By Simon Gould
Note – Please seek medical advice before undertaking any exercise routine, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has physical activity recommendations for those over 65’s. But many other organizations consider someone senior at 60. I’d advise the same thing for someone who’s over 60 or 65 so that’s what the following are based on. I’ll go through treadmill speeds, how long seniors should exercise for, some workouts, and then the benefits.
A quick word about physical activity for seniors
The secret to getting active especially if you’ve never exercised before, as a senior, is to start slowly. I’ll go through the speeds and length of time you should exercise on a treadmill, and while they may seem daunting, starting slowly means they are achievable. This is why they’re recommended by WHO and Governments around the world.
Even younger adults need to start slowly when starting an exercise routine. It’s better to do this than try something too fast or long and suffer an injury that stops you from progressing for a period of time. This would be a shame while your motivation is there. Any exercise you do has health benefits, and I say this a lot, any exercise is better than none.
Treadmill walking speed for seniors
- 2.1 mph to 3.0 mph
As per Healthline.com, this is the range of average walking speeds for people between the ages of 60 and 89. As we get older our walking speed decreases and that’s ok. Our muscles decline in size and walking can help reverse this process. It’s only natural that our speed is not what it once was, whatever activity we’re doing.
This is only the average, you may walk faster or slower depending on a number of factors like stride length, height, weight, and more. The point is you don’t need to walk too fast to get health benefits from it. Beginners often think speed is important but it isn’t, it’s the fact that you’re doing the exercise at all. Walking in itself is good for us.
If you do want to make it a little harder, perhaps you want to lose weight, you can walk briskly but make sure you’re not overdoing it. You could use the incline on a treadmill. By doing one of these, it would qualify as moderate physical activity as per the World Health Organization (WHO) and give us great health benefits.
Treadmill running speed for seniors
- 4.0 mph to 6.0 mph
Research shows that we run slower as we age. Beyond 40 years the decline in speed is gradual but measurable and is about 1% per year. This would mean your speed is reduced by 20% at the age of 60 compared to when you were 40 or below. I don’t advise running fast and you don’t need to. As long as you’re lifting your feet off the deck as you go you’re physically running and that’s what we want.
The act of running or jogging at any speed is defined by WHO as vigorous physical activity. This kind of activity you don’t need to do so much of. This is because it’s harder than moderate activities like walking. With running build up very slowly if you’re not used to it. I have a workout below that starts you at 3 minutes per day, rising every week.
Whereas walking you may want to use the incline on a treadmill, I don’t advise it if you’re running. It can put too much pressure on the knee joints and I advise this for all ages. I think especially for seniors as bone density declines as we get older. Pay attention to how your body feels and if you get any soreness. If you do, you may want to have a day or 2 off.
Treadmill walking time for seniors
- 150 minutes per week
Yes, that’s 2 and a half hours per week and that’s what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for seniors. It’s actually the same for adults over the age of 18, but if you can’t do that, they say do as much as your health allows. Two and a half hours per week equates to 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week. You can choose which days you do this and it can be done in 10-minute chunks.
WHO says this is moderate physical activity and that can include many other things you do. There are all kinds of ways to get 30 minutes in your day other than going on a treadmill. Household chores count, or you could be walking around shopping, and gardening can count too. If you’ve done something for a period of time and you feel a bit exhausted, then you’re probably done for that day.
If you’re on a treadmill you can see the amount of time you’ve spent on the console. 150 minutes is a lot of time so hopefully, you may have retired so you have space in your days. Do something you enjoy and it’ll be something you look forward to. I have a TV mounted in front of my treadmill and enjoy the latest TV series while exercising.
Treadmill running time for seniors
- 75 minutes per week
This is exactly half the walking time required because it takes more energy to run. It equates to 15 minutes per day, 5 days a week. You may want to do 30 minutes in one day and spread the remaining time over the rest of the week. Alternatively, you can do a combination of running and walking as long as you get the activity done.
Running is tough and I advise people of any age to gradually lengthen the time spent running. Our bodies adapt to make it easier to run for longer and longer distances. I live in a capital city and we have a big marathon every year and there is always a feature made of the oldest runner and their time. They would have trained for around 6 months to be able to successfully complete a marathon distance.
The human body is remarkable and even seniors who may have had little exercise throughout their life can start and succeed in later life. I don’t mean running a marathon, but being able to run for 75 minutes per week is success in my eyes. You may need to start brisk walking first before you can start running and that’s ok too.
Suggested treadmill workouts for seniors
I’ve established you need to build up slowly, so this is what I’ve got in mind for these workouts. I’ll also be guided by the WHO recommendations on time.
Walking – Make sure you’re brisk walking or at a regular speed on a slight incline. We’ll aim for 5 days per week. In the first week walk for 5 minutes per day. Then increase this by 5 minutes every week until you reach 30 minutes. This means it will take you 6 weeks to reach the target. Then you’ll be doing the exact amount recommended.
Running – If you feel you can run we’ll take this gradually as well. Do a 5-minute walk to warm up your muscles. Then run at a steady pace for 3 minutes, 5 days per week. Increase this by 3 minutes per week until you reach 15 minutes. This will take you 5 weeks to reach the goal amount of 75 minutes per week.
5 specific benefits for seniors from exercise
Benefits to the elderly through exercise are enormous. As well as those that affect younger adults, seniors get particular benefits that we really need as we get older. Older people are susceptible to some diseases far more than their younger counterparts. Some benefits are obvious and some less so, but learning about them should really motivate you.
1. Bone health – Research shows as we get older our bone mineral content decreases. This makes a big difference to any falls we may have as our bones can break more easily. Keeping our skeleton intact is vital for the independence of the older population. Exercise, such as walking on a treadmill, is a weight-bearing activity and will reduce the risk of falls and bone fractures.
A treadmill will only help the legs as bone health benefits are location specific. That’s why other strength exercises are recommended for the upper body so they can get some benefits too. This doesn’t mean you have to lift weights if you don’t want to, but putting stress on the upper body helps it maintain some strength and bone density you had when you were younger.
2. Muscle mass – This is another part of the body that measurably declines as we get older, we get weaker. This makes seniors more fragile and more likely to suffer from falls and injury. Like bone health, there are many treatments for decreased muscle mass including testosterone or estrogen. And exercise is one of them too.
It’s strength training that makes the most difference which WHO advises you do 2 days off, every week. Exercising on a treadmill also has the effect of increasing muscle mass. The legs can get a strength-like workout if you walk up a steep incline for 10 minutes or so. That or running, anything that puts extra, anaerobic stress on the muscles has the benefit of increasing muscle mass.
3. Mental health – One of the major problems for seniors which is only now getting proper consideration is the danger of loneliness to mental health. Sports can help this in 2 ways. First, they can be a very social activity. I used to go to the gym to use a treadmill and I had many social interactions. Team sports would be even better.
The second way exercise helps mental health is because it is known to alleviate depressive symptoms. The Mayo Clinic says doing 30 minutes, 3 to 5 days per week has been shown to significantly improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. I know that when I do my treadmill running, I feel fantastic for around 3 days afterward. So, as I do it regularly, I feel great all the time!
4. Reduces diseases – Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disease that affects many seniors which exercise helps prevent. Your health as a whole is boosted because your immune system and digestive function is also improved. No matter what age you start exercising regularly, there are benefits for seniors from an active lifestyle.
Many diseases that affect the elderly have a lower risk due to exercise. Heart disease, colon cancer, and obesity. Exercise will lower blood pressure in those with hypertension which is a major silent killer as there are no symptoms. It also helps lessen the impact of chronic illnesses you may suffer and keeps you active and independent for longer.
5. Helps maintain mobility – Exercising on a treadmill gives you the stamina to do your daily tasks. If you get on a treadmill regularly, you’ll find your endurance grows over time. Where you were exhausted doing one activity, after regular exercise over a number of weeks you’ll be able to last longer. The human body can adapt and get stronger at any age.
Walking or running on a treadmill requires a level of concentration that helps your balance and coordination. While you can’t prevent the aging process, the power of physical activity means it can be delayed, allowing you to maintain your mobility and independence for longer. Even just brisk walking can give you this benefit.
While I may be biased when it comes to using a treadmill because I love using mine. There are many activities seniors can do that count as moderate and vigorous activity as defined by the World Health Organization. I encourage everyone to get some exercise in because it helps everyone of all ages. Even if it’s something simple like gardening or yard work, it helps.
My parents are in their 70s and I want them to remain mobile and healthy for as long as possible. I constantly remind them of what exercise can do. They may not feel like doing it sometimes, but that half an hour of brisk walking is a great investment in their future, however long that future may be.
The treadmill speeds I’ve mentioned are specifically for seniors and, with a bit of practice, are possible to achieve. The length of time recommended is a lot, but if you’re doing something you enjoy, it will feel like time well spent. Inactivity has dreadful consequences on our health at any age but especially for seniors, so be sure to make that change.
- World Health Organization fact sheet on physical activity for seniors
- Excellent article by HelpGuide.org on senior exercise and fitness
Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked*