As you age, losses in aerobic capacity and muscle strength can reduce your endurance and stamina. Cardio exercises have benefits for both healthy older adults and older adults with preexisting medical conditions, such as hypertension. Before embarking on any new exercise routine, a doctor should perform a full medical examination and provide individualized guidelines as necessary.
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Recommendations for Exercise
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines cardio, or aerobic, activity as any action that increases your respiratory and heart rate above your normal resting rate, sustained for at least 10 minutes. The CDC advises that generally healthy adults older than age 65 should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise every week. Moderate-intensity activity increases your heart and breathing rate enough so that, though you can still speak, you would not be able to sing.
Low-intensity exercises only slightly increase your heart and breathing rate, and are suitable for older adults with a range of medical conditions that make exertion particularly difficult or dangerous. The most standard low-intensity cardio activity is walking. Walking at a slow pace during standard activities, such as shopping, counts toward your weekly goal. If your health and stamina improve, you might consider increasing the pace or length of your walks. Recreational swimming is another low-intensity cardio exercise that reduces joint strain. Low-impact water aerobics classes may also be available at a local facility like a gym or recreation center.
More moderate-intensity exercises are generally recommended for healthy older adults. Cycling is a common moderate-impact exercise, though road biking can have hazards especially if you struggle with balance. Instead, consider a recumbent stationary bike which reduces your injury risk. If you enjoy the pool, lap swimming is more vigorous than recreational swimming, though still gentle on joints. If you prefer being outdoors, consider hiking as a more strenuous option than walking. Dancing is also an option; many senior centers and gyms offer group dance lessons specifically for seniors and may include swing, jazz or ballroom options.
High-intensity, or vigorous, cardio exercise increases your heart and breathing rates so that talking is difficult. One minute of vigorous exercise is the equivalent of two minutes of moderate intensity exercise, so you only need 75 minutes weekly to meet the CDC recommendations. High-intensity cardio activities tend to put stress on joints and can cause injuries. If you do want to include an activity such as jogging, try an elliptical machine, which tends to reduce the impact on your ankles and knees. Another option is cross-country skiing, a vigorous cardio exercise that incorporate muscle extension and flexion more so than muscular load.