Exercises You Should Never Skip After 60, Say Experts
When we reach our 60s, it's more important than ever to modify our training in order to accommodate our aging bodies. At age 60, you begin to lose a startling amount of muscle mass— "you lose 3 percent a year, which comes out to about 4.5 pounds of muscle strength per year," says Suzanne Andrews, president of Healthwise Exercise—and you need to start paying special attention to achieving more strength, balance, mobility, and joint health. You'll need to exercise as much for your bones as you do your muscles. Perhaps most important, however, is the larger goal of staving off decline.
According to a study published in 2020 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers found that "engagement in any sort of physical activity" was associated with slowing decline, lowering your risk of disease, frailty, and disability. As we've reported countless times, the best way of getting the most out of your physical activity is via strength training. According to a massive report published by the CDC, adding in strength training at least 2 days per week will help people over 60 be healthier, more active, more energetic, more independent—and also maintain bone density, improve balance and coordination, reduce fall risk, and lead a much higher quality of life.
"The frailty and decreased energy we associate with aging, such as difficulty walking for distances, climbing stairs, or carrying groceries, are largely due to muscle loss," write their health experts. "This muscle loss results mainly from inactivity. The old saying is true when it comes to muscle: 'Use it or lose it.'"
What follow are all exercise moves that no one over 60 should skip if they want to stay strong, mobile, and lead a vitalized life—all according to doctors and trainers. So read on, and for more great exercise advice for people over 60, don't miss The Secret Tricks for Getting a Lean Body After 60, Say Experts.
"Using an elliptical exercise machine is the #1 single most important exercise people over 60 should be doing," says James Dan, MD, a geriatric clinical advisor and member of the Senior Helpers Board of Directors. "It's non-weight bearing and easy on the joints, and you're moving your legs and arms through ranges of motion which helps with flexibility."
What's more, he says, "it also helps build strength in your arms, legs and core (with good posture), therefore helping you gain strength; finally, it requires the exerciser to maintain erect posture while moving extremities, which helps hone balance."
Dr. Dan advises those who who are 60-plus to hit the elliptical for 20-30mins at a time for 3-4 times per week. Are you over 60? Make sure You're Not Making These Exercise Mistakes, Say Experts.
Regular walking is crucial at any age—especially when you're over 60—but you may wish to add a bit more resistance. "I advise my patients over 60 to incorporate resistance training that focuses on the main locations of bone loss and osteoporosis," says Sylvia Gonsahn-Bollie, M.D., C.E.O. & Lead Wellness Physician at EmbraceYOU Weight & Wellness. "Arm weights, core training, and lower leg resistance is helpful for this. You can start with some light arm weights or ankle weights on your regular walk, which can be an easy way to add extra resistance training."
The Classic Squat
It's called the "king of exercises" for a reason, of course. "People over 60 should not skip the classic squat," says Karisa Karmali, an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer, ISSA Certified Online Fitness Coach, NASM Certified Nutrition Coach, and Founder of Self-Love and Fitness. "This is a compound movement that works many muscle groups at once, so the glutes, hip flexors, quads, and hamstrings." At the end of the day, she says, "It is the foundation of any other exercises like walking, any cardio, and any bodyweight or strength training."
Pam Sherman, PT, proprietor of The Perfect Balance, agrees. "The reason a lot of seniors go into assisted living situations is they cannot stand up as well," she says. "I advise clients in their kitchen to do both squats on a kitchen chair, as well as push-ups against the counter to build upper body strength." And for more great fitness advice, don't miss this One Life-Changing Exercise Trick for People Over 60, Say Experts.
The Staggered-Stance Stance Chair Stand
A distant cousin of the squat is the staggered-stance chair stand. "It probably one of the most versatile and effective exercises for adults over 60," says Kevin Snodgrass, Lead Trainer at the fitness company Vivo. "You set up sitting in a chair with on foot farther out in front than the other. When you stand up out of the chair, the foot closest to the chair does more work."
Why is it great? He explains: "In addition to replicating a functional, real world movement (standing up from a seated position), having one leg do more work during this exercise builds in a unilateral strength component building equal balance left and right. At the top of the movement, the staggered foot position also challenges your stability, making this an effective exercise for balance and core stabilization."
If necessary, he says, you can hold onto a doorframe or a counter for assistance while you build strength. And for some exercises to avoid, don't miss this list of The Worst Exercises You Can Do After 60.
Yes, another variation of the squat. (Remember: It's important!) "Maintaining muscle tone and improving balance are vitally important as we age for the purpose of injury and fall prevention," says Dr. Lisa Folden, of Healthy Phit Physical Therapy & Wellness, in Charlotte, NC. "I would have to argue the single most important exercise for people aging, or over 60, is the Single Leg Sit-to-Stand (A.K.A. Single Leg Squat)."
According to Folden, "this exercise works and strengthens the glutes (butt muscles) which are most important for overall mobility (standing, scooting, etc.) while also improving balance drastically. Any exercise that simultaneously makes you stronger and decreases your risk of falls is a huge win for us as we age."
"I love this exercise," says Tim Liu, C.S.C.S. "It helps develop core strength between your left and right side and also teaches you how to properly hinge and pick things up off the floor properly without using your lower back. This is crucial as we continue to age."
Here he explains how to do it: "Start the movement by having a weight (kettlebell, dumbbell, or barbell) next to your side on the ground. Keeping your chest tall and core tight, push your hips back and sit down until you can grip your weight with your hand. Brace your core, then drive through your legs and hips to stand tall, squeezing your glutes hard to finish. Reverse the pattern back to start position before performing another rep. Perform all of the prescribed reps on one side before switching to the other."