Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute On Aging

Chapter 4: Summary

Endurance Exercises

Strength Exercises

Balance Exercises

Stretching Exercises

Table of Contents

Chapter Summary
Build up to all exercises and activities gradually, especially if you have been inactive for a long time.

Once you have built up to a regular schedule, include endurance, strength, balance, and stretching exercises.

If you have to stop exercising for more than a few weeks, start at half the effort when you resume, then build back up to where you were.

When bending forward, always keep back and shoulders straight to ensure that you are bending from the hips, not the waist.

If you have had a hip replacement, check with your surgeon before doing lower body exercises.


  • To build stamina, you can do specific exercises, like walking or jogging, or any activity that raises your heart rate and breathing for extended periods of time.
  • Do at least 30 minutes of endurance activities on most or all days of the week.
  • If you prefer, divide your 30 minutes into shorter sessions of no less than 10 minutes each.
  • The more vigorous the exercise, the greater the benefits.
  • Warm up and cool down with a light activity, such as easy walking.
  • Activities shouldn't make you breathe so hard you can't talk. They shouldn't cause dizziness or chest pain.
  • When you are ready to progress, first increase the amount of time, then the difficulty, of your activity.
  • Stretch after endurance exercises.


  • Do strength exercises for all your major muscle groups at least twice a week, but not for the same muscle group on any 2 days in a row.
  • Gradually increasing the amount of weight you use is the most important part of strength exercise.
  • Start with a low amount of weight (or no weight) and increase it gradually.
  • When you are ready to progress, first increase the number of times you do the exercise, then increase the weight at a later session.
  • Do an exercise 8 to 15 times; rest a minute and repeat it 8 to 15 more times.
  • Take 3 seconds to lift and 3 seconds to lower weights. Never jerk weights into position.
  • If you can't lift a weight more than 8 times, it's too heavy; if you can lift it more than 15 times, it's too light.
  • Don't hold your breath while straining.
  • These exercises may make you sore at first, but they should never cause pain.
  • Stretch after strength exercises.


  • Add the following modifications to your regularly scheduled lower-body strength exercises: As you progress, hold onto the table or chair with one hand, then one finger, then no hands. If you are steady on your feet, progress to no hands and eyes closed. Ask someone to watch you the first few times,in case you lose your balance.
  • Don't do extra strength exercises to add these balance modifications. Simply add the modifications to your regularly scheduled strength exercises.
  • Another way to improve your balance is through "anytime, anywhere" balance exercises. One example: Balance on one foot, then the other, while waiting for the bus. Do as often as desired.


  • Stretching exercises may help keep you limber.
  • Stretching exercises alone will not improve endurance or strength.
  • Do stretching exercises after endurance and strength exercises, when your muscles are warm.
  • If stretching exercises are the only kind of exercise you are able to do, do them at least 3 times a week, up to every day. Always warm up your muscles first.
  • Do each exercise 3 to 5 times at each session.
  • Hold the stretched position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Total session should last 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Move slowly into position; never jerk into position.
  • Stretching may cause mild discomfort, but should not cause pain.

Making It Work

There are lots of ways to increase your physical activity. Exercising at home is just one of them, and we feature it here because it's within the reach of most older people. Or, you might decide to follow Phyllis Wendahl's example, instead, and do something different.

Ms. Wendahl is 85 years old and lives in the small town of Bothell, Washington. On the phone, she sounds much younger. She is a widow and lives on her Social Security income, and, like many older adults, she won't let her kids spoil her as much as they would like to. She would rather do things on her own.

That's why, when she was scouting around for a fitness club where she could use strength-building equipment, she bargained the owner down to a monthly fee that she felt she could afford - $25 a month for unlimited use.

"Look, I know that not everybody is as bold as I am about that kind of thing," Ms. Wendahl told us. Nonetheless, she has some advice for older adults who are thinking about going to a fitness center: "They don't need to feel self-conscious about going to the club. The owner of my club holds me up as an example now."

Ms. Wendahl said that she has always been active, but never as much as she is now. She began doing aerobic exercises in her 70s, moved on to water aerobics, and most recently to strength-building and stretching 3 times a week. Ms. Wendahl's ShoesShe lives on her own and drives herself wherever she needs to go. After 6 months of endurance and strength exercises, measurements showed that Mrs. Wendahl was able to perform household tasks - carrying groceries, making her bed, and transferring laundry - more quickly. She could also carry more weight.

"It has just done me a world of good," she said of her physically active lifestyle. "My family is so thrilled and proud of me," she added.

She wants older adults who read this book to know that, when it comes to exercise and physical activity, "there's always something within someone's capabilities. There's no reason older people need to be sitting in a rocking chair."

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