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6 benefits of rowing for seniors

Getting into the exercise habit is one of the most beneficial things that seniors can do to improve both their quality and quantity of life. But not all exercise options are good choices for older people.

When it comes to getting in a terrific full-body workout that is low impact and joint-friendly, the rowing machine is a smart choice for seniors. In this article, we reveal half a dozen reasons why seniors should get into the indoor rowing habit.

Low-impact exercise

As we age our bones lose strength and density. By the time we reach retirement age, the impact of running and jumping that would have meant nothing to us in our 20s and 30s can cause real problems to our joints. That’s why seniors need to choose exercise options that minimise joint impact.

The rowing machine is an example of a ‘closed-chain’ exercise. That means that the feet never leave their point of contact with the machine. This contrasts with an open-chain exercise like running on a treadmill, where every foot strike places tension on your ankle, knee, and hip joints.

As a result of its near-zero impact nature, rowing is a great choice for seniors in general and for people who are suffering from arthritis or osteoporosis in particular. There is even some research that indicates that regular exercise on a rowing machine can improve joint mobility.

Full body workout

When it comes to exercises that are designed to work your cardiovascular system, most of them are focused on the lower body. That’s because running is a primary aerobic exercise. As a result, most cardio exercise options tend to neglect the muscles of the upper body. Rowing, however, works both the lower and the upper body muscles.

Rowing works the following muscles of the body:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Latissimus Dorsi (upper back)
  • Biceps
  • Deltoids
  • Abdominals
  • Erector Spinae (lower back)

As a senior, you need exercise that engages as many of your muscles as possible. That’s because muscles atrophy (or get smaller and weaker) as we age. In fact, we lose 3-8% of our muscle mass every decade after the age of 30. After the age of 60, that percentage goes even higher.

Working out on a rowing machine can provide the gentle muscle stimulation that you need to help offset age-related muscle atrophy. At the same time, it can improve your muscular endurance, allowing you to perform everyday tasks such as carrying groceries or doing gardening with greater efficiency.

The stronger your abdominals and lower back , the less strain you will also place on your spine, relieving backache.

To understand how to perform the correct technique, read this guide on how to use a rowing machine by Start Rowing.

It is relaxing

For many people, rowing is a very relaxing form of exercise. It allows you to get into a rhythmic flow, where your mind can switch off, allowing you to go into a meditative, mindful state. Getting into the early morning rowing habit allows you to get off to a great start to the day.

The rush of endorphins that flush through your bloodstream as a result of the exercise will make you feel great, too. After your workout, you’ll feel like you can take on the world!

Cardiovascular benefits

You probably already know how important it is to be on top of your cardiovascular health into your senior years. The stronger your heart is, the more easily it will be able to pump the blood around your body. Strong fit lungs are equally important, allowing for the efficient transmission of life-giving oxygen around your body.

Rowing is an excellent cardiovascular exercise choice. It is a challenging form of exercise that will force your heart and lungs to respond by becoming stronger.

Seniors who get into the rowing machine habit will be able to reduce their resting heart rate, blood pressure, and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

Rowing is a form of exercise that allows you to make quite rapid progress. Over just a few weeks, most newbies can double the amount of time they can row comfortably.

Rowing is also able to be enjoyed by people of all fitness levels. It has even been deemed safe for people who are vision impaired, including the blind.

Weight loss

Hand in hand with the loss of muscle tissue that happens when we age, can be an increase in body fat levels. This is unhealthy, contributing to the risk factors for many diseases, including cardiac disease. Rowing is an excellent exercise choice when it comes to losing body fat.

Because it involves the muscles of both the upper and lower body, rowing burns more calories than other forms of cardio that only work the lower body muscles. Depending on the intensity of your workout, your age, weight, and gender, you can burn between 600-700 calories.

To lose weight you must create a caloric deficit. This will force your body to turn to stored body fat rather than glucose to supply the energy it needs to function. By combining a daily rowing workout with a 250-500 calorie daily reduction in calories consumed, you should be able to lose body fat consistently.

Bone strengthening

Loss of bone density is another effect of ageing. From around the age of 50 onward, bone breakdown occurs at a greater rate than bone reabsorption, so we end with a net bone deficit.

Rowing strengthens not only your muscles but also the bones that the muscles attach to. When you combine rowing workouts with a calcium-rich diet, you will be doing a great job of offsetting age-related bone loss.


Rowing may well be the ideal exercise choice for seniors. It’s an extremely effective full-body workout that stimulates all of your muscles while strengthening your heart and lungs, improving your bone density, and helping you lose weight. What’s more, it is virtually zero impact and it provides a great form of relaxation.

When They Get Older says: If you are starting any form of new exercise regime, it’s a good idea to consult your GP first, especially if you already have any health concerns. 

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Richard Van Voris
Richard Van Voris
11 months ago

Good piece as far as it goes but it totally neglects “Real rowing”. By which I mean rowing in boats on the water “OTW”. OTW has all. the benefits of machine rowing plus some other as well, social benefits, interacting with other people of all ages who enjoy rowing. Being outside and seeing nature close up, along with exercise in balance which you do not get on a rowing machine. I am a 70 year old who teaches rowing at a local rowing club. I see every day, people who are as old or older Tham myself who go out… Read more »

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