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How to Create Best Exercise Program For The Elderly

How to Create Best Exercise Program For The Elderly

Regular physical exercises seem to be one of most important habit for living a healthy and joyful life. Physical activity has both health promoting and disease prevention properties

Photo of Elderly Woman Exercising
Elderly Woman Trying Best Exercise

If you asked any doctor  if elderly patients should exercise, the consensus  is yes.

Exercise improves flexibility, mobility, and cardiovascular and respiratory function. It decreases body fat, increases muscle and skeletal mass, lowers pulse and blood pressure, improves lipid profiles, and serves as non pharmacologic therapy for constipation. [1]  How to create the best exercise program for the elderly is becoming  a bigger issue as more of the elderly want non-pharmaceutical measures to help them deal with the emotional effects and weakening body that comes with aging.

Exercise for The Elderly Replaces Medication

According to a report by Swedish National Institute  of Public Health, physical activity in the prevention and treatment of disease was completely comparable to those obtained from pharmaceutical treatment.

Also, “one advantage of physical activity as a treatment compared to medication is that physical activity makes patients feel actively involved in their own treatment and encourages them to take personal responsibility for their own health.” [2]

Adherence to Exercise For The Elderly

This report was borne out by a study that focused on the effects of an exercises regimen on the elderly. It found improved fitness and appearance, weight loss, increased energy and better eating habits realized through their exercise regimens motivated the participants to continue with an exercise program.

Exercise also improved some participants’ confidence, sleep patterns, depression, tension, ability to cope with stress, concentration, mood, alertness, appetite and stress level, leading them to continue exercising. [3]

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The Need to Find Best Exercise Program For The Elderly

When dealing with older people, however, sometimes special approaches  are required both for assessing their exercise needs and for guiding them into an appropriate exercise regimen. Some elderly people feel uneasy going to a gym, while others consider it a great opportunity  to socialize with fellow peers. Thus this question arises: What is the effectiveness of gym-based exercise versus home-based exercise with telephone follow-up amongst adults with chronic conditions who have completed a short-term exercise program supervised by a health professional?

Let’s jump in

The participants were recruited following a 6-week exercise program at a community health service. Intervention: One group of participants received a gym-based exercise program for 12 months (gym group). The other group received a home-based exercise program for 12 months with telephone follow-up for the first 10 weeks (home group) [4]

Gym-Based Exercise Program as Best Exercise Program For Elderly

Woman Exercising at The Gym
Woman Exercising at The Gym

The elderly participating in the gym-based  intervention were given a 12-month ,  exercise program that suited their  individual needs. The whole set up was supervised by a physiologist from the community health service from Monday to Friday for 2 hours per day. This meant that there was a person present at the gym with whom the participant already had a pre-established relationship from when they had completed the initial short-term supervised exercise program.

The prescribed exercise included strengthening, aerobic and stretching exercise components. The strengthening component involved 40 minutes of six to eight strength training exercises for the upper and lower body (eg, leg press, calf raise, bicep curl, triceps push-down, lateral pull-down, chest press or scapula retraction) using pin-loaded resistance equipment, unless contra- indicated. The aerobic compo- nent of the exercise involved up to 15 minutes of stationary bike, treadmill or cross trainer. [5]

Home-Based Program With Telephone Support as Best Exercise Program For Elderly

The participants  who used a home-based intervention were also given a 12-month exercise program focused on their individual needs.

This is how it worked. Mom or dad was encouraged to complete a 1-hour exercise session, three sessions per week, at home. They would be supervised via five telephone calls over the first 10 weeks, approximately 25 to 30 minutes in duration.

The five phone calls took the same amount of time to that spent supervising each participant in the gym over a 12-month intervention period. In a word, mom and dad didn’t get short-changed. There was also consistency. The same exercise physiologist who supervised the gym-based program did the same for the home-based program.

The exercise prescription aimed to be comparable to that of the gym-based program. It also adhered to the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for chronic health conditions, with strength, aerobic and stretching components comparable to the gym-based program. [6]

Some Things to Think About

Friendship Scale. This is a short and user- friendly instrument that measures six dimensions contributing to social isolation and social connection. A score between o and 24 is obtained; higher scores indicate less social  isolation. In short it measures loneliness and the ability to interact with others.


A Photo of People, Friends, Fists, Over Desk

For example, having to go to the gym forces people to leave their house, which has potential mental health benefits from experiencing new environments or being exposed to sunlight while traveling to the gym. Remember that sunlight helps with Vitamin D deficiency.

One would not be surprised than to learn that the gym-based group exercise may improve mental health outcomes slightly  more. Yet overall, there was no real measurable  differences of outcomes between the two approaches.

You may be wondering how that could be possible? Even if the physical  outcomes were the same, wouldn’t be lessening isolation by going to the gym be a better psychological out come?

The answer is a big yes if you only used a measure such as the Friendship Scale—meaning how many people is someone connecting with outside the house. However, one can look at something like the Lubben Social Network Scale LSNS-6 which measures social network size. The LSNS-6 is a validated instrument designed to gauge social isolation in older adults by measuring the number and frequency of social contacts with friends and family members and the perceived social support received from these sources. More and more seniors are connecting with their  friends and family through social networks. It’s likely that telephone conversations with the physiologist spurred them to report their progress to friends by telephone  or social  media as a way of getting a psychological  boost.

Women Social Network
Women Social Network


A final note, the gym-based exercise program was more costly compared with home-based exercise with telephone support. So if one is living on a fixed income but feels the need to stay healthy and fit, going to the gym is not the only option. This post examined  the feasibility  of the elderly participating  in a home-based exercise program with telephone support. It is not only possible and cheaper but in some cases a more practical  solution than going to the gym. It’s an example of how to create best exercise program for the elderly.

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I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.



Ettinger, Walter H., Jr., et al. “Exercise for the elderly.” Patient Care, 15 Apr. 1989, P. 165+


“People Who stop Exercising Lose Long-Term Mood-Enhancing

Benefits.” Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week, 31 Mar. 2001, p. 10



Ettinger, Walter H., Jr., et al. “Exercise for the elderly.” Patient Care, 15 Apr. 1989, P. 165+





14 thoughts on “How to Create Best Exercise Program For The Elderly

  1. What an awesome presentation. This has all the elements of great work and very well thought out material. We are close but not that close with our 84 year old Mother. She has slowed down considerably but not to the extent that it’s impossible for her to move around. While there may be come restrictions due to her heart condition, we try to remain as active as possible. Many thanks for this informative presentation.

    1. Hi Xavier,
      I’m so glad that you liked the post. Your vote of confidence means a lot coming from a person who is so familiar with the topic both on a personal and professional level. Thanks so much for checking in, and I’m glad that you found the post informative and valuable.

  2. Hi Thabo, Thank you for this very informative and well-researched article about senior health and exercise. You certainly hit on many factors, including the socialization aspect.
    With our population aging, increased focus on senior healthy lifestyles and quality of life is needed! You addressed some of that need here. Good job!

    1. Hi Annie,
      Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m glad that you enjoyed the article. This one was a bit of a challenge because there was so much that interested me concerning the topic, yet I had to make sure that I remained focused and not overwhelm the reader. I’m glad you liked the post and found it informative. Thanks for checking in.

  3. Hello Thabo!
    So liked how you dealth with this topic. That indeed at any age we need to keep our motors running. So inspiring to see the video of the woman who is 95!
    And it is true that being in community no matter the age is vital to well being and not being isloated.
    I am glad that you also touched on the finances of each project as so many elders are living on limited income.
    Thanks for all you are doing.
    in peace and gratitude, ariel

    1. Hi Ariel,

      Always a pleasure to hear from you. Yes, I think the video of the woman who is 95 is indeed inspiring. The moment I saw the video I was hooked. I just had to let more people know and show the vitality of this amazing woman. Thanks for checking in.


  4. It is good to know these programs exist. I’d certainly like to see more of them around my area. Our office deals with seniors on a daily basis and many have the mind set that they are now old and will simply deteriorate. It is clearly visible that the ones (these are peeps in their 80’s) who get out more are in much better health. Yet the home plan you describe with the phone contact is invaluable for those who can’t get out.

    1. Hi Dianne,
      I agree with you that ideally more seniors should go to the gym and exercise. Going to the gym not only encourages good physical health but it is also great for social interaction. This can impact in a very positive way an older person’s state of mind. By connecting with other people they are less likely to experience loneliness, which in some cases has proven to be the cause of conditions like back pain. Having said that, we need to recognize that for some seniors going to the gym is out of the question. Thus, a home-based program supported by phone contact is a good solution. Thanks so much for checking in.

  5. Hello Thabo,
    You have written a great article, it was really interesting to read it and learn about the outcome of the study. It is very relieving to hear that physical activity is taken more and more seriously within the health care. The pharmaceutical treatment is not curing the people, mostly only the symptoms are treated. Exercises are proven to be one of the most powerful methods of helping the body to heal itself. Physical activity prevents chronical diseases and can even be life-prolonging.
    As you said in the article, some people don’t want or can’t leave their house for going to a gym. It’s, therefore, a great possibility to do a home-based program, even if gym would be better. The biggest challenge is though to motivate people who have never done any exercises before, or who have got pain and don’t want to do any exercises even if it would be pain releasing.


    1. Hi Pernilla,
      Maintaining the motivation to adhere to regular physical activity is a challenge for many older adults. I think that’s why it’s important to consider what kind of program will encourage older adults to keep exercising. For some a gym-based program makes sense, but for others a home-based program would be a more appealing and more effective option. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for checking in.


  6. Hello Thabo,
    Since I am getting up in the years with health restrictions I can relate to this post extremely well, I do feel the elderly folks who are able to join a class should do so to keep in shape but also for social interaction.

    I exercise daily sometimes at home and sometimes at the YMCA, but I find exercising at the YMCA is more enjoyable when I am doing it with other people than alone.

    I like the home exercise program with phone support, I think everyone needs a good support system and this phone support program would appeal to many elderly people who are not bold enough to join a gym or YMCA.

    Great Information love this post

    1. Hi Jeff,
      I do agree with you that social interaction is just as important as physical health to one’s overall well-being. I think for most people exercising at the gym is a great solution to staying fit and also engaging with others. For some people, though, going to the gym is not an option they want to take. Yet they need to stay healthy. This is how the concept of home-based exercise program with a telephone follow up came to be. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for checking in.


  7. I am one to also encourage the elderly to exercise. However, sometimes no matter what you do or say, some just will not do it. I do not stop promoting it though! I fully believe in how exercise can help the elderly. I am a retired Rehab nurse and have seen firsthand how exercise promotes independency especially after a trauma, stroke, joint replacement or brain injury. It is amazing.

    1. Hello Cynthia,
      You’re right. Despite the health benefits of physical activity and the risks of physical inactivity, many adults don’t engage in sufficient physical activity to achieve health benefits. This is why something like Yoga Laughter, a program that elicits positive emotions through simulated laughter, is now creating a buzz as way of helping the elderly stick to exercise routine. Thanks for checking in.


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