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5 of the Best Exercises For Seniors to Build Strength, Improve Balance and Boost Heart Health

You don’t have to follow an Iron Man training regimen to reap the health benefits of physical activity. Research suggests these five exercises for seniors can help maintain muscle mass, improve balance and boost the health of your heart.

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Exercises for seniors: DancingPhoto: Shutterstock

Dancing

Put down the runners, and lace up your dancing shoes: Believe it or not, dancing is one of the best workouts for your mind and body. One recent study compared the effects of dancing to walking, stretching and toning in adults aged 60 to 79. Over a six month period, only dancing slowed the degeneration of cerebral white matter—a process that’s associated with cognitive decline. The study suggested the physical, social and mental challenges of dancing (think memorizing steps!) are behind these unique benefits. Further research has shown that dancing can help curb anxiety and even boost happiness through social bonding. (Don’t miss these other expert-approved tips for managing anxiety.)

Dancing also counts towards the goal of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week, as recommended by the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. For maximum benefits, the guidelines suggest spreading out that aerobic activity over the course of the week in at least 10 minute intervals.

Find out how this 71-year-old marathon runner stays just as fit as she was at 20!

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Best exercises for seniors: Strength TrainingPhoto: Shutterstock

Strength Training

Strength training doesn’t have to involve pumping iron in a sweaty gym. In fact, you tackle a bodyweight exercise routine like this seven minute workout from the comfort of your own home.

The health benefits of strength training go well beyond a beach-ready body. In fact, strength training has been shown to:

  • Strengthen bones
  • Improve brain function
  • Improve balance
  • Increase muscle mass
  • Help manage chronic conditions including arthritis, back pain, obesity, heart disease, depression and diabetes
  • Increase metabolism and reduce body fat

How much strength training is enough to reap these rewards? The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend resistance exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week.

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Best exercises for seniors: WalkingPhoto: Shutterstock

Walking

Although it’s often something we take for granted, walking can provide significant health benefits. Aside from being a means of getting from point A to point B, research has shown walking can:

The best thing about walking is that it’s free (no gym membership required!), you don’t need any equipment, and you can do it just about anywhere. If you’re concerned about safety, or suffer from a medical condition that puts you at risk of a fall, make it a social activity. Walk in a public place, invite a walking partner, carry a phone with you or invest in a mobile alert button.

Find out what happens to your body when you start walking 10,000 steps a day!

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Best exercises for seniors: SwimmingPhoto: Shutterstock

Swimming

As a physical activity, swimming gives you the best of both worlds. Although it’s low-impact exercise that’s easy on the joints, it does a body good in a number of ways, ticking both the aerobic and strength-training goals set by Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines.

According to recent research, swimming regularly can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, reduce stress and improve your mood. The perfect total body workout, swimming works all the major muscle groups (legs, back, shoulders, chest and abdominals), and can be done either individually or socially. (Speaking of which, here are four benefits of group exercise classes you may not have considered.) Set a challenge for yourself in the pool, either to beat your personal best or to compete against a fellow swimmer. And most importantly, have fun!

Suffering from stiff, sore joints? Here are five of the best exercises to alleviate arthritis pain.

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Best exercises for seniors: Tai chiPhoto: Shutterstock

Tai Chi

Tai chi helps build strength, flexibility and balance with minimal impact on your joints. It can be done at any age and in any setting—at the gym, in the park or in your home. Once you learn the moves and the routine, you can do it in a group or individually.

In addition to improving balance—a key consideration as you age—tai chi is also great for the mind. Its slow and deliberate movements demand exacting concentration, putting you into a state of meditative flow.

In terms of the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, tai chi is considered a strength training exercise as it works all of your major muscle groups, with particular emphasis on legs, shoulders and core. Include it as one (or both!) of your two strength training exercises each week.

Worried you’re not meeting those activity guidelines? Here are seven telltale signs you need to move more.