Woman Exercising on Yoga Mat

7 Exercises for Older and Overweight Individuals

Medically reviewed by Leann Poston, M.D. on 9/23/20

Exercise is incredibly important for our health at all ages.  Too often, however, older individuals and overweight individuals may struggle with being able to exercise.  Knowing what exercises they can do, finding the right setting in which to do them, as well as the motivation and energy to exercise, can all be a challenge.  Naturally, older adults and those who are overweight, and perhaps haven’t had a lot of exercise recently, can worry about overdoing it – injuring themselves, sometimes seriously, or pushing themselves into a heart attack or other health problem.  Not everyone has the benefit of a personal trainer to watch over them and guide them as they exercise, after all.

Fortunately, our guide to exercises for older and overweight adults is the next best thing to a personal trainer.  It removes the excuses that you may be making for yourself to avoid exercising.  Additionally, it provides detailed information on how these select exercises that can improve your health, and why they are easy and accessible for those with special considerations (like seniors and overweight individuals).  A little daily exercise can be exactly what you need as a senior to maintain good health, weight, and flexibility, and is a great start for weight loss when you’re struggling with a weight problem. 

Exercise Guidance for Older and Overweight Individuals

Before we begin, however, it’s important to provide some guidance and disclaimers.  Seniors and overweight persons, as well as anyone suffering from existing health conditions, should always discuss exercises and a fitness regimen with their doctor or healthcare professional prior to beginning such activity.  Various health conditions, medications, and specific considerations may require you to modify your exercise routine or avoid certain exercises – including some that may be on our list below.  Our guide is not a substitute for a discussion with your doctor.

At the same time, a good rule of thumb for anyone starting out with a new exercise regimen is to take it slow and ease into it gradually.  You should not go from a state of not exercising to suddenly doing 30 or more minutes of exercise per day.  Rather, work your way up to longer times over a period of days or weeks.  The same goes for the intensity of your workout – don’t start with weight training or running a marathon – take it easy and incrementally challenge yourself.  Also, remember to stay hydrated, make sure a buddy or loved one knows where you are, and stop and rest if you feel like you need it. It doesn’t hurt to have a cell phone with you if you are exercising out of the home, in case of emergencies.

With all of that said, let’s dive into our top 7 exercises for older and overweight adults!

7 Easy and Useful Exercises for Older and Overweight Individuals

Many seniors don’t realize that they need about as much weekly exercise as younger adults.  Indeed, the CDC recommends 150 minutes of exercise a week for adults over 65 – which works out to around a little over 20 minutes per day.  Overweight individuals likewise need at least that much exercise, with longer durations and intensities of exercise, increasing the number of calories burned, and supercharging weight loss and metabolism.  In both cases, exercise provides a myriad of benefits:

  • Offsetting the risk of developing numerous health conditions
  • Improving existing health conditions
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Helping with weight loss or maintenance
  • Increasing energy levels
  • Increasing or maintaining flexibility and range of motion
  • Keeping joints, tissues, and bones healthy and strong as we age
  • Promoting positive mental health and well-being
  • Preserving or increasing libido

Below, we’ll look at some easy and effective exercises that can offer some or all of these benefits.  These have been specifically chosen to represent the various important categories of physical health and fitness, such as cardio, flexibility, and balance, to name just a few.  A good exercise regimen should draw on several of these exercises to get the full range of benefits and ensure your entire body gets a good workout. 

#1 – Walking

Walking is one of the easiest exercises to do, and one of the most beneficial.  It increases heart rate and breathing, works the legs, knees, hips, and related joints, and helps maintain flexibility and range of motion.  It is low impact and perfect for almost all adults, including older adults and those who may be overweight.  You can walk at a pace and duration that suit your fitness level, and gradually increase duration and intensity over time.  Grab your phone or MP3 player and headphones, and listen to an audiobook, podcast, or your favorite music while you walk, or walk with a friend, and the time will fly by. 

#2 – Swimming/Water Aerobics

Swimming and water aerobics are another excellent way to get exercise and realize numerous health benefits.  People of all ages, fitness levels and mobility can use swimming or water aerobics classes to get or stay in shape.  The water’s resistance helps provide a vigorous workout while soothing aches and pains in the joints and muscles.  Flexibility and range of motion are worked in the water as well.  Swimming is also a fantastic way to burn calories, especially with more intense or lengthy swimming sessions.  Since heated indoor pools are available in many modern gyms, fitness centers, local YMCAs, and other locations, there’s a good chance you can swim and work out in the water even during the winter months. 

#3 – Bicycling/Spinning

Cycling can be done indoors or outdoors and does require some equipment.  However, it provides several great benefits for older adults and overweight individuals.  Depending on the intensity of cycling you may undertake, it can burn a ton of calories.  Cycling can also be done at low impact levels, predominately sitting, for those who have limited flexibility or other mobility issues.  It works the entire lower body, helps with balance and strength, and can be less of an impact on the knees or leg joints than walking or running – a major plus for those suffering from pain or issues with the lower body joints.

#4 – Yoga and Pilates

Yoga and Pilates provide a tremendous benefit in the realm of stretching, flexibility, and balance.  In addition to being good for your range of motion, joint, muscle, and bone health, both can also help you lose weight.  There are a variety of yoga and Pilates disciplines and routines, so there’s sure to be something to suit your personal fitness and comfort level, as well as aligning with your personal exercise goals.  Generally speaking, these exercises are low impact and can also help promote mindfulness, meditation, reduced stress, and positive mental health. 

#5 – Weight Training

Weight and strength training should not be neglected by any adult, whether older or overweight or both.  It’s a critical aspect of overall fitness and augments the aerobic, cardio, stretching, flexibility, and balance benefits of the other exercises highlighted in this guide.  Of course, this is also one area for exercise that is highly prone to causing injuries.  Always be sure you understand how to use any weights or weight training equipment, and start very light, especially if you are older or out of shape.  5 to 10-pound weights that you can use at home are a good way to get in mild weight training without a big investment.  For more serious weight and strength training, gyms and fitness centers are usually fully equipped and often have trainers and staff willing to teach you the basics.

#6 – Aerobics

Aerobics may seem old fashioned, but they remain a good, well-balanced approach to exercise.  Many communities have aerobics classes specifically targeted at the needs of older adults.  While it’s harder to find programs for overweight individuals, any basic aerobics routine (there are plenty of demos and guides on YouTube and elsewhere online) gets the heart pumping, blood flowing, and challenges your body.  As with all the exercises discussed here, however, remember to start slow with something low impact.  Don’t go from a sedentary lifestyle to doing 200 pushups a day, or you’re asking for trouble. 

#7 – Balance Exercises

Balance is often overlooked when crafting an exercise plan, but it’s vital for older adults and overweight adults.  As we age, the mechanisms in our inner ear that coordinate balance, and the nerves that run throughout our body to signal movement to our muscles, slowly degrade.  Balance-focused exercises can help maintain those connections, to prevent falls or missteps that can have devastating health consequences in older adults.  Likewise, for overweight individuals, as you lose weight, your body’s center of mass changes.  While this happens slowly, it can take some getting used to.  Balance and coordination exercises can help you adjust more readily to your changing body shape and fitness level.  The aforementioned yoga and Pilates are both helpful for balance, but there are plenty of other things you can do at home, too.  Stair-stepping, walking straight lines, sit-stands, and similar routines are all beneficial for balance, as are many aerobic exercises. 

ALSO READ – 7 Tips to Reduce Anxiety and Manage Stress

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best exercises for seniors?

Walking is generally considered the best exercise for seniors.  It requires no special equipment, and the intensity and duration are entirely under a senior’s control.  It also can be done indoors or outdoors, with the outdoor benefit of being in nature and getting fresh air and sunlight a major consideration.  Additionally, it can be a social occasion, allowing for friends, family, and spouses to spend time together, talk, and walk as they do so – making it easier, more enjoyable, and less of a chore. 

How much exercise do people over 60 need?

According to CDC guidelines, older adults need about 20 minutes of exercise per day, or about 150 minutes per week.  However, it’s important to remember that ANY amount of exercise is better than none, so that goal or guideline should not stop people from exercising for lesser amounts of time.  Likewise, longer periods of exercise can be utilized – just be sure you don’t overdo it!

What is the best exercise for an overweight person?

As with the best exercise for seniors, the best exercise for overweight individuals – especially if you are just starting with an exercise or fitness routine – is walking, and for all the same reasons.  Over time, you may escalate from walking to jogging, but a brisk walk is an ideal place to start. 

Parting Thoughts

Whether you are an older adult, have some weight to lose, or both, starting an exercise routine can greatly improve your health.  Any of the 7 exercises highlighted in our guide are a good place to begin, though selecting a few will provide the most diverse and balanced workout for your body, providing the most benefits.  To your health!

ALSO READ – 8 Healthy Aging Tips: How To Promote Wellness as You Age

DISCLAIMER

While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider.  You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case.  The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.