Exercise and Physical Activity

Section 7.1: Fit for Life

This section includes text excerpted from “Exercise and Physical Activity: Getting Fit for Life,” National Institute on Aging (NIA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), August 21, 2017.

Exercise and physical activity are good for you, no matter how old you are. In fact, staying active can help you:

You don't need to buy special clothes or belong to a gym to become more active. Physical activity can and should be part of your everyday life. Find things you like to do. Go for brisk walks. Ride a bike. Dance. Work around the house. Garden. Climb stairs. Swim. Rake leaves. Try different kinds of activities that keep you moving. Look for new ways to build physical activity into your daily routine.

Four Ways to Be Active

To get all of the benefits of physical activity, try all four types of exercise:

Who Should Exercise?

Almost anyone, at any age, can do some type of physical activity. You can still exercise even if you have a health condition like heart disease or diabetes. In fact, physical activity may help. For most older adults, brisk walking, riding a bike, swimming, weight lifting, and gardening are safe, especially if you build up slowly. But, check with your doctor if you are over 50 and you aren't used to energetic activity. Other reasons to check with your doctor before you exercise include:

Safety Tips

Here are some things you can do to make sure you are exercising safely:

Exercise should not hurt or make you feel really tired. You might feel some soreness, a little discomfort, or a bit weary, but you should not feel pain. In fact, in many ways, being active will probably make you feel better.

Frequently Asked Questions What Are the Best Balance Exercises for Seniors?

You can do balance exercises anytime, anywhere. Good balance can help you prevent falls.

I Find It Hard to Make Myself Exercise. What Can I Do?

You're more likely to keep going if you choose exercises you enjoy. Also, many people find that having a firm goal in mind motivates them to move ahead.

I Have Arthritis. What Workout Routines Are Safe for Me?

Exercise is safe for almost everyone. You can exercise even if you have a long-term condition, like heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis.

Section 7.2: Exercise Basics for Seniors

This section includes text excerpted from “How Much Physical Activity Do Older Adults Need?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), June 4, 2015.

As an older adult, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can prevent many of the health problems that seem to come with age. It also helps your muscles grow stronger so you can keep doing your day-to-day activities without becoming dependent on others.

Not doing any physical activity can be bad for you, no matter your age or health condition. Keep in mind, some physical activity is better than none at all. Your health benefits will also increase with the more physical activity that you do.

If you're 65 years of age or older, are generally fit, and have no limiting health conditions you can follow the guidelines listed below.

For Important Health Benefits Older adults need at least: OR OR For Even Greater Health Benefits

Older adults should increase their activity to:

OR OR Aerobic Activity—What Counts?

Aerobic activity or “cardio” gets you breathing harder and your heart beating faster. From pushing a lawn mower, to taking a dance class, to biking to the store—ll types of activities count. As long as you're doing them at a moderate or vigorous intensity for at least 10 minutes at a time. Even something as simple as walking is a great way to get the aerobic activity you need, as long as it's at a moderately intense pace.

Intensity is how hard your body is working during aerobic activity.

How Do You Know If You're Doing Moderate or Vigorous Aerobic Activity?

On a 10-point scale, where sitting is 0 and working as hard as you can is 10, moderate-intensity aerobic activity is a 5 or 6. It will make you breathe harder and your heart beat faster. You'll also notice that you'll be able to talk, but not sing the words to your favorite song.

Vigorous-intensity activity is a 7 or 8 on this scale. Your heart rate will increase quite a bit and you'll be breathing hard enough so that you won't be able to say more than a few words without stopping to catch your breath.

You can do moderate-or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or a mix of the two each week. Intensity is how hard your body is working during aerobic activity. A rule of thumb is that 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.

Everyone's fitness level is different. This means that walking may feel like a moderately intense activity to you, but for others, it may feel vigorous. It all depends on you—the shape you're in, what you feel comfortable doing, and your health condition. What's important is that you do physical activities that are right for you and your abilities.

Muscle-Strengthening Activities—What Counts?

Besides aerobic activity, you need to do things to make your muscles stronger at least 2 days a week. These types of activities will help keep you from losing muscle as you get older.

There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, whether it's at home or the gym. The activities you choose should work all the major muscle groups of your body (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms). You may want to try:

Section 7.3: Activities for Older Adults

This section includes text excerpted from “Making Physical Activity a Part of an Older Adult's Life,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), November 9, 2011. Reviewed September 2017.

When it comes to getting the physical activity you need each week, it's important to pick activities you enjoy and that match your abilities. This will help ensure that you stick with them.

Things to Keep in Mind Improving Your Balance

Are you at risk for falling because you've fallen in the past or have trouble walking? Older adults who are at risk for falling should do exercises that help them with balance. Try to do balance training on at least 3 days a week and do standardized exercises from a program that's been proven to reduce falls. These exercises might include backward walking, sideways walking, heel walking, toe walking, and practicing standing from a sitting position. Tai chi, a form of martial arts developed in China, may also help with balance.

What If You Have a Chronic Condition?

If you have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease it doesn't mean you can't be active. In fact, it's just the opposite. Regular physical activity can improve your quality of life and even reduce your risk of developing other conditions.

Talk with your doctor to find out if your health condition limits, in any way, your ability to be active. Then, work with your doctor to come up with a physical activity plan that matches your abilities. If your condition stops you from meeting the minimum Guidelines (2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans), try to do as much as you can. What's important is that you avoid being inactive. Even 60 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity is good for you.

What If You Have a Disability? When to Check with Your Doctor

Doing activity that requires moderate effort is safe for most people, but if you have a health condition such as heart disease, arthritis, or diabetes be sure to talk with your doctor about the types and amounts of physical activity that are right for you.

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.