Best Exercises for Aging

We all want the answer. The magic formula or pill that will make us fit and healthy.


Is it more weight training, less cardio? Is it yoga or Pilates with some moderate cardio? Is it circuits or interval training? Should I be doing all high-intensity, moderate-intensity or just move my body? The list can go on and on. Now, you add in aging. A previous article I wrote talks about how the normal aging progress changes our body: loss of muscle mass, loss of bone density, decreased flexibility and even decreased strength.

Now the question becomes, “What is best for aging muscles?”


What One Article is Saying


I recently read an article that was published in the New York Times. I found it very interesting and informative. It compared groups of people age 30 and under with people 64 and older. The researchers separated these groups into smaller sub-groups for the purpose of the study: no exercise; interval training; weight training; and a group that did a combo of light weight training and moderate cardio.


The fitness results were not so surprising. They found that the greatest changes in muscle and strength came from the groups that did vigorous weight training, and the most improved endurance came from the groups that did interval training on a stationary bike.


But, at the cellular level they found something very interesting. It turns out that the interval training had the highest effect on genes: 274 genes and almost 400 genes were changed for the 30 & under group and the 64 & older group respectively. Mitochondria in the cells was positively changed, and it appeared that cellular health in aging muscles may be reversed with interval training. Very cool! But not really the whole picture.




So, what the heck are mitochondria? Mitochondria are located inside the cells of your body. They convert fats, sugars and proteins that you consume into energy your body can use. Mitochondria also help break down waste products and recycle them to save energy. They also play a role in the death of cells—which is important for growth, development and health.


So, if interval exercise is promoting the health and function of mitochondria, we should probably all be doing it.


What about your muscles?


The study cited by the NY Times found that interval training—on a stationary bike—improved cardiovascular endurance and had a significant positive impact on cellular health. But it doesn’t address strength, flexibility or bone density. You need weight training and stretching for that.


Another study I found, published in 2004, discovered overwhelming evidence that weight training is beneficial for older adults. It positively impacted strength, power, muscle mass, ability to perform daily tasks, improved energy expenditure, improved body composition and even spontaneous participation in physical activity.


I took this to mean that they were more inclined to go for a walk or play with grandkids—that type of thing. Now, the article does stipulate that health, exercise experience and other factors play a role in how beneficial weight training is for a person. However, that’s the case even for younger people, in my experience.


So, What Now?


Here’s my professional take on the matter. You need it all, whether you are 20 or 70.


Your exercise regimen should include interval training for cardiovascular fitness, improved cellular health and decreased risk of disease. Perform it for at least 20-30 minutes two to three times per week. Weight training should be done two to three times per week as well, on non-consecutive days. You want to work each muscle group at least twice to challenge it and ignite change in your body. Choose a resistance level that is challenging to ignite change in your body. This will help you improve your strength, function, bone health and overall quality of life.


I like to spend a few minutes stretching after every workout to maintain, or improve, mobility. And it just feels good.


The elderly people I’ve worked with in the past wanted to feel good. They weren’t worried about wearing a certain size, but more how their body functioned. Now, weight was a concern for some. Some did have conditions or diseases that could be positively affected if they lost some weight. But they weren’t looking to be a size 2 or even a 10, necessarily.


They wanted to be able to participate in daily life instead of observing it. By doing a combination of cardio, resistance exercise, flexibility and even some balance training, we could change their quality of life.


This is true for all of us. We want to feel good, be healthy, and maybe even wear a certain size or have a certain look to our bodies. The important thing is to keep moving! Move your body daily, even if it’s only for a few minutes.


Make exercise a part of your daily life—no matter how old you are. You will see so many benefits and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!



Bethany Kochan started her fitness career at a local women’s fitness center at 19 years of age. This part-time job lead to a career that over 20 years later, she still loves. Bethany earned her B.S. in Exercise Science from Southern Illinois University Carbondale at the same time becoming certified as a group exercise instructor. After college, she pursued NSCA-CPT and CSCS, group cycling, mat Pilates and YogaFit certifications. In 2009, she and her husband made a big move across the country to pursue his dream job in the field of strength and conditioning. At this point, Bethany began writing and training online to be both with her husband and the fitness industry. Today, the Kochans split their time between AZ and CA, pursuing their passions and enjoying life together with their two rescue Weimaraners.