Defying Age: A Guide to Maintaining Mobility and Strength

Category: Training Tips / Workouts

Society has taught us to believe that as we age, we will get stiff and achy joints, a decrease in mobility, live in pain, gain weight, and become more fatigued when participating in activities. How many times have you heard (or maybe even said yourself), “Oh, I’m old and that’s why I can’t do X or keep up with X”?

I’m here to tell you that this just isn’t the case, and it doesn’t need to be the case for you either. There are many people worldwide who are in their autumn season of life regaining strength, maintaining mobility, decreasing aches and pains and even gaining lean muscle mass. I see it every day with my own clients who are older aging adults.

Now, what I’m not saying is that our bodies are going to respond the same to stimulus in our 70’s and 80’s as they did in our 20’s and 30’s. There needs to be a shift in our priorities when we get into these later years of our life if we want to maintain our independence and functionality of our bodies. Let’s talk about a few important aspects of our training that we should prioritize to feel great in our later years and even make some improvements to our overall health. Here are some practical strategies for maintaining strength, mobility, and overall well-being well into your later years.

Disclaimer: The exercises and workouts mentioned in this article are suggestions based on general fitness principles. It is important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional or physician before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions or concerns. The information provided here is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always prioritize safety and listen to your body when engaging in physical activity.


Our bodies are relying on our balance systems all the time; when we walk, sit tall in a chair, reach for something high in a cupboard, even as we step down the stairs. To improve our balance for these activities and for important aspects like fall prevention, we need to actively challenge the different aspects of balance. When you see a young kid playing at a playground, for instance, you may notice that they are always practicing balance. They are climbing up on ladders and ropes, crouching through tunnels, and jumping off platforms. Most children have great balance because of this, and that’s the cool thing about balance – we can improve it when we practice it!

Recommended exercises

Yoga, Thai Chi, and dancing are all great ways to help improve balance. Try peppering in some balance specific exercises in your exercise program. Create different stances, wide leg, tightrope stance, or perform an exercise on one leg. Another great way to improve balance is by trying some exercises with closed eyes (but be sure to be near a stable support for safety) or even with focusing on something off to the left or to the right. Incorporating visual movements with our exercises can help improve the visual system which is a huge component of our body’s balance system. Going shoeless and starting with some toe and foot exercises can also help improve proprioception, another important aspect of the balance system. For some ideas, please see our Ocean Insider Club subscription.


You may only think of professional athletes needing agility, but the truth is, we need to be practicing agility even more as we age. Agility is defined as, “a rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus”. To move like this, our bodies require more muscle recruitment. Training agility can help us for the day we step off the curb and a car speeds quickly around the corner. We would need brain reaction time to tell our body to quickly change direction backwards to avoid the car, but ultimately, it’s the ability of the muscle to move our body that quickly.

Recommended exercises

Gyms usually have agility ladders available which are great for practicing lower body agility, or you can tape down an agility ladder shape on the floor –this can be a better option for those just starting out with agility because then there’s no tripping hazard (also a great option if someone uses a walker or walking poles).  A low step up also works well, and if you don’t have one you can use the bottom of a stair (make sure a railing is available for safety). Putting cones down on the floor (or outside at the park) and performing some quick movement changes back and forth to each cone is another fantastic agility exercise. Any ball sports like basketball or tennis are great ways to practice agility, even when just throwing back and forth with a super friend or grandchild.

Strength Training

Muscle mass decreases anywhere between 3-8% per decade after the age of 30, and this rate is even higher after the age of 60. However, studies have also shown that with a regular strength training program, we can not only maintain muscle mass as we age, but we can actually (drum roll please) increase it!

Having some adequate muscle mass is arguably one of the best things we can give ourselves for longevity, pain-free movement, and independence throughout our life. Muscle acts as a support to our skeleton and can help preserve our bone density. If you are at risk or have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you absolutely need resistance training. There is no other type of exercise that will help you build muscle and increase bone density.

Recommended exercises

Strength training for older aging adults should be done 2-3x a week. Starting at a rep range of 8-10 is usually a good starting point. Sets can be worked up to 3-4 per working muscle group. If someone is unsure about using free weights, I recommend hiring a coach to help learn the proper form to reduce risk for injury.

Another option is to start in a pool, where the water acts as a resistance of at least 2x of what the air is, depending on how quickly the movement. If you have osteoarthritis, vertical pool workouts (also known as standing water workouts or aqua aerobics) are one of the best ways to get in resistance training with a low impact environment. This has been shown to be more effective than swimming laps, especially if you can exercise in water that is above your shoulders.


I believe walking to be one of the most underrated activities out there. As mentioned earlier, walking requires a lot of balance, but it also helps lubricate the joints of the hips, knees and spine. One of my teachers in my early rehab education days used to say, “Motion is lotion” and this is essentially what walking can do for our spine and joints. There is also a social component of walking, where we can participate in walk/run events within the community, catch up with friends on what I call ‘coffee walks’ or spend time with our loved ones in nature. Remember that our mental health is an important aspect of overall fitness, and having social outlets and de-stressing strategies are very impactful for healthy neural connections as well as strengthening our nervous system.

Recommended exercises

If able, we should be walking every day. If you need walking poles, use them. If you use a cane, consider switching to walking poles. Walk with friends, family and/or the dog. Try flat surfaces, or inclines for some more challenge. Head outside when possible and breathe the fresh air, and make sure to invest in some proper footwear. If a walking program is new to you, start with 10 minutes a day. As you get stronger, you can start to add minutes. You can also break up your walk times throughout the day to make them more manageable, if needed.

Cardiovascular Training

Cardiovascular disease is on the rise, and the more sedentary we are the higher our risk becomes. This means that if someone needs to use a mobility device to get around in, they are more at risk for heart disease than those that are ambulatory or weight bearing. The good news is that we don’t have to use our legs to create a good cardiovascular workout!

Recommended exercises

A lot of fitness facilities nowadays have better options available for adaptive cardiovascular equipment. This can include Ski Erg machines, Row Erg machines, and even some hand cycles or hand bikes. If someone uses a manual wheelchair, they may try wheeling outside to get their heart rate up. Other options include activities like shadow boxing, hitting a speed bag, or even using a dowel at home and doing some of our seated dowel exercises.  


Our joints require being used to full range so that we can keep them pain free and healthy.  When we don’t use something, we lose it. Think of a squat for example. If we don’t spend any time squatting down to the floor, our hips, knees and ankles can become stiff, and our soft tissues can become ‘sticky’ due to the lack of motion (remember, motion is lotion!) In the case of the squat, we can also lose stability from lack of muscle surrounding the knee joint.

Recommended exercises

Moving often can help stimulate the lubrication in our joints instead of being reabsorbed. Try getting up and taking a walk or doing some sit to stands every 30 minutes or so, avoiding long-term stillness or sitting. We can use a timer to remind us to get up every 30 minutes or so, especially if we are distracted or focused on the activity, like working at a computer.

There is no doubt that there are aspects of aging that happen to our bodies that we cannot control, but there are many things that we can do to offset these changes and maintain healthy, pain free joints. Remember that no matter what age you are at or where you are in your fitness journey, it is never too late to start making improvements in your joint health, muscle integrity, and balance.

Your coach,
Megan Williamson

Citations/ references:

(Growing Stronger, Galloway 20008).
Holloszy JO. The biology of aging. Mayo Clin Proc. 2000;75 (Suppl):S3–S8.

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