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Why seniors benefit from regular exercise

Last Modified: June 02, 2021

Family Medicine

seniors and exercise

This post was written by Jim Thurber, exercise specialist/personal fitness trainer, Parkview Senior Wellness Center.

“The reason I exercise is for the quality of life I enjoy.” - Dr. Kenneth Cooper

As a physical education student at Manchester College (now Manchester University) in the 1980s, one of the first books I was required to read was Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s groundbreaking book, “The New Aerobics.” This book helped pioneer the benefits of doing aerobic exercise for maintaining and improving health and inspired the jogging and fitness craze of the 1970s and ‘80s. Dr. Cooper’s above quote reminded me of this and how we now know more than ever of the benefits of exercise, especially as we age.

The benefits

You’ve likely heard it many times over; physical activity and exercise are good for you, and you should aim to make them part of your daily routine. Countless studies have proven the health benefits of exercise, which becomes even more important in our senior years. Regular activity and exercise for seniors help improve physical and mental health, both of which will help you maintain your independence as you age, adding years to your life and life to your years.

Some of the most important benefits of exercise for seniors include the following:

  • Heart disease: Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. The more people who exercise (especially aerobic exercise) later in life, the more it helps reduce the number of individuals with heart disease. This type of exercise also aids in managing blood pressure and blood glucose while decreasing LDL cholesterol. Believe it or not, but Dr. Cooper was right!
  • Strength: Without resistance exercises such as weightlifting, adults over the age of 50 lose 15% of their muscle strength each decade, and those over 70 lose 30%, according to recent research. Increasing strength by resistance training makes it easier for the elderly to perform everyday tasks such as standing from a sitting position, climbing stairs or even walking. Therefore, seniors who perform resistance exercises may be able to remain independent longer than those who do not.
  • Decreased risk of falls: Older adults are at a higher risk of falls, proving to be disastrous for maintaining independence. Exercise improves strength and flexibility, which also help improve balance and coordination, reducing the risk of falls. Seniors take much longer to recover from falls, so anything that helps avoid them in the first place is critical to health.
  • Diabetes and obesity: Type 2 diabetes and obesity are two closely related diseases in which the body is in metabolic dysfunction. Exercise can help maintain proper body weight and help regulate glucose and insulin levels to make the body more efficient.
  • Dementia: Dementia is a disabling condition affecting many older adults. With a wide range of mental disorders categorized as dementia, there is a great need to understand how to prevent the disease. Exercise is one prevention strategy that can help slow mental decline. A recent study showed that even moderate exercise could reduce the risk of dementia. More recently, mentally challenging exercise classes have become quite a trend in fitness.
  • Arthritis: About everybody over the age of 40 has some degree of arthritis. Exercise is one of the most effective options for arthritis management. Regular activity helps lubricate joints and can help reduce overall pain and stiffness often associated with arthritis.
  • Increased life span: Research shows that individuals who exerciser usually have a longer life span than non-exercisers. You can easily add years to your life by exercising.
  • Quality of life: Maintaining functional independence is something most older adults want over anything thing else. A regular exercise routine including aerobic, strength, balance and mental training can help accomplish this goal.
More on Dr. Cooper

This brings me back to Dr. Kenneth Cooper (born March 4, 1931). He is a Doctor of Medicine and former Air Force Colonel who pioneered the benefits of aerobic exercise from his research and writings. Much of modern-day cardio rehab is based on his findings, and he is known as “The Father of Aerobics.” Dr. Cooper recently celebrated his 90th birthday, and the Dallas Morning News newspaper had this to say about him, “At 90, Dr. Kenneth Cooper still sees patients five days a week. He gets to the office at 7 a.m., leaves about 5:30 p.m., works out for an hour at the Cooper Aerobics Center that he founded, goes home, and has dinner with Millie, his wife of 61 years. After dinner, he walks the dogs for half-hour.”

Remember, your current lifestyle may not be that ambitious, but staying active and exercising can add life to your years by doing what brings you joy!

Helpful resources

To learn more about enriching your life and maintaining healthy living, visit Parkview Senior Services. Also, for more information on senior health and fitness, programs, services and activities near you, please visit the Parkview Seniors Club page.


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