Age is nothing more than a number. Just look at Ernestine Shepherd, a competitive bodybuilder, personal trainer and professional model at the age of 79. Although the body conspires to slow down and weaken with age, staying active can combat this decline. Doing regular cardiovascular and strength-training exercise and working on your balance and flexibility can keep you going strong into your 80s and beyond.
Workouts for older females should include aerobic exercise, strength training, and balance and flexibility training.
Improving Cardiovascular Health
The benefits of aerobic exercise for seniors over 70 are plentiful. Physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease, which is the primary cause of death for both men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It also lowers your risk of colon cancer and diabetes, maintains healthy bones and wards off depression and anxiety.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week. For even greater benefits, you should aim for 300 minutes of moderate intensity or 150 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise weekly.
According to the American Heart Association, moderate-intensity activities include walking briskly, ballroom dancing and doing water aerobics; vigorous activities include jogging, running, swimming laps and jumping rope.
There is no single best type of aerobic workout for older females. The best aerobic activities are ones that you enjoy doing and want to engage in regularly. The CDC says that cardiovascular exercise doesn't have to be strenuous to be effective.
Walk or Run Into Your 70s
Probably the easiest and most accessible exercise you can do in your 70s is walking. All you have to do is lace up your tennis shoes and go. According to the Arthritis Foundation, walking offers many benefits to your health, including:
- Improved circulation
- Stronger bones and healthier joints
- A longer life
- A brighter mood
- Improved sleep
- Stronger muscles
- Easier weight maintenance or loss
- Protection against cognitive decline
- Improved breathing
For the best results, walk for at least 20 to 30 minutes at a time at a brisk pace that raises your heart rate and even makes you break a light sweat.
When you're ready for a little more challenge, up your pace to a jog or run. Running offers all the same benefits of walking, but it burns more calories and can further increase your cardiovascular fitness level. You can also do a mix of fast-paced walking and jogging or running.
Maybe it's been several decades since you last rode a bike but, like they say, you never forget how to do it. So dust off that old cruiser or road bike. Cycling offers many of the same benefits as walking and jogging, including healthier bones and joints and improved cardiovascular fitness. Cycling is also great for building leg strength.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, cycling is especially beneficial for people with age-related stiffness or joint pain, because there is less impact. Unlike walking and running, you're not putting all your weight on your legs.
Gym Cardio Activities
If you prefer to exercise indoors, you have plenty of options. Your local gym likely provides stationary bikes and treadmills, at the very least. There may also be elliptical machines, stair climbers and rowing machines. All of these provide excellent cardiovascular workouts that offer the same benefits as walking, running or cycling outdoors.
Your gym may also offer aerobics classes, such as step aerobics and spinning. These can be challenging if you're just starting a fitness program, but not impossible. Just let the instructor know you're new and whether you have physical limitations — then go at your own pace.
Group Sports and Activities
Staying engaged in social activities is crucial for avoiding the isolation that many older people face in their 70s. It can provide as much benefit for your mental health as exercise provides for your physical health. Whether you join a walking group, take dance classes or aqua aerobics, or take up tennis and play in a seniors league, you'll enjoy the benefits of physical activity as well as social engagement.
Exercises for Building Lean Muscle
Some cardiovascular exercise activities can help you build muscle, but not as much as you need to stay strong and independent in your 70s. That's why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that, in addition to weekly cardio exercise, adults engage in at least two total-body strength-training sessions targeting all the major muscle groups in the chest, shoulders, arms, back, legs and abdomen.
Strength training doesn't necessarily mean lifting weights at the gym. You can take a yoga class, take an aerobics class at the gym that includes strength training or do an exercise video at home. But if you enjoy lifting weights at the gym, that's a great option too.
Developing a Routine
A strength-training routine doesn't need to be complex. Choose one or two exercises for each major muscle group and do one to three sets of eight to 15 repetitions using a weight that is challenging but not too heavy. That might mean just using your own body weight. Some exercises to include in your gym or home exercise routine are:
- lat pull-downs
- Assisted pullups (either with a resistance band or a machine)
- Pushups (on knees or regular)
- Chest press
- Military press
- Lateral raise
- Side plank
- Bicycle crunch
Try arranging your workout in a circuit. Do one set of each exercise without resting in between. At the end of the round, rest for a minute or two, then repeat the round one to three more times. This saves a lot of time compared to traditional weightlifting, where you rest between each set; it also gives your cardiovascular system a workout because it keeps your heart rate elevated.
Stay Balanced and Flexible
Balance and flexibility have many benefits for older people. Falls are the number one cause of fatal injury among older adults. Gaining more muscle mass and strength will help prevent falls, as will targeted exercises to train specific musculature and muscle memory.
Balance exercises are as simple as standing on one foot. Once you've mastered that, you can increase the challenge by raising your arms overhead, closing your eyes or standing on an unstable surface, such as a BOSU ball. Some strength-training exercises, such as single-leg dead lifts and single-leg standing calf raises can do double duty, building strength and improving balance.
Flexibility is also key for avoiding injury as you age. Muscles that are well-stretched can move through their full range of motion, according to Harvard Health Publishing. This makes both exercise activities and daily movements easier.
If you enjoy yoga, attend classes or follow along with a yoga video at home a few times a week. After your cardio and strength workouts, hold some static stretches for at least 30 seconds as part of your cool down.
- Ernestine Shepherd: Meet Ernestine
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Heart Disease Facts
- U.S Department of Health and Human Services: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
- American Heart Association: Moderate to Vigorous - What Is Your Level of Intensity?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General
- Arthritis Foundation: 12 Benefits of Walking
- Harvard Health Publishing: The Top 5 Benefits of Cycling
- National Council on Aging: Falls Prevention Facts
- Harvard Health Publishing: Benefits of Flexibility Exercises