4 keys to a great home workout

No gym? No problem. Here’s how to help seize the mind and body benefits of exercise right in your living room.

Mature Black woman stretching in the grass

Think you can only get a great workout at a gym or fitness center? Think again. 

“You can get a full workout right in your own living room,” says Barbara Bushman, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at Missouri State University. 

You can easily go online and find video workouts, or pop in a DVD. But Bushman says there are plenty of ways to build a routine on your own, too. She suggests mixing in a little of each of the four major types of exercise: aerobic, strength, balance and flexibility. 

Hit each of these targets on a regular basis, and you’re on your way to creating a home workout regimen that’s anything but boring. To get the full benefit, aim to build your way up to at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. 

Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have a chronic condition or are recovering from an injury or surgery.

Home Workout Goal #1: Build Endurance 
How often: 5 to 6 days each week

Aerobic, or cardio, exercises are designed to increase your heart rate and your breathing. The result? Better endurance, notes the National Institute on Aging (NIA). If you’ve ever caught yourself feeling winded climbing a short set of stairs or carrying a load of laundry, you know the true value of having more stamina. 

One of Bushman’s favorite ways to build up staying power is to turn on your favorite quick-tempo music and dance. Set a timer for 20 minutes or commit to dancing your way through four songs. It doesn’t matter if you’re all alone. In fact, sometimes it’s more fun when you can really let loose!

A healthy lady on a walk
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Walking is another great aerobic activity. But if it’s raining or it’s too hot outside, get creative and challenge yourself to take a set number of “laps” around your house, varying the length of your stride or even inserting a few lunges to target different muscles as you go. Or find a set of stairs with a sturdy handrail and go up and down several times. 

Home Workout Goal #2: Gain Strength 
How often: 2 to 3 days each week

You may not care about the size of your muscles. But working on your muscle strength is something that should be on your radar, notes the NIA. Simply put, stronger muscles may equal greater independence in your later years. 

This is where strength, or resistance, training comes in. It’s natural to lose some of your muscle mass as you get older. (The process actually started back in your 30s!) But strength exercises go a long way toward helping slow it down, according to a report from Harvard Medical School. 

In fact, it’s possible to gain muscle as you get older, if you commit to doing a few resistance moves two to three times a week. “You really don’t need to have special equipment to build and maintain strength,” says Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, Ph.D., head of the kinesiology and community health department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Your own body weight is enough to get you started, he says. Water bottles, soup cans or bags of rice are a good substitute for dumbbells. And inexpensive resistance bands are another option.

When deciding what moves to try, think about working all of your major muscle groups – legs, upper body and core. Leg-focused exercises will help you improve your mobility. This can be something as simple as rising from a seated position as quickly as you can, without using your hands or arms for assistance. Try to do it 10 times.  

Moves for your back, shoulders and arms can help make lighter work of everyday activities like carrying groceries. Old-fashioned biceps curls, using soup cans or a resistance band, are hard to beat. Or, try a lateral shoulder raise: Hold your soup cans and slowly raise your arms up and out to your sides, until you reach shoulder level, then lower your arms and repeat 10 to 12 times. 

Finally, core exercises can help improve your posture. Try a seated knee lift: Sit tall in a sturdy chair and place your hands on top of your thighs. Brace your core and slowly alternate lifting one knee up at a time for 30 seconds. 

For more ideas, check out 4 Strength Moves Older Adults Should Do

Home Workout Goal #3: Find Balance
How often: Daily

Balance training is particularly important to help prevent falls, which send 3 million older adults to the emergency room every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Balance exercises require your body and mind to work together to stay upright and hold good posture, explains the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Sounds complicated, but some of the best balance moves can be done anywhere, anytime. 

During a commercial break, for example, stand up and try to balance on one foot for the duration of the ad. When the next ad comes on, switch legs. Stand close to a wall or table for support, if needed. 

Heel-to-toe walks across the length of a room are another good balance exercise, as are any tai chi movements that you might know. Aim to spend some time every day working on your balance. 

Home Workout Goal #4: Improve Flexibility 
How often: Daily

Working on your flexibility and range of motion allows you to preserve those essential everyday activities, such as reaching up to a high cupboard or bending down to tie your shoes, according to ACE. 

Regular stretching also lowers your risk of injury. And if you have any sore spots or muscle tension, it pays to take some time to stretch and massage that area. Plus, stretching is a great way to relax and unwind at the end of the day. 

ACE recommends warming up your muscles before you stretch. Warm muscles are more receptive to the gentle pull of a stretch. You can tack five minutes of stretching onto the back end of your aerobic or strength routine. Or do some stretching after your shower.

Some ideas from the NIA and ACE: 

  • Sit in a chair or on the edge of your bed, lift your feet off the floor and point your toes. At the same time, reach your arms above your head. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. 
  • Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair and stretch your legs out in front of you. Keeping your heels on the floor, bend your ankles and flex your toes toward you. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then bend your ankles and point your toes away from you. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. 
  • Sit in a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly roll your shoulders back 10 times, and then reverse direction to roll your shoulders forward 10 times.
  • Stand an arm’s length away from a wall. Place your hands on the wall, step forward with your right leg and bend your right knee. Keeping your feet flat on the floor, bend your left knee slightly until you feel a stretch in your left calf. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat. 

Even though stretching is fairly simple and straightforward, it’s important to start out slowly and build up gradually. The NIA also reminds people to not hold their breath while stretching, to never stretch to the point of sharp pain and to keep movements steady.

For a more dedicated stretching session, consider doing a series of yoga poses. Yoga is well-known for its long stretches, relaxing postures and deep breathing. Done regularly, yoga may help increase your flexibility and range of motion, as well as help improve your balance, notes ACE. 

Get started with the five yoga poses that are just right for older adults