Significant health benefits are seen in adults aged 65 years and older who participate in regular physical activity. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines recommend older adults to incorporate aerobic activity, muscle-strengthening activity, and balance training for older adults at risk for falls. Try to avoid inactivity because some health benefits can occur with any amount of physical activity gain. Older adults need to evaluate their level of fitness before determining their level of effort for physical activity. Chronic conditions need to be taken into consideration since they may affect their ability to do regular physical activity safely.
Inactive Older Adults
Remember to start slowly! Aim for light or moderate intensity for short periods of time. Make sure to spread out the physical activity sessions throughout the week. Increase physical activity gradually over a period of weeks to months.
Talk to your doctor if you have a chronic health condition (such as heart disease, arthritis, or diabetes) or symptoms (such as chest pain or pressure, dizziness, or joint pain) before starting a physical activity program.
Warm-up and Cool-down
It is important to incorporate slower speed or lower intensity activities at the beginning and end of your routine to properly warm up and cool down your body. This helps to prevent injuries and reduce muscle soreness. Examples of warming-up would be to walk briskly before jogging or lift a lighter weight before completing the actual weight used during weight training. After completing the physical activity, gradually slow down or lower intensity to help the body cool down. Good news, adults can count the time spent during warm-up and cool-down towards meeting aerobic activity guidelines.
Aerobic activity is also known as endurance activity and examples include: brisk walking, jogging, biking, dancing, and swimming. Older adults should aim for at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. When chronic conditions make it hard to achieve the 150 minutes each week, older adults should be physically active as their abilities and conditions allow. Perform aerobic activity for at least 3 days a week to help avoid excessive fatigue and reduce risk of injury. It counts as long as the aerobic activity is performed at a moderate or vigorous effort for at least 10 minutes at a time. The intensity of the activity depends upon the older adult's level of fitness.
Examples of aerobic activities:
- Water aerobics
- Aerobic exercise classes
- Bicycle riding (stationary or on a path)
- Some activities of gardening, such as raking and pushing a lawn mower
- Golf (without a cart)
Older adults should participate in muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days a week while including all major muscle groups: the legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms. One set of 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise is effective, but doing two or three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions may be more effective.
Examples of muscle-strengthening activities:
- Exercises using exercise bands, weight machines, hand-held weights
- Calisthenic exercises (body weight provides resistance to movement)
- Digging, lifting, and carrying as part of gardening
- Carrying groceries
- Some yoga exercises
- Some tai chi exercises
Older adults at risk of falling should concentrate on exercises that maintain or improve balance. Increased risk of falling occurs when older adults have trouble walking or have had falls in the recent past. Participating in regular physical activity is not only safe for older adults, but it helps reduce the risk of falls. The guidelines recommend older adults to do balance training 3 or more days a week and do standardized exercises from a program demonstrated to reduce falls.
Examples of balance exercises:
- Backward walking
- Sideways walking
- Heel walking
- Toe walking
- Standing from a sitting position
Even though flexibility does not have recommended guidelines, it is an important part of physical fitness. Flexibility plays an integral part in some types of physical activities such as dancing. Adults should perform stretching exercises to help increase flexibility. Activities that require greater flexibility is easier for adults who perform stretching exercises.
- Chapter 5: Active Older Adults (Source: DHHS)
- Chapter 6: Safe and Active (Source: DHHS)
- Physical Activity for Older Adults (Source: CDC)
- Go4Life (Source: National Institute on Aging)
- Try These Exercises (Source: Go4Life)
- Workout to Go (Source: Go4Life)
- Healthy Eating and Lifestyle for the Later Years (Source: NebGuide)
- Start Walking Now (Source: American Heart Association)