Cardio Exercises for Seniors

Seniors jogging on a forest road
(Image: kzenon/iStock/GettyImages)

Regular cardiovascular exercise is important for people of all ages, including seniors. Cardio improves lung capacity and heart function, increases stamina, boosts the immune system and even lifts the spirits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends healthy adults over age 65 get at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity exercise, 75 minutes of vigorous activity or a combination of both each week. Seniors with pre-existing conditions should seek their doctor's advice on what amount and types of cardiovascular exercise are appropriate for them.

1. Walking

Walking is a great place to start for seniors who haven't been exercising regularly. As a low-impact activity, it's relatively easy on the joints. It's also a weight-bearing activity, which means the body works against the resistance created by gravity. This strengthens the bones to prevent age-related conditions like osteoporosis and builds muscle tone.

The intensity level depends on the pace and terrain. A leisurely stroll is low-intensity, a brisk pace is moderate-intensity and walking briskly on hilly terrain could be considered vigorous depending on the exertion required.

2. Jogging

Jogging is the next step up from walking. It's also a weight-bearing activity, but it's a bit more high impact so it puts more pressure on the joints. A jogging pace averages 4 to 5 miles per hour, but can be slower depending on the individual. Jogging is typically considered a moderate-intensity activity, although hilly terrain makes it more vigorous.

3. Running

Plenty of seniors enjoy running, especially those who have been running for years and whose bodies are conditioned for it. Running is a faster pace than jogging — typically faster than 4 miles per hour. Its increased speed makes it a vigorous activity that's also high-impact, so it can put a lot of stress on the hip, knee and ankle joints. Seniors considering taking up running should check in with their doctor first to make sure they are in good enough physical condition.

4. Biking

Senior couple mountain biking on a forest trail, low angle
(Image: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/GettyImages)

It might not seem like it, but biking is a low-impact activity that's easier on the joints than jogging or running and still provides all the lung, heart, bone and muscle-strengthening benefits. It's not quite as accessible as walking, jogging and running, all of which require minimal equipment, and it does require more skill. The intensity of the activity varies from low, such as a leisurely ride around the neighborhood, to high — pedaling at great speed or up mountain roads.

Senior woman doing aqua aerobic
Water aerobics strengthen the heart, lungs and muscles. (Image: Ridofranz/iStock/GettyImages)

5. Swimming

From an easy breaststroke to an intense butterfly stroke, swimming is suitable for almost every person of any age and fitness level. Submerged waist-deep, the body's weight in water is about half what it is on land; neck-deep, it's about 10 percent. This makes it a non-weight-bearing activity that is gentle on joints, while providing an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise and total-body muscle conditioning.

6. Water Aerobics

Getting a joint-friendly workout in the water doesn't necessarily mean swimming laps. Water walking and jogging, jumping jacks, kickboard paddling and other moves seniors can do in the pool get the heart rate up for an effective cardio workout that's easy on the joints.

Water aerobics classes usually include a mix of cardio and strength moves. Not only are they fun, but they're also a great way for seniors to get out and be social in a group environment.

7. Dancing

A fondness for partner dancing is something that seems to be lost on younger generations, but many seniors still enjoy it. Depending on the dance style and pace, dancing is generally classified as a low- to moderate activity.

Individual dance styles, from ballet to hip hop, are also fun and challenging ways for seniors to stay in good cardiovascular condition, as well as strengthen their muscles and bones. Taking a class at a studio or community center gives seniors the opportunity to get out and socialize.

8. Yoga

Yoga is usually thought of as a muscle-toning and stretching activity, but certain styles of yoga can raise the heart rate and provide cardiovascular benefits similar to other more traditional forms of cardio.

Vinyasa yoga is characterized by sequences that link poses in a flowing manner that requires more endurance. More vigorous styles like power yoga and Ashtanga are done at a higher intensity with little rest. These classes provide a heart-pumping workout that also offers benefits for muscle tone, flexibility and balance, all of which are crucial for adults as they age.

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