushing off the pool bottom, increasing the work load and the resistance. To combine your cardio and resistance training, try using ‘Aquabells,’ which are basically foam dumbbells for the pool.

A daily sword class by the lake.
A daily sword class by the lake. | Source

Fun Cardio Activities for Seniors

The list of fun activities for seniors is limitless! Here are a few that are easy to get started in:

  • Balloon volleyball

Just like when you were a kid, balloon volleyball substitutes a balloon for a volleyball. Who doesn’t love playing with balloons?

  • Lawn bowling

The lighter ball used in lawn bowling makes it easier for seniors who may have a hard time with a 6-12 pound bowling ball. Besides, because lawn bowling is an outdoor sport, you get the added benefit of fresh air and sunshine.

  • Ballroom dancing

Ballroom dancing, including salsa, waltz, tango, etc., can be scaled to the ability and fitness level of the participants. It is great fun and generally low impact. There are many studios teaching beginning to advanced skill levels and many instructors also offer classes at community centers and health clubs.

Performing bicep curls.
Performing bicep curls. | Source

Resistance Training for Seniors

As the saying goes, we lose what we don’t use! Everyone should be incorporating resistance training in their workouts, and even seniors can benefit immensely from weight training. Besides increasing strength and muscle mass, lifting weights improves bone density which can help prevent osteoporosis.

Best of all, using light weights for higher reps can really get your heart rate up. Try these safe, but effective exercises with light dumbbells or resistance bands:

Arm circles

Stand straight with a pair of light dumbbells at your sides. Bring your arms out to the sides as you make small circles. Continue raising your arms and making circles until your arms are over your head. Then lower while circling and repeat.

Squat to Press (Thrusters)

Start by holding a pair of dumbbells at your side. Squat down and until the weights touch the floor. Stand up, bringing the dumbbells to your shoulders at the same time. Immediately press them up and overhead. Repeat.

Bent-over rows

With a dumbbell in both hands, bend your knees, push your butt outwards and arch your back as you bend over to about 45-60 degrees. Let your arms extend down. Keep the glutes, hamstrings and abdominals activated as you pull the weights to either side of the rib cage. Repeat.

Bicep Curls

Stand straight with knees slightly bent (unlocked.) Hold a dumbbell in both hands with the palm facing forward. Curl the dumbbell up until it almost touches the upper bicep. Repeat. Alternatively, start with the palms facing the outer thighs and rotate (supinate) as you raise the weights.

Try doing these exercises back-to-back for 30 seconds each. Gradually work up to 60 seconds each. Rest for a minute between sets. When 60 seconds becomes too easy, move up to a slightly heavier weight. Alternatively, you could perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions. Rest 45-60 seconds between sets.

Remember, no matter what your age or fitness level, your cardiovascular fitness, strength, balance and flexibility can improve. Start slowly and stick with your exercise program. The results will come!

Get inspired

Need some inspiration? Follow this link to read the fitness stories of senior citizens as old as 91!

Incredible Senior Athletes

  • Skip Hall

How many people have debuted as a mixed martial artist in their late 50’s? Well, probably just one. Skip Hall started applying his talents in tae kwon do, hapkido and boxing to beat men half his age when he was 57. He retired at 63, now helping others get in shape as a personal trainer.

  • Ernestine Sheperd

Ernestine is a 75 year old competitive bodybuilder. That is amazing enough, but she only began her fitness journey at the age of 56. Now she continues to compete, but not surprisingly, the competition is a little thin...

Ruth Frith making headlines at 100 years old.
Ruth Frith making headlines at 100 years old. | Source
  • Ruth Frith

Ruth Frith recently broke a shotputting world record at the World Master’s Games in Sydney. She put an 8.8 pound shot over 13 feet. Not too shabby for a 100-year old who, incidentally, still bench presses 77 pounds.


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    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      6 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thanks Maralexa! I agree. I think of exercise as the fountain of youth, and it has a transformative effect at any age. Cheers!

    • Maralexa profile image

      Marilyn Alexander 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      This is an excellent hub, Mos! Very, very helpful for seniors. And thanks so much for pointing me to Eldergym. I volunteer with seniors and this advice is invaluable. Exercise is sooooo important to relieve the fear of falling many seniors face.

    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      6 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thanks landocheese! It's good to get firsthand feedback, ya know?

    • landocheese profile image


      6 years ago

      Lots of good and motivating exercise ideas for seniors here. I consistently hear from seniors that they love the bikes and the pool when they head to the gym.

    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      6 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Howdy L.L.! Thanks for commenting!

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      You've done a superb job of including a variety of activities and exercises here. Another benefit of regular physical activity is improved stamina and alertness as well as being a natural way to fight depression, something under-diagnosed in the older population.

      Voted up and Shared.

    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      6 years ago from Irvine, CA

      @KrisHeeter, thank you. Yup, move it or lose it! I really believe that too.

      @KailiBisson, Thanks for commenting. I noticed how vital these two components were after watching my 78 year old father recover from a health issue. When we're younger, I think we take it for granted.

    • Kaili Bisson profile image

      Kaili Bisson 

      6 years ago from Canada

      Voted up and more. Balance is something that is so important as we age, as is maintaining muscle mass. Thank you for sharing!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 

      6 years ago from Indiana

      All excellent advise for seniors The more they can move and in a variety of ways, the better...."move it or lose it", right!?! Great hub!


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