Exercise for the Elderly

How important is exercise and physical activity for a woman in her late seventies? I'd like to help my mother preserve her health as long as possible, but I don't want to push too hard. Can you suggest any reasonable guidelines? What kinds of exercise are best for a person at this stage of life?

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

As long as it’s physically possible and circumstantially feasible, exercise is important at any stage of life. There’s even a sense in which it becomes particularly crucial as a person ages. An elderly person who sits around all day will go downhill rapidly both physically and mentally. A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to loss of strength, weight gain, high blood pressure, depression and loss of enthusiasm for life.

By way of contrast, studies have shown that a regular exercise routine can reduce hypertension, benefit the lungs, help increase bone-mineral density, firm up muscles, and sharpen mental acuity. Daily walking has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease. Exercise helps improve mobility and functional strength, potentially enabling an elderly person to remain independent longer and postpone or avoid having to spend time in a care facility. Aerobic exercise can even increase the amount of sleep your mom gets each night and reduce the amount of time it takes her to fall asleep.

If you want to encourage your mom to initiate an exercise program, suggest that she discuss her physical condition and personal needs with her doctor. This is especially important if she has a chronic disease or illness, chest pain, shortness of breath, swollen joints, hernia, or is recovering from surgery. After a thorough medical exam, the physician might refer her to a qualified exercise specialist who can set up a realistic schedule of physical activity. If she doesn’t like the idea of exercising alone, this might be a good opportunity to join her in an exercise program that will benefit both of you. Helping her set some achievable goals will also be important.

The goal of any exercise program is to raise the heart rate and increase aerobic capacity. Ideally, this aerobic training should involve at least twenty to thirty minutes of activity, three to five days a week. If your mom has been sedentary for a long time, it would be best to have her start out with a five- to ten-minute program one or more times per day and slowly increase the amount of exercise time. A good way to begin is by walking, which requires no special equipment and is ideal for people with osteoporosis.

Remember that exercise doesn’t have to be boring. Depending on your mother’s health or level of frailty, she may be able to walk, bicycle, swim, play golf or tennis, work in a garden, or stroll through a shopping mall. Swimming and water aerobics are especially beneficial for individuals with arthritis or who have problems performing weight-bearing exercise. Indoor exercise can include walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bicycle, using a rowing machine, or lifting light weights (such as soup cans). If your mom is bed-ridden she may be able to squeeze a ball or sponge, lift her legs up off the bed, flex her arms and ankles, and breathe deeply, exhaling completely several times. She should also drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and use a safety helmet, knee pads, eye goggles, or other forms of protection when appropriate.

For additional help and information on this topic, we’d encourage you to consult the resources and referrals highlighted below. Or if you have relationship concerns and challenges associated with this situation, please don’t hesitate to give our Counseling department a call.


Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones

Complete Guide to Caring for Aging Loved Ones

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging

Caregiver Action Network

Caring for Ill or Aging Parents

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Caring for Aging Loved Ones, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2002, Focus on the Family.

This information has been approved by the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family.

Talk to a Counselor

Focus on the Family offers a one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.

If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.