Deciding to just move it is an exercise in good judgment

Fitness is more than just staying in shape. So says Colin Milner, chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging.

Staying active is what it’s all about — and for seniors, exercise helps maintain body functions and independence.

“Just move it,” Milner says. “Fitness isn’t based on age; it is based on attitude.”

Sharon O’Brien, senior living writer for, agrees that movement is key. She says the “use it or lose it” idea is true. Older adults with health problems tend to believe they can’t exercise. O’Brien recommends moving at whatever level is comfortable. Start slow and know your limits.

Milner classifies seniors in five fitness categories:

n Elite older athletes (marathon runners and bodybuilders).

n Fit individuals (exercise three to four times a week).

n Independent living (tend to huff and puff going upstairs).

n Frail (don’t exercise at all).

n Dependent living (long-term care due to lack of leg strength).

Milner says most seniors fall into the independent living group — they need more strength to preserve quality of life. Choose an exercise depending on your strength ability.

The key elements for picking activities include endurance, strength training, flexibility and balance.

Cardio and aerobic exercises build endurance, which increases breathing and heart rate and creates stamina. AARP recommends activities such as hiking, stair climbing, swimming, dancing, bike riding, walking or aerobics, five days a week for 30 minutes.

Beginners should start cardio with walking. Swimming is also a great workout due to less impact on joint tissues.

Do exercises with weights or resistance bands to gain strength. Try weight machines, cycling, rowing, pilates or martial arts. Lift weights twice a week to maintain the muscle strength needed to keep a level of functionality.

Paige Waehner, exercise writer for, recommends chair exercises such as bench sit and stand, hamstring curls and knee lifts. Use dumbbells for seated biceps curls, triceps extension and lateral raises.

Anne Pringle Burnell, founder and creator of the Stronger Seniors fitness program, advises to remain limber and increase your range of motion by stretching. Participate in Nia, a slower pace movement like tai chi that emphasizes repetition and coordination. Or try a video at home.

Participate in groups to make exercising more enjoyable. Walk with a group of friends for encouragement and motivation, or join a sport or event in the Senior Olympics. Games are held every odd year and athletes qualify in state games every even year.

“The seniors enjoy the social aspect,” says Becky Wesley, director of association relations for the National Senior Games Association.

Don’t allow your age to slow you down. Seniors are better emotionally, physically and mentally when they exercise.

“Even if you have limitations, it is important to keep exercising,” says Gabrielle Redford, features editor for AARP The Magazine. “Exercise is linked to longevity.” n