Promoting Physical Activity in Older Adults posted on: 12-08-2021

A senior couple walks their dog across a wooden bridge on a bright day.

Daily physical activity is a must for senior health and overall wellbeing. According to the CDC, regular even very moderate physical exercise or movement has exponential benefits for older adults, including:

  • Strength and stamina
  • Heart health
  • Improved mental and emotional outlook
  • Weight management
  • Healthy sleep habits
  • Reduced episodes of depression, anxiety, loneliness, or feelings of worthlessness
  • Relief of symptoms of arthritis and aging, such as achy joints and muscles
  • Slow down the impact of age- or dementia-related cognitive decline

Most of us understand the benefits of daily activity, but what good does it do if aging loved ones are resistant to physical movement?  

The CDC emphasizes that traditional exercise (the gym or a workout video) isn’t the only way to glean the benefits of physical movement and activity. 

The following are seven creative ideas to get seniors moving without mentioning the words “exercise” or “workout.”

1. Volunteer to Walk Dogs

Do you visit your senior regularly? Or does he or she benefit from the consistent companionship of an in-home senior caregiver? If so, contact local pet shelters and ask about volunteer dog walking or pet companionship. 

Volunteering is a smart way to get seniors engaged with their community and to feel their lives have a sense of purpose and meaning. When you combine that with the loving experience of walking shelter dogs, they also get the joy of connecting with loving and appreciative canines.

2. Take a Dance Class

Dancing is a fun, connected, and easy way to move without even thinking about the exercise or cardiovascular benefits. Start by contacting your local senior center to see if they offer any dance classes. If not, they may be able to refer you to a dance teacher or class they can recommend in your area.

Searching online for “ballroom dancing” may be a helpful resource as well. Your senior will meet adults of all ages with a shared interest in learning how to dance or refining their existing dance skills with like-minded people. 

3. Attend a Dance

Speaking of dancing, most senior or community centers offer dances. An active senior may have dances once a week, while community centers or Chambers of Commerce often host seasonal dances. 

Attending a local dance is an excellent way to get out of the house and surround yourself with positive, vibrant energy. Even if seniors opt to stay off the dance floor, clapping, swaying, and tapping their feet to the beat still gets the heart beating. 

If a public dance isn’t on the agenda or your loved one is mostly home- or chairbound, consider having a weekly dance party for two (or make it a family affair). First, load up a favorite playlist (focusing on the senior’s favorite music is ideal). Then hit play and let the good times roll, rock, tap, clap, spin, and so on. 

Is your loved one chairbound? That’s okay, too. Those in a wheelchair or on the couch can sway, bob, clap, and move their arms to the beat.  

4. Start or Tend a Garden

Gardening offers a multitude of benefits for seniors as well as their families, neighbors, and caregivers. A 2020 article posted on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website states, “The current study provides support for promoting positive aging through gardening. Regardless of ‘doing’ gardening or simply ‘being’ in the garden, having contact with nature was key to attaining positive therapeutic benefits.”

Even just a little bit of weeding, watering, walking/wheeling around the garden beds gets the body moving, stretching, and bending in ways that it wouldn’t be in the house. There are a range of ways to tackle gardening with seniors. Use existing planter beds, cultivate a container garden, or join in a local community garden. The latter also offers an excuse to get out of the house and connect with other community members. 

5. Do Some Simple Chair Stretches

Sometimes, mimicry is the best way to inspire someone to move outside of their usual comfort zone. If your loved one or client is averse to actively seeking daily exercise, see if you can encourage them to do some chair-based stretches or movement.

The next time you’re visiting your loved one, check out these 11 Chair Exercises from verywellfit.com. Try them out together and make them a part of the daily routine.

6. Hit the Bowling Alley

Bowling used to be considered the #1 participatory sport in the United States. Bowling popularity reached an all-time high in the United States during the 1960s and early 70s, which means most seniors spent time having fun in the alleys during their younger days.

Contact your local bowling alley and learn more about their schedules. Don’t forget to ask about discount days or senior specials, making the experience more enticing for frugal seniors. 

7. Visit an Art Show, Art Gallery, or Museum

Sometimes we move more than we think, and a trip to an art show or museum is a prime example of that. Getting up and down, taking the occasional stairs, and walking around is a good way to move the body. Even reaching and pointing or continuously turning the head and taking in the sights replicates some of the opening warmups of a gentle yoga or exercise class.

Does your senior love to produce art, or does he or she have a favorite creative hobby or crafting niche? Look for senior- or community-oriented classes or spaces to learn or create arts, crafts, woodwork, etc. Making and producing requires both physical and mental engagement, both of which are essential to healthy aging.

Promoting Physical Activity in Older Adults: Make It Fun!

Notice any themes there? Walking dogs, listening to music and dancing, spending time working on arts and crafts? All are examples of joyful and playful activities, many of which seniors have been doing since they were young children. Infusing daily movement and activities with positive, fun, and upbeat energy helps all of us to remain inspired. 

And remember: physical activity isn’t just about strengthening the body. Regular exercise also strengthens the mind, which is extremely important for seniors. 

How Play Can Strengthen the Mind