Survival Fitness for Seniors – Start Training Now!

Younger people need seniors with all their accumulated knowledge in SHTF situations but wisdom needs to be backed up with fitness for a senior to be an effective member of the team.

Some people may have retained their fitness levels by working hard and/or working out. Others let a busy life get to them and slowly let the physical exercise routines slip.

old man outdoors

Before starting any exercise program or ramping up a current one a person should consult a doctor especially if the person is overweight, has diabetes, a heart conditions or is on chronic medication.

What’s Your Current Level of Fitness?

Answer these questions as honestly as you can:

  • How far can I comfortably walk in a day carrying a 10 kg backpack?
  • How far can I sprint if I need to?
  • How far can I carry a 5-gallon water can and how will I do it?
  • How long can I chop wood without needing a break?
  • How long can I use a shovel or hoe in the fields without needing a break?
  • How long can I stay afloat treading water?
  • How long can I float?
  • How far can I swim?
  • How far can I cycle?

Although a person should be reasonably competent in most of the above it’s not just about fitness but about survival fitness. A retired person of 65 was washed out to sea off the coast of Durban, South Africa during a late afternoon swim. The current took him out to near when the ship’s anchor waiting for a berth in the port.

Fortunately, he did not fight the current but simply floated for the whole night in the warm Indian Ocean. The search and rescue team found him in the morning.

The local newspaper reported that he was quite complacent about his ordeal, although he did mention that he was a bit worried about sharks.

Fitness and Diet go Hand In Hand

Exercise and diet go hand-in-hand. Maintaining a high carb, high sugar, high alcohol diet isn’t going to result in weight loss.

For seniors to survive they need to be able to move nimbly, have strength and endurance, which isn’t possible if a person is severely overweight.

Daily Does It

What is most important, as various studies have shown is that for increased health and fitness activities should be carried out on a daily basis – hard intense activity once a week is just not going to cut it. Moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a day gives better results.

Five Key Components to Senior Fitness

These are CARDIO, FLEXIBILITY, BALANCE, STRENGTH and ENDURANCE and we will discuss each and suggest some exercises. Remember though that many exercises overlap, for example yoga, while concentrating on balance will also increase strength.


Any exercise that increases the heart rate and gets you breathing heavier will improve the condition of your cardio vascular system – heart, lungs and blood vessels.

Make sure your home activities include some cardio – cleaning, mowing the lawn and digging in the garden. If these activities are not enough then be sure to include an early morning walk – if you have dogs they will love you for this!

Make sure it is not all level ground – include some hills to get the heart rate up and alternate brisk walking with some slower walks and even a few little sprints if you are up to it.

Here’s a video that shows you how to ease into a low impact workout (avoid high impact as it damages joints and we want to avoid knee and hip replacements!)

15 Minute Senior Workout - HASfit's Low Impact Workout - Senior Exercises - Exercise for Elderly

In summertime substitute walking with swimming – make sure to record the number of laps and the time and gradually push to yourself to increase the number of laps or reduce the time so you are swimming faster and harder.

Swimming and aqua aerobics are great exercises, as they don’t put undue stress on joints.

Swim Exercises for Seniors

If you are not convinced listen to Gary Fasbender  – in 2009 at the age of 70 he participated in the Senior Games.

2009 Senior Games Swimmer Barry Fasbender

And Diana Nyad at the age of 64 swam 110 miles. all the way to Florida.

If you have access to a lake or creek then practice some survival skills like swimming across with a rope, taking into account the current and secure both ends and haul yourself over using the rope or get a couple of mates to join you on this exercise.

Practice crossing streams using the military triangle – when current is fast flowing three people form a triangle facing inwards, arms linked and move across together for increased stability.


Endurance training is not the same as cardio training – endurance training makes you able to work/cycle/walk further, faster and for longer periods of time. We have all seen the shows with ultra strong men and women managing to lift enormous weights  – that skill shows strength and is separate from endurance.

Sure, they can lift 600 lbs. for a short time. When seniors need is endurance  – to be able to walk for a day over countryside that ranges from flat to hilly carrying their rations and bug out bags.

In survival situations often the older person with experience in survival situations is most likely the better marksman or pathfinder. That person also needs the endurance to keep up with younger folk and carry their weight in terms of bringing home the meat from the animal they may have shot, carrying some rations/equipment or even being able to help around the campsite.

Turn chopping wood into a daily exercise – time yourself to see how much you can chop and stack ready for use and try to get a little faster each day, or increase the production of chopped logs.

Cycling – you never know when you won’t have fuel for vehicles so get used to cycling – it’s a fun way to get around and if you join a group of enthusiasts of similar age they will spur you on. As long as people are fit they can cycle to advanced ages.

There was a report of a man in Africa whose children decided when he turned 100 that he really shouldn’t be cycling around anymore due to his advanced age – he was rather upset with them for their decision and at his 103rd birthday party mentioned how much he missed getting around on his bicycle. He had also ridden a horse until he was 95 – the age at which the children also decided horse riding was too dangerous.

While the ability to hold one’s breath also decreases with age it is interesting to note that in 2012, Tom Sietas, a German free diver born in 1977 and then aged 35, was able to hold his breath underwater for 22 minutes and 22 seconds.

If you have access to a pool practice holding your breath – but always make sure someone is with you for these exercises. You never know in a flood or hurricane situation when you will be required to hold your breath.

Japanese pearl divers can hold their breath for between 2 to 7 minutes – but then they are diving deep for their precious haul:

Fit Surroundings- PREVIEW

All you will probably need is around 2 minutes. Interestingly most pearl divers are over 50 – and this article explains their physiology.


As humans age a special effort must be made to ensure that flexibility is maintained. It is a question of daily stretching exercise – yoga is excellent for this.

People may complain of arthritis but studies have shown that the pain of arthritis benefits from flexibility exercises. The less a human moves the more the joints seize up – so keep moving.

This ability is very necessary to survival when trying to reach something, retrieve another person from danger, and generally survive in a bug-out situation.

Start the day with stretches – for both men and women this is beneficial. Watch your cat when it wakes – it makes sure to stretch all its muscles, followed by some clawing (hopefully not your furniture) just to make sure its weapons for killing are in good nick – then it is ready to pounce on its prey.

You can follow yoga lessons online; do yoga with a couple of friends or under the guidance of a qualified teacher. This program is specifically for seniors who cannot leave a chair – the whole class is performed in a seated position.


As humans age the cells within the ear die off leaving a person will less balance ability. Certain injuries throughout a person’s life such as ear infections, concussions or leg sprains or fractures can result in loss of balance over time.

Also medications prescribed or ones bought over the counter can affect the senses and the brain resulting in impaired balance control.

To correct this training is necessary – yoga, tai chi and Pilates all help. This video shows some balance exercises:

Balance Exercises for Seniors : Yoga 101

It is important not to give up – Astronaut John Glen had balance issues, which disqualified him from service. He returned to space at the age of 77 after undertaking a rehabilitation program that helped with his balance.


It is absolutely essential to maintain bone density and this is achieved by weight bearing exercises – pushing weights in the gym, working around the garden carrying produce and poles for fencing, pushing wheelbarrows of produce all constitute weight bearing exercise. 

Lack of weight bearing exercise exacerbates osteoporosis – the thinning of the bones leading to breaks after relatively minor falls. It is important for women and men to do weight bearing exercise.

Many elderly people in farming communities Russia, China and other countries enjoy relatively good health as their diet mostly consists of the produce they manage to grow and their daily struggle for existence in producing the food, looking after the hens and livestock, chopping wood and gathering food ensures they retain strength. Here’s a cardio and weight program for seniors:

Cardio & Weight Training Exercises for Seniors by Curtis Adams

The Role of Metabolism

As we age muscle mass diminishes unless a person makes a determined effort to remain physically active. Any extra calories consumed are stored as fat.

Fat burns fewer calories than muscle so overweight people may blame a slower metabolism but in actual fact they need to get more active to move that fat and eat less to keep their metabolism constant.

It is never too late to start  – make this year the year of change by ramping up physical fitness.

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