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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 strength exercises.

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 of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or walking every week, and 
  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).         
  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and
  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
  • a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week. For example, two 30-minute runs, plus 30 minutes of fast walking, equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, and
  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

A rule of thumb is that one minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as two minutes of moderate 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 aerobic activity?

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

  • walking
  • 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 

Moderate 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 level 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 enough to raise your heart rate, but they are important nonetheless, as they break up periods of sitting.

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What counts as vigorous aerobic activity?

There is good evidence that vigorous activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate activity.

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

Vigorous activity makes you breathe hard and fast. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

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

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What activities strengthen muscles?

Muscle strength is necessary for:

  • all daily movement
  • building and maintaining strong bones
  • regulating blood sugar and blood pressure
  • maintaining a healthy weight

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

For each strength exercise, try to do:

  • at least one set
  • eight to 12 repetitions in each set

To gain health benefits from strength exercises, 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

Try Strength and Flex, a 5-week exercise plan for beginners, to improve your strength and flexibility.

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.

Muscle-strengthening exercises are not an aerobic activity, so you'll need to do them in addition to your 150 minutes of aerobic activity.

Some vigorous activities count as both an aerobic activity and a muscle-strengthening activity.

Examples include:

  • circuit training
  • aerobics
  • running
  • football
  • rugby
  • netball
  • hockey

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Download a factsheet on physical activity guidelines for older adults (65+ years) (PDF, 462kb)

Page last reviewed: 11/07/2015

Next review due: 11/07/2017

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Comments

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. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19910888 and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-20860590) 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 (www.desktoplifejacket.co.uk).

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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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