Active Adults and Exercise

 28 March 2019

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How much exercise do adults over 65 years old need?

Before we answer that question let’s look at the benefits of exercise and being active.

Why physical activity is important

Physical activity has many benefits for older people. It not only helps you to feel better physically and emotionally, it helps to:

  • Control weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and bone and joint problems like arthritis)
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers
  • Manage pain
  • Maintain and increase joint movement
  • reduce the risk of injury from falls, a major concern with ageing

There is strong evidence that shows that compared to less active adults, those over 65 people who are active have lower rates of heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancer. They have a healthier body mass and composition, better bone health, a lower risk of falling and better cognitive function.

How much physical activity do you need?

Below is the World Health Global Recommendations for Physical Activity for those aged over 65. These guidelines are relevant to all healthy adults aged 65 years and above, unless specific medical conditions indicate to the contrary. Individuals with specific health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, may need to take extra precautions and seek medical advice before trying to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity for older adults.

  1. Older adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity activity.
  2. Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.
  3. For additional health benefits, older adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity activity.
  4. Older adults, with poor mobility, should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls on 3 or more days per week.
  5. Muscle-strengthening activities, involving major muscle groups, should be done on 2 or more days a week.
  6. When older adults cannot do the recommended amounts of physical activity due to health conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.

Inactive people should start with small amounts of physical activity and gradually increase duration, frequency and intensity over time. Inactive adults and those with disease limitations will have added health benefits when they become more active.

Some activity, however light, is better for your health than none at all — you should aim to do something, no matter what your age, weight, health problems or abilities. You should aim to be active every day in as many ways as possible, doing a range of physical activities that incorporate fitness, strength, balance and flexibility.

What counts as moderate-intensity aerobic activity?

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you're working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. One way to tell if you're working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you can't sing the words to a song.

For example;

  • Fast walking (try our walking group at MARC - 9:30 AM every Friday)
  • Aqua Classes
  • Zumba Gold
  • Cardio4Life
  • Cycling
  • Riding a bike
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Playing Tennis

Daily activities such as shopping, cooking or housework don't count towards your daily 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity. This is because the effort required isn't hard enough to increase your heart rate. However, it's important to minimise the amount of time you spend sitting watching TV, reading or listening to music.

What counts as vigorous-intensity aerobic activity?

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, and you should stop if you feel unwell.

The Australian Physical Activity Guide for Older Australians doesn’t recommend you exercise to this level, but it’s OK if you do. If you have enjoyed a lifetime of vigorous physical activity, you should carry on doing it in a way that suits you now, provided you stick to recommended safety procedures and guidelines.

What counts as muscle-strengthening activity?

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. Make a time to do specific strength exercises 2 or 3 times a week, and build some of them into your everyday activities.

Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:

  • Carrying or moving heavy loads such as groceries
  • Activities that involve stepping and jumping
  • Heavy gardening, such as digging or shovelling
  • Exercises that use your body weight for resistance, such as push-ups or sit-ups, yoga and lifting weights


By Carol Syer - Dry Programs Coordinator.

Carol has been with us from the very beginning and is an advocate for Older Adult programs and exercise. Carol created some of our most successful Active Adult programs and takes Strong4Life & Cardio4Life classes weekly. 

See the full Group Fitness Timetable here


Read more from our sources:

Department of Health (Choose Health: Be Active)

Australian Government Department of Health (Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines)

Nutrition Australia (Physical activity for older adults)