Physical activity guidelines for older adults

How much physical activity do older adults aged 65 and over need to do to keep healthy?

To stay healthy or to improve health, older adults need to do two types of physical activity each week: aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity.

The amount of physical activity you need to do each week depends on your age. Click on links below for the recommendations for other age groups:

Guidelines for older adults aged 65 and over

Older adults aged 65 or older, who are generally fit and have no health conditions that limit their mobility, should try to be active daily and should do:

  • At least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and 
  • muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).         
  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and
  • muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
  • An equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week (for example two 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of fast walking), and
  • muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).


A rule of thumb is that 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity. 

You should also try to break up long periods of sitting with light activity as sedentary behaviour is now considered an independent risk factor for ill health, no matter how much exercise you do. Find out why sitting is bad for your health

Older adults at risk of falls, such as people with weak legs, poor balance and some medical conditions, should do exercises to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week. Examples include yoga, tai chi and dancing.

What counts as moderate-intensity aerobic activity?
Examples of activities that require moderate effort for most people include:

  • walking fast
  • doing water aerobics
  • ballroom and line dancing
  • riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
  • playing doubles tennis
  • pushing a lawn mower
  • canoeing
  • volleyball 

Every little helps

Inactive people get more immediate health benefits from being active again than people who are already fit. Some activity is better than none at all.

Moderate-intensity activity will raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster and feel warmer. One way to tell if you're exercising at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you can't sing the words to a song.

Daily chores such as shopping, cooking or housework don't count towards your 150 minutes because the effort isn’t hard enough to raise your heart rate, but they are important nonetheless as they break up periods of inactivity.

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What counts as vigorous-intensity aerobic activity?
There is substantial evidence that vigorous-intensity activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate intensity activity.

Examples of activities that require vigorous effort for most people include:

Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity means you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

In general, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.

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What counts as muscle-strengthening activity?
Muscle strength is necessary for daily activities, to maintain strong bones, reduce the risk of falling, regulate blood sugar and blood pressure and to help maintain a healthy weight.

Muscle-strengthening exercises are counted in repetitions and sets. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like lifting a weight or doing a sit-up. A set is a group of repetitions.

For each activity, try to do 8 to 12 repetitions in each set. Try to do at least 1 set of each muscle-strengthening activity. You'll get even more benefits if you do 2 or 3 sets.

Preventing falls

Older adults at risk of falls, such as people with weak legs, poor balance and some medical conditions, should do exercises to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week. These could include yoga, tai chi and dancing.

To gain health benefits from muscle-strengthening activities, you should do them to the point where you find it hard to complete another repetition.

There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, whether at home or in the gym. Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:

  • carrying or moving heavy loads such as groceries
  • activities that involve stepping and jumping such as dancing
  • heavy gardening, such as digging or shovelling
  • exercises that use your body weight for resistance, such as push-ups or sit-ups
  • yoga
  • lifting weights

You can do activities that strengthen your muscles on the same day or on different days as your aerobic activity, whatever's best for you.

However, muscle-strengthening activities don't count towards your aerobic activity total, so you'll need to do them in addition to your aerobic activity.

Some vigorous-intensity aerobic activities may provide 75 minutes of aerobic activity and sufficient muscle-strengthening activity. Examples include circuit training and sports such as aerobic dancing or running.

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Page last reviewed: 11/07/2013

Next review due: 11/07/2015


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The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Gill R said on 21 March 2015

I feel into what exercise my body likes on a daily basis. I like to listen to what my body tells me, because it's giving messages all the time. Sometimes it can be a fast walk or a lovely swim, or it can be gardening or spring cleaning. Other times, if I'm feeling tired, I have a rest and don't exercise at all, but decide to go to bed earlier and then feel more energetic the next day. My head can tell me one thing but it's the body that gives me the message I listen to and pushing it doesn't feel right to me.

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DrMartinH said on 03 January 2013

Recent research (e.g. and has shown that it is not the absolute amount of exercise that prevents the illnesses caused by living a sedentary lifestyle but the damage is caused by remaining seated for long periods. I work all day with a computer which means I have a sedentary job. However I combat the ill effects of this by running a program that intelligently reminds me to take a break (

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Eglysilann said on 27 November 2012

Photogaph showing people in Vajrasan (kneeling position) not advised for people with knee condition. Sitting back on heels in that way can cause harm, the pressure placed on the perineal nerves may cause 'drop foot'. Place cushions between heels and bottom or use a kneeling stool.
If e person has neck and shoulder conditions, the arms should not be raised above the head, safer to rest the hands on the thighs. I do not teach this position in my yoga classes.

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Ms Cyprah said on 20 June 2012

I just wanted to extol the benefits of energetic dancing, as suggested. It is natural, it is usually done to music we like, so it feels less arduous or boring, and it can be done at anytime in our own homes to suit ourselves. Best of all, it gives the body nice muscles and curves where they should be! And it is something that can be done at any time.

I am 64 years old. I also do not suffer from any of the expected aches and pains of being older, as my body is very supple from dancing every week.

Together with my positive approach to life, and a winning smile, ageing is just a breeze for me! I adore being older and must be the only person who looks forward to ageing because it has made no noticeable difference to my life. :o)

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genie71 said on 12 August 2011

Don't give up - I am disabled so cannot walk much, I go the gym at least once a week, try for twice and have a gym ball at home and light weights for the days I can't go. I find if much worse after I have been ill to start exercise again, older muscles and joints seize up very quickly, so essential to keep it going. I limit the weights because I get a lot of pain in wrist hands and shoulders if I don't - you need to find a comfortable level for yourself, don't accept what official sites say about pushing yourself until you can't do another lift - this is not for older people. I can't improve my mobility as my back is too damaged but I have got type 2 diabetes under control and blood pressure, and have lost a bit of weight over the two years I have been regularly exercising. Keep going, good luck

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Brangane said on 11 August 2011

At the age of 68, I am using a local gym 3 times each week for CV, muscle toning and general flexibility exercises. As a result, I think I am quite fit for my age. However, my workouts are not without problems. Motivation gets harder to maintain as I get older, even tho I ring the changes on the routines. I continue to be overweight, despite the exercise and a reasonable diet (you can't do moderate/senergetic exercise and not eat). Aches and pains in limbs are a constant reminder of the aging process. I suffer, too, from sleeping disorder (I get to sleep OK but can't stay asleep for mote than 60 mins). I often wonder if what I do is worth the cost and effort. I guess the only way to find out is to give it up for 12 months.

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