6 Steps to Getting Healthy and Fit in Your 60s, 70s, and Beyond

By Nancy Fitzgerald |

Even if you’ve been a couch potato for decades, now is the perfect time to get up, get moving, and get fit. Here’s why—and how.

fitness over 60

Looking for a fountain of youth? Just look for your sneakers. Then lace them up and get moving.

Exercise can turn back the clock, jumpstart your energy, and restore your health.

That’s the message we heard over and over when we asked the SilverSneakers Facebook community for a dose of fitness inspiration. Some said they didn’t start exercising until they were well into their 60s, but a desire to thrive in their retirement years sparked their interest.

Others fell out of the fitness habit during the hustle and bustle of raising families and building careers in midlife. Often, a health scare is what lit the fire to move more.

Whatever the reason, this group is clearly on to something. Physical activity is key to a happier, healthier life for older adults, according to the latest research. It helps protect against some of the biggest health problems older adults face: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and falls. It also wards off depression and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

As for that fountain of youth? Getting approximately 150 minutes of physical activity a week has been linked to a 33 percent lower risk of early death from any cause, according to the latest fitness guidelines. But even small amounts of activity—five to 10 minutes, if that’s what you can manage—can help your health.

In other words, exercise won’t make you live forever, but it could help you live longer and better.

Here, SilverSneakers community members share the steps they’ve taken to get fit—and stay fit—no matter how many birthdays they’ve celebrated.

Step #1: Start Small

Maybe you haven’t played sports since high school, or maybe you’ve never exercised before. That’s okay. Starting small is good, and just starting is even better.

Just ask Lori Plummer Howard, who started SilverSneakers classes after she retired at 68. Now 71, she says, “I am in the best shape of my life. I can do over 12 pushups from the floor and hold the plank for 90 seconds. My clothes fit better, and I have the energy now to hike in North Carolina with my husband.”

Lori finds inspiration among her fellow exercisers. She points out, “There are ladies in my class who are in their late 80s and two who are 90.”

Step #2: Find a Workout Partner

Ideally, recruit someone around your own age. Seniors stick to their fitness routines best when they work out together, science says.

In fact, older adults who participated in a fitness program with others in their age group were three times more likely to come to exercise classes, according to researchers from the University of British Columbia.

That’s the kind of camaraderie that keeps Linda Jones showing up for workouts.

“I started in my 60s after being diagnosed with diabetes,” she says. “I go to a senior center, and I love the group—I wouldn’t do it at home on my own!”

Step #3: Ignore Your Excuses

It may be great to have a friend to exercise with, but if you’re on your own, don’t be nervous. Take a deep breath and do it anyway.

“Don’t wait for your spouse or buddy to get started,” says Susan Stantial-Roberts, who started yoga at 60 and SilverSneakers classes at 67.

“If I had waited for those folks, I’d still be waiting—and 22 pounds heavier,” she says. “You have to be your own advocate and care about yourself and your well-being. You deserve to feel good!”

Plus, you never know—you could meet your new best friend. “I’ve met some wonderful, interesting, fun folks,” Susan says.

And those new friends come with health benefits. Social isolation is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes per day, according to Brigham Young University research. Maintaining strong relationships can improve your health and quality of life.

Step #4: Embrace New Experiences

In her 60s, Bunny Brown Drueke was an exercise newbie. “I’d never been active,” she says. “But I recently moved in to take care of my mom, and I need to be strong to care for her.”

Bunny started with a SilverSneakers water aerobics class and soon added walking. Things really took off from there.

“This past spring, I walked-jogged two 5Ks,” she says. In one race, she finished first in her age group. And in the other, second.

“Now I have a hike in the Scottish Highlands with my son planned for 2020.”

Your body isn’t the only thing that will benefit from new challenges. Learning and trying new things keeps the brain healthy and cuts your risk of dementia.

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Step #5: Make It a Habit

Robin Hayes was always active—bicycling, gardening, riding horses—but she never went to the gym. That changed after surviving cancer and recovering from a heart attack in her early 60s.

“I turned into a gym rat,” she says. At first, her workout schedule was tough. “But it became the backbone of my life. It gave my life order, purpose, and a challenge.”

At 72, Robin hits the gym three to four times a week. “What keeps me going is how good I feel physically and how much I enjoy the accomplishment. Exercise is a part of my life now, and I feel privileged every time I go to the gym.”

Step #6: Start Again If You Need To

If you grew up very active but put exercise on the back burner in your 30s or 40s because “life got in the way and work took too much time,” Susan B. understands completely.

“The next thing I knew, I was 59 and had a double mastectomy,” she recalls. “I was so depressed. I was using a cane, was very overweight, and wouldn’t look at myself in the mirror.”

But Susan’s story doesn’t end there. “I realized I was not going to live long the way I was going,” she says.

She joined a senior activity center. “I met so many people like me. We encourage each other and support each other,” she says.

Now 67, Susan walks a couple of miles at a time without a cane, goes to a chair yoga class three days a week, and has learned to use fitness equipment. She’s even taking fewer pain medications.

More than that, she has a positive outlook on life. “I’m happier, and I know I have many more happy days to come.”

Her top tip? “Get up and tell yourself you are worth it—then go have fun!”

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