Senior Fitness and Health: How Residents Stay Active in Assisted Living Communities

Learn about some of the most popular senior exercise programs and their health benefits.

May 09, 2024

6 min read

Residents at Atria Tarzana in Los Angeles participate in boxing classes led by a former professional fighter.

Regular exercise is important no matter your age, but the benefits of being active are more significant as we get older. Establishing a consistent exercise routine can provide a wide range of health benefits for older adults – while also helping maintain independence, mobility and emotional well-being.

Good cardiovascular health can lower the risk and progression of heart disease, while activities that build muscle, improve balance, and enhance flexibility can increase bone density, help maintain mobility, and reduce the risk of falls and other injuries. Regular exercise also boosts serotonin, which can alleviate depression, and research suggests a strong correlation between positive moods and longevity. Another benefit of taking exercise classes: They provide an opportunity to connect and socialize with others, which can boost emotional health.

In short, a smart senior fitness regimen is essential to physical, cognitive and emotional health. And developing an exercise guide for seniors in assisted living communities is easy thanks to daily opportunities to be active – without having to leave home.

Exercise programs that promote senior fitness

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults 65 and older need:

  • At least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking; or 75-minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity, such as hiking or running.
  • At least two days a week of muscle-building activities, such as chair squats or light weight training.
  • Regular balance and flexibility activities, such as stretching and walking heel to toe.

How residents stay active in senior living communities depends on individual factors like fitness level and exercise preferences. For some people, the best option may be a morning jog; for others, it may be taking chair yoga classes with friends.

There are many types of low-impact exercises for assisted living residents to choose from. What’s important is to develop a sustainable routine that emphasizes cardio, muscle-building, balance and flexibility.

Here are some popular senior exercise programs and classes offered in assisted living communities, along with their benefits.

Residents participate in an aqua aerobics class at Atria Lincoln Place in Lincoln, Rhode Island


Cardio exercises for seniors

Aerobics: Walking and cycling provide a solid cardiovascular workout, raising heart rate and increasing endurance. Other equally effective, low-impact options include using a treadmill or stationary bike. Research indicates that walking for 10 minutes each day can boost longevity for older adults, which is why many senior living communities feature treadmills and outdoor walking paths.

Zumba®: Built around learning new dance moves, Zumba provides an excellent cardio workout – and is considered one of the most senior-friendly workouts. Classes can accommodate different levels of physical ability while providing a fun, social environment to keep participants engaged.

Aquatic cardio: For a more low-impact workout, aquatic cardio classes are a good option. The natural buoyancy of water allows participants to do exercises that elevate their heart rate while reducing stress on their joints and minimizing the risk of falls and other injuries. At Atria at Cranberry Woods in Pennsylvania, the Aqua Burn water aerobics class has become so popular that the one-hour workout is offered three times a week.

Boxing: While it may not be traditionally thought of as an exercise for older adults, boxing classes provide a range of mid-to-high intensity cardio activities, like jumping rope and punching bag exercises. Boxing workouts can be modified for different levels of physical ability, including seated exercises.

Atria Tarzana in Los Angeles offers a boxing class taught by Dean Moskowitz, a former professional fighter. The exercises can be done standing or sitting and include shadowboxing and hitting padded targets. The class helps residents improve their stamina and cardiovascular health in a fun, social environment.

Resistance band training at Atria Park of Vintage Hills in Temecula, California.


Weight training for seniors

Lifting weights: The exercise equipment available at many assisted living communities includes light weights and weight machines, allowing residents to incorporate weight training into their fitness routines. Working out with weights is an excellent way to build muscle, increase bone density and improve physical stability.

Resistance bands: For individuals whose physical conditions limit their ability to lift weights, resistance band workouts for seniors provide a safe alternative. These exercises target many of the same muscle groups as weightlifting, and different bands can be used to increase or decrease the intensity of the workout.

Pilates: For those looking to strengthen muscles, improve flexibility and decrease joint pain, Pilates is an ideal workout. Exercises like forearm planks, bird dogs and pelvic curls increase core strength without putting too much pressure on joints. Research suggests that Pilates training leads to better posture, balance and stability for older adults.

Bodyweight squats: Excellent for building strength and improving balance, there are a number of different squat techniques that can be performed based on range of motion and fitness goals. Chair squats offer a great variation for those just starting the exercise or who require more support while exercising leg muscles.

Body conditioning: By targeting multiple muscle groups, body conditioning classes increase strength and balance while also providing a high-energy workout. At Atria Cinco Ranch in Texas, the Total Body Conditioning class has become one of the most popular ways for residents to stay active. The class meets three times a week to work through a comprehensive series of muscle-building exercises like chair push-ups, lateral raises, bicep curls, knee lifts and mini-squats.

Atria residents participate in an outdoor tai chi class.


Senior exercises for balance and flexibility

Stretching: Basic stretching exercises that target major muscle groups can help reduce stiff joints and improve range of motion.

Heel-to-toe walk: This exercise can be done down a hallway or along a wall if support is needed. Simply walk in a straight line, touching heel to toe with each step.

Yoga: A gentle, low-impact exercise, yoga improves flexibility, balance and core stability with techniques that can be adapted to a wide range of fitness levels. Many assisted living communities offer yoga classes for a more structured, guided and socially interactive workout. Experts recommend chair yoga for seniors who are new to yoga or have mobility limitations.

Tai chi: Slow, flowing movements and mindful breathing are the core elements of tai chi. A study by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) determined that tai chi classes offered in senior living communities improved residents’ physical function and dual-task walking speeds.

Finding the right senior fitness program for you

Physical fitness becomes even more important to our overall health as we age, so it’s important to establish an exercise routine that will keep you engaged. A quality assisted living community should offer fitness opportunities that can accommodate all levels of ability. Finding the right combination of classes, workouts and activities will depend on your fitness level and interests; in some cases, you may need to consult a physical trainer or health professional.

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