Functional Exercises for the Elderly

Functional Exercises for the Elderly

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Seniors can reap many benefits from daily functional exercise.

Barry Austin/Digital Vision/Getty Images

The body loses strength, balance and flexibility as it ages, which causes many elderly people to settle into sedentary lifestyles. However, inactivity can exacerbate these losses, making it increasingly difficult to be active as you get older. Staying active with functional exercises -- those designed to improve the strength, flexibility and mobility needed for day-to-day activities -- can significantly improve your quality of life during your golden years.

Benefits of Functional Exercise

The elderly can enjoy many benefits from engaging in a functional exercise program. The most obvious rewards of such exercise include enhanced mobility and independence. Additionally, functional exercise can lead to health improvements, such as a reduced risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Functional exercise programs may also enhance your cognitive function, increasing your ability to think and reason clearly and improving your emotional well-being and happiness.

Balance Training

Functional balance training can greatly reduce the risk of falls among the elderly. After an eight-month follow-up to an original study published in the November 2004 issue of the "Journal of Bone and Mineral Metabolism," 13.6 percent of elderly participants who participated in a program designed to improve balance experienced falls. Of those who did not participate in the program, 40.9 percent suffered falls. According to the American Council on Exercise, balance training for the elderly should simulate normal distractions experienced during day-to-day activities. An example of a balance training activity could be performing a heel-toe walk while counting backward. It should also include balance-recovery exercises, such as reaching forward to grab a supporting object, which will reduce the risk of falls.

Resistance Exercises

Functional resistance training exercises can help the elderly to significantly improve quality of life. In a study published in the March 2011 publication of the "American Journal of Health Promotion," elderly participants who were unable to perform certain daily activities on their own showed significant improvements in functional mobility after participating in a 16-week resistance training program. Functional resistance exercises can use body weight or equipment such as resistance bands, light dumbbells, stability balls and medicine balls. The movements performed should mimic daily activities, like standing up from a seated position or lifting light weights overhead. Start with low weight and low to moderate intensity and gradually increase the difficulty as your strength improves.


Talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. If you experience dizziness, vomiting, shortness or breath or chest pain during exercise, stop immediately and seek medical attention. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to prevent dehydration from fluids lost through sweat. Don't overexert yourself, and do take breaks when you need them. Always warm up for five to 10 minutes to prepare your body for exercise. Wear shoes with nonslip soles to prevent falls.