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Over 60? These Low Impact Cardio Moves Provide a Joint-Friendly Way to Stay Healthy

Over 60? These Low Impact Cardio Moves Provide a Joint-Friendly Way to Stay Healthy

When it comes to exercise for older adults, there is a lot of confusion.

For example, you might read an article that says you should only do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. But then the next article you read may tell you that older adults should only be doing low-intensity steady state (LISS) workouts.

How can a person without a background in exercise science navigate these contradictions?

Well, one option you have is to spend a few years learning the terminology and science behind exercise. This would give you the opportunity to browse through these studies and find your answer.

Alternatively, you can follow the scientifically based recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

In this article, I’ll break down the ACSM’s cardio recommendations, list some great exercise options that anyone can participate in, and talk about some of the less desirable exercise options for older adults.

ACSM . Cardiorespiratory Exercise Guidelines

Low Impact Cardio Training

To begin with, let’s define “cardio exercise”.

According to the ACSM, cardiorespiratory exercise is “any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be sustained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature.”

Based on this definition, there are plenty of activities that could fit the bill. In a later section of this article, I’ll break down some of the best forms of cardio exercise for seniors.

So, now that we have a working definition for what cardio really is, how much of it should we do.

Again, we can turn to the ACSM for advice on this question. The group recommends that healthy adults complete 150 minutes of moderate cardiorespiratory activity per week. This equates to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week of exercise.

However, those who prefer more intense exercise or have less time available also have options. The ACSM also states that healthy adults can do 20 minutes of vigorous exercise 3 days a week instead.

At this point we have a definition of what cardio exercise actually is. We also have some science-backed recommendations on how much to do each week.

In the next section, let’s take a look at some of the best cardio activities that people over 60 can incorporate into their routines.

Aerobic Training Options

ACSM . Cardiorespiratory Exercise Guidelines

To watch, the main components of cardio exercises are:

Rhythmic in nature. Uses large muscle groups. Can be sustained continuously.

Based on this definition, you might be imagining some aerobic activities right now!

Below I will discuss some simple cardio exercises that are a good choice for older adults.

Remember, whatever form of exercise (or combination of exercises) you choose, be sure to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least 5 days a week.

Or, if you want to push yourself a little more: at least 20 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, 3 days a week.

to walk

That’s right: Something as simple as walking can be part of your exercise routine. The truth is, if you take a moderate-intensity walk for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, you’ve already met the ACSM recommendations for aerobics!

Hiking is a perfect activity for most people because:

No material is needed. The walker has full control over the intensity. Walks can be taken alone or in groups.

Of course, if hiking isn’t the right choice for you, check out some of the other options below.

Step Aerobics

This form of exercise became popular in the 1980s. While it hasn’t gone away completely, pure step aerobics classes have largely been replaced by fusion classes. This means that group exercise routines include step aerobics with other types of exercise.

But you can also just use stairs and hills to get an extra cardio boost while walking. Going up and down stairs/hills can be very difficult. After 10-15 minutes you will probably start to sweat a lot!


To be fair, not all forms of yoga can be considered aerobic in nature. For example, yoga classes that focus solely on meditation and breathing don’t necessarily improve a person’s cardio. Admittedly, these more relaxed classes can be good for the mind and body. But the type of yoga I’m referring to for our purposes is the slightly higher intensity version.

Yoga that improves cardiovascular function involves many different flows and movements that force your heart and lungs to work overtime. As an added benefit, you will improve your balance, flexibility and stability. A win-win-win-win!


For many reasons, cycling can be a great cardio option for seniors. Bicycles are suitable for those with impaired balance while still allowing moderate to high intensity exercise.

Stationary bicycles are generally safer. For those experienced in road cycling, taking long bike rides in nature can be fun, rewarding and a great way to improve health.


If you live near a body of water and can join a rowing program, you’re in luck!

That said, even those who don’t have access to real rowing can still access the cardio benefits. Most gyms have at least one or two rowing machines available for use. These machines provide an unparalleled total body workout. Rowers are an excellent choice for cardio exercise.


I am fully aware that swimming is not an option for a large part of the population. For starters, not everyone can get to a pool in the first place. Also, some people may be afraid of the water or not know how to swim.

However, for those who like swimming, this way of training is perfect. Swimming does not affect the joints and works almost every muscle in the body. Of course, it also offers a great cardio workout.

tai chi

Tai Chi is an ancient practice that has been around for centuries. For some, it is a form of martial arts, while others use it solely for its aerobic and balance benefits.

Regardless of how the exercise is used, Tai Chi is an excellent cardio choice for seniors.


What could be better than dancing for exercise?

That’s the question Beto Perez asked himself when he invented Zumba in the early 2000s. Since then, this form of exercise has been loved by all age groups. There are Zumba classes for children, adults and seniors.

However, you can still reap great cardio benefits from dancing alone at home. It doesn’t take a formal Zumba class to get a great dance workout.

Exercises Seniors Should Avoid

I am not one to outright exclude exercises or forms of exercise. I think almost every exercise has its place. Of course, this is only true if the exercise is used appropriately, taking into account the person’s age and ability.

That said, in almost all cases there are a few exercises that I don’t like for seniors and other populations.

Upright rows

The upright row is a strengthening exercise in which the lifter:

Hold a dumbbell or two dumbbells. Pulls the weights straight up to the ceiling, leading with his or her elbows.

The reason I don’t like this exercise can get quite technical. But suffice it to say that the upright row puts a ton of load on the shoulder. For many people, it can wear down tendons and other structures in the shoulder, leading to injury.

That’s why I usually discourage clients from performing this move.

Some joint exercises

When it comes to resistance training, I prefer most seniors perform multi-joint exercises. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with single-joint exercises. However, when a person does a bicep curl, they only work a few, small muscles. Instead, they could perform a lat pulldown, where they would train the same muscles as during a biceps curl, while also working other muscles.

Multi-joint exercises are often safer and more efficient than their single-joint counterparts. And who doesn’t want to reduce the risk of injuries and reduce the time they spend in the gym?

Heavy lifts without a spotter

Even for seniors, it’s okay to lift heavier weights every now and then. Of course, you need to make sure you’ve built up this heavy weight and you’re ready to complete the lift.

However, seniors should never attempt a one rep max (or even a ten rep max, in my opinion) without a spotter. The risk of cardiovascular and musculoskeletal disease increases significantly as we age, and heavy lifting puts seniors at unnecessary risk of injury.

Always use a spotter and have a contingency plan in place while exercising. While exercise is good for our health, it does create a risk that we need to be prepared for.


It can be difficult for seniors to counteract the effects of aging. Fortunately, by following ACSM guidelines for aerobic exercise, older adults put themselves in the best position possible. There are many great ways to exercise, and a few that should be avoided.

If you have any questions about which type of exercise is best for you, consult a health professional in your area. Otherwise, when you’re ready to get active again, put on those shoes and go for a 30 minute walk!


Patel, H., Alkhawam, H., Madanieh, R., Shah, N., Kosmas, C.E., & Vittorio, TJ (2017). Aerobic versus anaerobic training effects on the cardiovascular system. World Journal of Cardiology, 9 (2), 134-138. https://doi.org/10.4330/wjc.v9.i2.134American College of Sports Medicine. Physical Activity Guidelines.

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