Why exercise is the best answer if you’re older and out of shape

Getting back in shape after you’ve let your physical fitness slide for years (or decades) isn’t easy. And the more out of shape you are, the more likely you are to fall down a rabbit hole of self-doubt…

You’re too old. It’s been too long since you even attempted exercise. Heck, you can barely make it from the couch to the bathroom without getting winded.

These negative thoughts swirl through your mind every time you think about buying a used exercise bike or signing up for a gym membership or going to a yoga class. But I have news for you…

None of this stuff is true. In fact, if you can break through this wall of negative thoughts and get your butt moving, you’ll find some pretty amazing benefits waiting for you. And the older and more out of shape you are, the better these benefits are.

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Exercise will get you back in shape… even if your 85

It’s much easier to fall out of shape as you get older. That’s because inflammation and oxidative stress ramp up as you get older. That puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease. And once you have cardiovascular disease your body’s deconditioning speeds up at a rapid pace. But it’s never too late to recondition your body. A new study proves it.

This Canadian Journal of Cardiology study found that even the oldest and most out-of-shape people can reclaim their fitness. Researchers included 733 people in the study and divided them into three groups: people less than 65 years old; people between 65 and 80 years old; and people 80 years or older.

All these people completed a 25-session cardiac rehabilitation program (a medically supervised program designed to improve cardiovascular health through exercise and other healthy lifestyle habits). And guess what? They all experienced improvements in their physical fitness and their mental health. Their exercise capacity went up and their anxiety and depression went down.

People who started with the most physical impairments received the most benefits from the program. People under 65 with anxiety saw big reductions in anxiousness through the program. People over 65 with depression saw major improvements in mood through the program. And most importantly, everyone, regardless of age, was able to restore their cardiovascular fitness.

The moral of the story?

Age doesn’t limit your ability to get fit. So, don’t let your mind tell you otherwise.

Be slow, steady and super committed

If you’re older and/or out-of-shape, you may not know how to get back into the swing of things exercise-wise. My advice?

Take a slow and steady approach. You don’t want to go to an intense cross-fit session or hot yoga class if you’re just starting to exercise again. That could be dangerous… or at the very least discouraging. Instead, start with gentle but effective forms of exercise like:

  • Swimming
  • Yoga (Restorative, Hatha or Iyengar are good options if you don’t want anything too intense)
  • Pilates
  • Bodyweight training
  • Resistance band workouts
  • Bicycling
  • Walking

Really, you can explore any form of exercise that appeals to you. Just make sure to start at a low intensity level and gradually increase the intensity as you get more fit.

Related: The best exercise to slow down aging

Here’s another thing to remember…

Even if you to take a gentler approach to exercise, stay committed — just as committed as that cross-fit dude at the gym who does a million reps and only eats grass-fed beef jerky.

If your exercise routine is a slow walk around your neighborhood, commit yourself to taking that walk every day. And don’t accept the bajillion excuses your mind is sure to come up with to weasel your way out of it. You know the saying, slow and steady wins the race? It’s not always true (like when you have two minutes to catch a flight or your husband cuts his finger with the hedge trimmer and needs a ride to the ER). But this time, it is.


  1. Regular exercise is good for your heart, no matter how old you are: study — MedicalXpress
  2. Physical and Psychological Effectiveness of Cardiac Rehabilitation: Age Is Not a Limiting Factor!Canadian Journal of Cardiology
  3. 9 Best Types of Exercise for Older Adults — SilverSneakers


Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.