10 Primal Exercises for Elder Apples

Senior Pull-UpsFirst thing’s first. Mark himself (at 55 years and going strong) is a proud member of this group, and he knows many of you are too. Art De Vany, good friend to Mark and fellow Primal practitioner, is a hearty 71. In truth, there’s no shortage of exceptionally fit, strong and seasoned men and women out there, some of whom can hold their own with the fit thirty-something set.

We think being older and wiser doesn’t preclude anyone from the best of Primal living. Granted, many MDA readers in their sixties, seventies or eighties might not be up for the plyometric and sprint routines we suggest. (We’ve gotten and appreciated your emails to this effect.) Though our suggestions for Primal exercise don’t change much with age (Grok’s not letting anyone off easy here!), we freely concede that variations can offer useful alternatives for healthy later decades.

So, what should we adapt as we age? What changes, ultimately, in our bodies, and how should those changes impact our fitness goals? A workout routine in later decades should hone/build the same fitness dimensions as in earlier years: strength, cardiovascular health, flexibility, and balance. The body without regular, challenging activity and excellent nutrition will, to be frank, go downhill faster in our later years. But what people take for “natural aging” (e.g. the dwindling of muscle mass, the stiffness, the decreased mobility, etc.) is all preventable. Sure, the stakes are higher now, but the potential for true fitness is as genuine as ever. Make no mistake!

The trick to later fitness is, ultimately, to be smart about it. A stupid injury can put you out of commission for weeks or months (instead of hours or days in the testosterone-/estrogen-fueled prime of youth). No matter how old or young you are, proper form and technique are one key to avoiding injury. The other is avoiding the temptation to overdo it in terms of both workout length and weight. It’s better to back off if you’re in doubt rather than risk overdoing it just because some punk at the gym bet his friend that the old guy couldn’t do 35 wide-grip pull-ups. Another critical point: cross training has never been more important. Training your full body will not only allow you to preserve and develop all the muscle groups and fitness dimensions (strength, cardiovascular, flexibility). It will help you avoid injuries resulting from overuse.

And now, let’s serve up those Tuesday tips – ten exercises to fuel mature fitness.



Depending on the branch you practice, yoga can be a means for stress-relieving meditation and a full-body workout. Yoga is an excellent activity for developing core power, lengthening and strengthening muscles, and adding moderate level cardiovascular activity to your routine. To boot, it can also help alleviate the aches and pains (especially back pain) that we become more susceptible to with age by enhancing flexibility, building a solid core, and engaging connective tissue in low-impact moves and positions. A side benefit: that serene, post-yoga glow.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi

Quick: who comes to mind when you think of Tai Chi? If you thought calm, serene, healthy older men and women, you aren’t alone. Perhaps because it’s truly sage advice for those in their later decades. (But trust us, anyone will walk away challenged and changed by it.) Though the history and philosophy behind the ancient art is far richer than we can begin to cover in this kind of post, Tai Chi is an internal martial art, fusing the focus of moving meditation with the subtle-seeming physical powers of coordination and balance. Not only can Tai Chi provide an effective means for managing stress; it can develop strength (particularly core strength) through slow, low-impact motion that flows from a strong, grounded center.


Swimming Pool

Swimming has been called the ultimate full body workout and for good reason. Not only does it rock your core muscles, it gives your arms, legs, and glutes a balanced work over unlike any you’ve ever had. To boot, swimming is a great low-impact option for those with joint pain and an excellent training program for those with chronic back problems. Because it’s low-impact, we think it’s a perfect Primal adaptation for cardio-boosting “sprints.”


Snow Hiking

The Primal Blueprint encourages a significant dose of low to moderate cardiovascular level activity such as hiking/walking. Every physician and expert recommends walking for general fitness. Grok, in all stages of his cave-life, would’ve walked (and walked and walked). Life back then didn’t allow for the sedentary existence we’ve fallen into, but that doesn’t mean they were all running marathons. Slow to moderate activity was the bulk of Grok’s routine, not the least of which was schlepping the water, the firewood, the kids, the day’s kill. Follow Grok’s lead by working in extra walking with the day’s chores. But we suggest also savoring some quiet, less hurried time outdoors on the hiking path. Walking is the perfect pace for seeing and living in nature for the afternoon. (The kind of activity that keeps us young at heart, we say.)


Bike on a Dock

Biking offers yet another low-impact option for both moderate exercise and intense sprinting (if you’re so inclined). It’s a tremendous workout for legs and glutes. Biking on rougher terrain, particularly, mobilizes the core as well. And in these times of high gas prices, it’s one of the most practical exercises out there. For proper leg extension and appropriate seating position (save your back the trouble!), we suggest visiting your local bike shop. They can offer good advice on the best size frame for your size and some handy features “geared” for your travel goals.



Think rowing can be a perfect upper body complement to activities like walking and biking? Sure thing, but did you know it’s also an awesome exercise for building core stability and even leg muscles? Don’t think, however, that you’ll be chained to the gym machine or be forced to bribe your way into a collegiate crew team. Plenty of rental shops offer fine boats. But if you can’t find a traditional rowing craft, consider trying your hand at kayaking. Though kayaking doesn’t work with the same pivot leverage and engage the quads, it still offers a great workout as well as an amazing way to get out there and unplug from the world.



The vital center of any strength training routine is a commitment to the “core,” those muscles in the abdomen and back that stabilize our bodies and serve as the supportive base for full body training. And make no mistake: Pilates can work wonders that crunches can’t even touch. As we age, investing smarter effort in maintaining our core can offer big payoff. Not only will it serve us well in our efforts to build/maintain muscle mass (more on that next), Pilates strengthens the muscles that support urinary continence and lower back health.

Circuit Weight Training


While generous use of free weights, isometrics, and Crossfit techniques can work wonders in their own right, circuit training with weight training machines can encourage a well-rounded, full body workout that might be preferable for some people. The idea here is to practice a well-designed strength training routine that employs full range of motion, a critical element for preserving full muscle integrity, specifically contractile muscle proteins that are responsible for muscle contraction. We especially recommend it as part of an overall routine if you’re new to strength training.

Power Lifting


Don’t shrug this one off as a young man/woman’s feat. Check out this video for proof! There’s no reason a sixty-year-old can’t be as strong as a member of the younger crowd, provided he/she is doing the same Primal exercise routine, complete with weight lifting. It’s the best way to preserve and build muscle mass in your later years, which we’ve shown is tied to critical organ reserve and longevity. As mentioned previously, watch your form and scale back when your instinct tells you. But don’t hold yourself back from the sense of accomplishment and the benefits of muscle building. And don’t worry if you find yourself a seasoned newbie. There’s no age limit for getting hooked. A good personal trainer can get you started in no time. You don’t need to be busting out of your shirt to feel (and enjoy) the effects of increased strength and a new sense of physical power.



Finally, do something fun. Pick up or simply re-commit to an active hobby (e.g. dancing, skiing, ice skating, golfing, rock climbing) – whatever floats your boat. Exercise, as we’ve often said, shouldn’t just be slugging away in intense boredom. Sure, it can be a test of will and motivation, but it shouldn’t be a miserable chore. More than ever, use your time to make exercise about truly enjoying life rather than just maintaining it. The mental challenge, the emotional rush, the social reward, and the personal release of our favorite activities without a doubt make us happier and healthier. You know the adage about “life in our years” and not just “years in our life”?

Some final thoughts? Limit high-impact sports and repetitive stress activities like tennis if you have painful joints. Otherwise, just get out there and enjoy. Exercise has never been more rewarding than it is now.

For fun, inspiration (and maybe a new athletic goal), check out this website for the National Senior Games Association, sponsor of Senior Olympic events across the country. (These men and women would give any of us a run for our money.)

Thoughts, questions, and other suggestions you’d add to our “primal” list? What have you found to be helpful and true in later decades of fitness?

Malingering, judepics, Rebel Blue Angel, Thomas Hawk, Troy Mason, Grant MacDonald, Nicolas Masse, Gypsey, sponng, Lep Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Top 10 Reasons to Stay Healthy

Shouldn’t Seniors Carry A Little Extra Weight?

10 Rules of Aging Well

TAGS:  Aging

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34 thoughts on “10 Primal Exercises for Elder Apples”

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  1. My 74 year old grandfather, who is healthy as a 50 year old (well maybe not you mark) but still in great condition took up paragliding and 12 mile hikes once a week in his 60’s.

  2. Very cool post. I have recently taken up Yoga and I love it. The core strength it builds is unrivaled. It also improves co-ordination and balance drastically…. Highly recommended!

    1. I recently discovered restorative yoga. Now I am addicted to the magical blend of yoga and TM. This old fart can get awfully cranky if he misses his restorative session!

  3. Well said. On another note, in my last project I worked with two business owners over 70 who are actively skiing and surfing. There was no way for me to estimate their ages if I wasn’t invited to one of their birthday party. And one thing I noticed, these guys are sharper than most of the people I have worked with. It was great working with them. You can either say smart people exercise or people who exercise stay smart.. Either works for me.

  4. Finally! Glad I’m not the only old fogie still working on my body. I do Tai Chi and I can’t praise it enough!

  5. I think we all are a little scared, reactionary in a way towards muscle atrophy, and I think as this article testifies to, we need to be proactive in shaping our senior years. My grandfather is 90 years old and still gets out of the house to take walks. I think it is necessary to have stimulation both muscle and mental as we get along in our years.

  6. As an “elder apple” myself, I really enjoyed this post. I recently cut back on running in favor of circuit training, intervals and hiking/walking. I want to get back into yoga and I’d like to try rowing.

    My mom is still going strong at 78 and looks years younger. I think her active lifestyle has a lot to do with it. It definitely gives me someone to keep up with!

  7. Great article, it’s particularly motivating for the younger generation to see the elders out there showing us up and staying mentally and physically active.

    Personally I would recommend yoga onto anyone looking to improve their posture, core strength, flexibility and helping with back pain. My grandmother is into her 80s and plays golf at least 3 times a week and is in great shape and still very sharp. Staying active is the key for all of us.

  8. Don’t forget DANCE – not usually a guy’s thing but it can be great exercise. My current favorite exercise is Nia – a fusion of Yoga, Martial Arts, and Dance and great fun.

  9. somehow Id missed this post!
    my elder apples done workout too often but my ELDER APPLE (my grandmother. passed away at 102.) was a primal exerciser before there was such a notion.

    she’s my role model.

  10. water aeerobics is just the greatest thing. Plenty of exercise, yet easy on the body!

  11. Hey Mark,

    rowing shells are propelled by the legs more than the arms. therefore, rowing is great exercise for the legs. try it and you’ll see what I mean.

  12. Great post! You enlisted a whole bunch of various good types of exercise. And I like the picture too. I would add another cool exercise to your list: riding the Glidecycle. I’ve seen a lady who had a hard time getting up out of chairs and walk around. After a few months on the GlideCycle she is running 3-4 miles at a time!

  13. me and my friends are approaching our 50’s, but we are going strong on latin ballroom dancing. Just wondering when it will become too much exercise, we dance 2-4 times a week and 2-3 hours per session.

  14. advertising and *********** with Adwords. Anyway I am adding this RSS to my e-mail and can look out for a lot more of your respective fascinating content. Ensure that you update this once more very soon..

  15. I’m a young “apple” but have some sort of condition which means I get serious all over body pain if I do any sort of high impact or repetitive activity. This has given me some great ideas, and hopefully with time I’ll be able to adjust to harder workouts.

  16. I love reading about this stuff! I’m 69 and like to move! I like to dance and have tried to find some rock ‘n roll dance dvds which I can do on my own at home. So far, nothing besides Richard Simmons. I attend Silver Sneakers at the Y three times per week. It’s wonderful but not enough for me.

    I have osteoarthritis (have one artificial shoulder joint) so am limited, do not lift anything heavier than 3 pounds, for example.

    I can get thigh/gluteus pain during walking or after walking or both. Stretching and enough rest help a lot. I’ve been reading about using sprints to increase muscle mass and control weight. I’ve tried some alternating walk/jog sessions, the jog being the sprint. It takes a tremendous amount of effort for me to do 20 minutes of this kind of workout. I feel tired but good afterwards. I don’t feel unusual pain or fatigue. I AM sore as in I worked some muscle. Good luck to everyone out there who’s trying to scrabble together enough doable exercise to stay active and happy.

  17. My wife and I just became senior apples, and it’s takes a little getting used to. But my wife wanted to assist seniors who want to remain active but just need a companion to come alongside and assist for a few hours or more each week. When seniors reach a certain age, they find that they aren’t able to do everything they could do as younger adults. They may want to remain independent, exercise a bit, but may not have the extra energy for cooking and housework. They may need someone to help them do errands or take them to doctor appointments and such. Elite Senior Companions offers this in southwest Florida.

  18. I’m a 64 year old male who started CrossFit two weeks ago. This is Act II for me. In my teens I was a competitive weightlifter. I”m really enjoying the diverse training associated with CrossFit three days a week. The other two days I’m continuing my practice of Tai Chi started four years ago. Enjoy reading your material.

  19. My mom is 74 years young and still very fit and healthy. Ever since she won her battle with cancer we have been swimming once a week for 6 years now. She looks forward to it every week and says it keeps her mobile. Without swimming she thinks she would of stopped moving a long time ago, I disagree but still believe swimming is perfect for senior citizens.

  20. I am 56 years young and average build. I started that insanity workout over a week ago and it is killing me. I never thought I could work so hard in my own home. You all got to try it. How i start to feel and look better soon.

    1. I am 55 and I do P90X3, now on my 2nd month. I have been doing the P90X even in my mid-40’s and this program keeps me agile, flexible and strong. I did Insanity, also, for about a month then decided it’s too intense for me. Good luck, Peter ! Keep it going and I am sure you will look and feel better after a few months.

  21. I am a 65 years old (but do not look it honest) and I am in desperate need to try move my body and get into shape. I want to be mobile for many more years and I think trying some of these 10 exercises may help. I will start with swimming when I get someone to come with me. Thank You

  22. Some very inspiring people commenting. I take my nan out once a month for a walk and she says she is too old. Next time we are going surfing…Surfing the web for inspiration THANK YOU <3 x

  23. Do you recommend any really good exercise for me. I am only 38 years old but I have had 2 shoulder operation and I want some strength back in them?

  24. I have gained so much information from this post Mark and I believe I can take it away and put it to good use so many many thanks. x

  25. The two most important factors is that it be fun and that you respect your limits. It does not good to put in thirty intense exercise minutes if you cannot walk for the next three days as a result

  26. Best thing for elder people is to stay fit. My mom goes twice a week to gym and even she’s 65 she’s fit and ready for a city break anytime.

  27. I am 56 year old.bigning i am athilet,wet lifttar, in this time my body pain ispesly foot and neeas

  28. I’m 69, and just want to keep movin’ as long as I can. At my age, we’re all “an experiment of one”. The mix of intensity and duration that works for me may not work for the next guy–and vice versa. I listen to my body, not my workout buddies. The older I get, the more recovery I need between high-intensity or high-duration workouts. It sure helps if you just enjoy spending some time outdoors. At 59 I did an Ironman (oldest 2%, but finished just short of the 50th percentile). For the last 10 years I’ve averaged over 90 minutes of exercise per day–mostly running, biking, backpacking, walking and weight lifting (swimming is so boring). This year, for the first time, I’m exercising over 2hr/day–mostly because of biking over 6,000 miles (my all-time high).

  29. Mark, deteriorating joints from various kinds of arthritis is pretty common in the 55+ age group, and can really derail an exercise program because of limited weight-bearing. I speak from experience!

    I used to dance (unofficial Polka Queen of Indianapolis), walk, hike, cross country ski, Nordic Track, but once hips and knees started south due to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, the weight-bearing exercise had to stop. I had right hip replaced in 2018, will have left hip replaced in 2019.

    Right now the only exercises that provide leg movement without weight-bearing are water walking, recumbent bike, NuStep (kind of a recumbent elliptical with integrated arm poles), and CardioGlidePlus.

  30. Exelente información para las personas que estamos en el otoño de nuestra vida y creemos que ya no tenemos oportunidades para mantener una vida saludable. Me gustaría tener un acercamiento con el responsable de tan valiosos consejos. Gracias