The No-Gym-Required Exercise Routine for Seniors

A senior woman exercises in her living room with a balance bar and a yoga mat

Everyone knows that exercise is good for you. Especially as you grow older. After the ripe old age of 30, you lose 3%-8% of your muscle mass with each passing decade, and the decline worsens after age 60. Weak muscles can lead to falls and increasing frailty. And an inactive lifestyle increases your risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and certain types of cancer.

But what if the gym’s closed? Or you simply don’t feel safe exercising in an enclosed space where other people could spread their germs? How are you supposed to exercise during a pandemic? Well, you can go for a walk. It’s great aerobic exercise, and a breath of fresh air will do you good. But if you want to build strength, all you need is your own bodyweight.

Why Bodyweight Exercises

Bodyweight exercises work multiple muscle groups. These exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. Bodyweight exercises also build core stability, improving balance and reducing your risk of falls. Plus, you can do these exercises at home without any equipment. All you need is a little floor space and maybe a chair, wall or table.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends incorporating strength training exercises of all the major muscle groups into a fitness routine at least twice a week. The following five bodyweight exercises will challenge every major muscle group from head to toe.

Five bodyweight exercises for a total body at-home workout.

You should always warm up your muscles and tendons before exercising. Pro athletes would never start a game without warming up and stretching beforehand, and neither should you. Do some jumping jacks or march in place. You might also rotate your hips (as if Hula-Hooping in slow motion) and do some shoulder rotations with your arms out like a T, making small circles.

Two Sets for Each Exercise

Start by doing two sets for each exercise, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets (more if you need it). Gradually work up to three sets of each exercise as your strength improves. Go slowly, and focus on proper form to get the most benefit.

1. Squat

Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Getting in and out of chairs, bending down to pick something up, or using the bathroom all involve squatting movements. Doing this exercise will make those activities easier.

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet shoulder- to hip-width apart. Hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder level and brace your core. This is your starting position.

From here, push your hips back, and bend your knees to slowly lower your body into a squat, not letting your knees cave in as you do so. Pause, then push through your heels to slowly return to starting position.

If a bodyweight squat is too challenging, start your squat from a seated position.

If your knee hurts when you squat, start from a seated position and push up just a couple of inches. Once you feel some tension, release to sit back down. Even with this small range of motion, you’ll still build strength in your legs, hips and core.

2. Glute Bridge

Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

This is a great exercise for strengthening your glutes, hips and hamstrings. It also activates your abdominal muscles and lower back to keep your body stable, so it doubles as a great core exercise. Strengthening these muscles will help you walk and climb stairs, maintain balance, and ease hip or back pain.

How to do it: Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart and heels a few inches away from your buttocks. Press your arms into the floor for support and brace your core to minimize the arch in your lower back.

From here, push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up until your body forms a straight line from your knees to shoulders. As you get stronger, focus on getting your shins as close to vertical as you comfortably can at the top of the movement. Pause, then slowly lower your hips to return to starting position.

3. Modified Pushup

Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

The pushup works your chest, shoulders, arms and back. It also strengthens your core, quads and glutes. Done correctly, doing pushups will help you with everyday tasks such as pushing grocery carts, lifting grandchildren and maintaining good posture.

How to do it: Stand facing a table, dresser or wall. The more upright you are, the easier the exercise. Place your hands on the edge, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Move your feet back until you are at a comfortable angle, keeping arms straight and perpendicular to your body.

Slowly lower your chest forward, pause, and then press back up to straighten your arms. Keep your body straight throughout the entire movement, making sure to engage your abs and squeeze your butt. That’s one rep.

(You can work your way up from pushups against the wall to pushups while resting on your knees, to full-on regular pushups.)

4. Step-Up

Do 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps.

Single-leg exercises like step-ups train each leg to be strong and stable independently of the other, which helps iron out any imbalances. It’s important to engage your entire core to help maintain your balance.

How to do it: Stand in front of a step. Start with a low step, increasing the height for a challenge. If you like, perform the move next to a wall for support.

Set your left foot on the step, push down through your heel, and lift yourself up until your leg is straight. Step down. That’s one rep. Perform six to eight reps or as many as you comfortably can, then repeat on the opposite side. That’s one set.

5. Bird Dog

Do 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps.

The bird dog helps strengthen your glutes, hips, abdominals and deep core muscles that support your spine. A strong core can make just about everything you do easier, including walking, standing, sitting down and rolling over in bed.

How to do it: Start on all fours with your hands below shoulders and knees below hips. Engage your abs, keep your spine neutral, and gaze down or slightly forward.

Lift your left arm and extend your right leg until they are in line with the rest of your body. Pause, then lower back down, and repeat on the opposite side with right arm and left leg extended. That’s one rep.

Make it easier: Keep your hands on the floor, and only extend your leg.

Get fit for life.

Once you get comfortable with the exercises here, you can find loads of additional bodyweight exercises online, including these 5 Easy Pilates Exercises for Seniors.

At Meadow Ridge, bodyweight exercises — including Pilates, tai chi, yoga and water aerobics — are just some of the ways we support an active, independent lifestyle. To learn more about our whole-person approach to wellness, check out the many opportunities for living life to the fullest at Meadow Ridge.