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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