How to Get and Stay Active at Any Age

Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on October 26, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

You're not as young as you once were, and you're still looking for an exercise routine that works. Or maybe you think you're too old to bother.

Not so. It's never too late in life to get started, according to Joan Pagano, author of 8 Weeks to a Younger Body.

The key may be to start small and work yourself up.

No-Gym Strength Exercises

Pagano recommends these four moves. You can do the whole routine in about 5 minutes.

Squat. Stand in front of a chair, arms forward at shoulder level. Inhale as you bend at the knees, and lower yourself as if you were going to sit down -- just enough to touch the chair. Exhale and return to standing. Only go part of the way down if your knees are uncomfortable. Aim to do this move 10-15 times.

"This is the No. 1 exercise for life," Pagano says. It's practical because "you have to get up from a seated position all the time, from a chair or the toilet. It works the three major muscle groups of the lower body: the glutes, quads, and hamstrings."

Diagonal pushup. You don’t have to get on the ground to do this pushup. Instead, put your hands on a fixed support, like the kitchen counter, so your body is on a diagonal. Try to do 10-15.

"This targets the three major muscle groups in the upper body: the chest, the front of your shoulders, and the back of your arms," she says. "This is good for strengthening the typical fracture spots that happen during osteoporosis."

Pelvic tilt. Strengthen your core muscles with exercises like this one. Lie on your back with bent knees, feet on the floor. As you exhale, tighten your abs and curl your hips 1 inch off the floor with your lower back flat. Release and repeat. Shoot for 10-15.

Back extensions. Stand up, hands on your butt below your waist. Gently pull your elbows toward each other so your upper back arches, slightly. Release and repeat 5-10 times.

"These reverse the tendency we have to hunch as we get older and lengthens out the spine," Pagano says.

5 Key Fitness Tips

1. You don't have to exercise at set times. Start thinking of ways to fit it into your routine throughout the day.

"Housework could qualify as exercise if you do it at a good enough pace," Pagano says. You could also do gardening, walk your dog, or play with your kids or grandkids.

Just start slowly, maybe with 10-15 minutes of your chosen activity -- rather than with an hour -- and work your way up.

2. Try group personal training. "This normally involves two or three other people training at the same time. Often gyms will put people together based on fitness levels so that each person is comfortable, and [it] reduces the feeling that you can't keep up with others,” says Kecia Clarke, author of Fitness Is a Way of Life. You still get personalized instruction, but at a cheaper price.

3. Get active with your community. "You can find anything from Zumba, mat Pilates, yoga, golf lessons, tennis lessons, and general cardio classes. Sometimes these classes take places at local fire halls, parks or lodges around town. Check with your town city hall," Clarke says.

4. Use your cell phone. Download a few free fitness apps, and find one that works for you.

"Pedometers are a tool that really works," Pagano says. "It's very motivating to see how many steps you're taking and set goals based on it." You might start walking a lot more instead of driving or taking the bus.

You've got plenty of these apps to pick from. Clarke suggests "MapMyWalk," which creates walking routes and tracks your workout stats and calories. It also lets you share the info with friends. And with "Pocket Yoga,” you can follow a yoga routine or build your own.

5. Set small, realistic goals. Instead of just saying to yourself, "I want to be healthy," get specific. Maybe you want to be able to climb two flights of stairs without panting. Or maybe you want to work your way up to walking a 10K.

Once you meet your goal, set another one, says Joel Meshulam, MD, an internist at Mercy Medical Center. That will help keep you from falling back into old habits. Or, try to work on multiple goals at the same time. That way, you'll always have something to look forward to.

Show Sources


Joan Pagano, health and fitness specialist; author, Strength Training Exercises for Women, DK, 2013.

Joel Meshulam, MD, internist, Mercy Hospital, Baltimore.

Kecia Clarke, author, Fitness Is a Way of Life, Kecia Clarke Enterprises, 2014.

University of Florida: "Free fitness iPhone apps fail to meet American College of Sports Medicine exercise guidelines."

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