How Much Physical Activity Is Enough for Older Adults?

older couple walking

By Alison Wood, Contributing Writer

Physical exercise is important for everyone, and even more so as we age. Ensuring we stay physically fit can help to prevent many of the illnesses and ailments that occur as we get older. For example, being active can help reduce the risk of illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. Plus, maintaining or even increasing our muscle strength and flexibility can help us to continue our daily activities and make us less reliant on others.

The important thing to remember is that even some exercise is better than no exercise. It’s also better to build things up slowly rather than trying to do too much, too quickly, and injuring yourself. It’s also key to choose activities you enjoy, as this will make it more likely you will continue to exercise for the long term. It’s simply not true that the only options available to you are the gym and running. You can dance, swim, or hike your way to fitness. Choose the activities you enjoy.

If you haven’t exercised for a while or you have any illnesses or disabilities, it’s important to check with your medical practitioner before you start any new exercise regime. If you have a chronic condition which stops you getting the optimal amount of exercise, you can still be as active as your condition allows, again always after checking with your doctor.

If you aren’t sure how much exercise you should be getting, the CDC offers some helpful guidelines.

Moderate versus vigorous intensity

Before we look at the amount of recommended exercise it’s important to understand the difference between moderate and vigorous intensity exercise. The “talk test” is a simple approach. First, exercise is considered moderate if you can talk but not sing while you are exercising. These would be activities such as walking briskly, cycling on the flat, gardening, or attending a water aerobics class.

Alternatively, if you are exercising with vigorous intensity, you will be able to say no more than a few words before pausing to take a breath. Jogging, swimming laps, playing singles tennis or hiking uphill would fall under this category. You can find more examples here.

How much exercise do you need?

According to the CDC, if you are a generally fit person of 65 years of age or older and you have no limiting health conditions, you can follow these guidelines.

Example 1 – Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise

If you want to opt for moderate intensity exercise, you’ll want to aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. This can be broken down into smaller sections so for example, you could take a 30-minute walk, five days per week.

It’s also important to work on muscle strengthening activities on 2 or more days per week. This should work all your major muscle groups, including legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.

Example 2 – Vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise

If you opt for more vigorous intensity exercise you should aim for at least 75 minutes of activity per week. You will also need to include the same two days of muscle strengthening activity, as outlined above, which works all your major muscle groups.

Example 3 – A mix of vigorous-intensity and moderate-intensity exercise

You can also mix it up and combine exercises, as long as you meet the minimum and of course, don’t forget those muscle strengthening activities too.

More is better

When it comes to exercise more really is better, for example, if you were to double the moderate-intensity exercise to 300 minutes per week or the vigorous-intensity exercise to 150 minutes per week, you would gain even more health benefits.

Healthy body and mind

There is another perk to all this activity, and that’s the impact is has on our mental wellbeing. Exercise has been shown to lift our spirits and help alleviate depression. Getting outdoors is also an easy way to gain the benefits of spending time in nature. Plus, attending an exercise class or playing a sport with others is a great way to gain more social interaction.

This information is courtesy of the CDC. Visit their website for further information on health and exercise for older adults.

If you need any guidance on getting physically active while social distancing, you can find out more by clicking HERE.

Click HERE to read our medical disclaimer.