Share Email Form

X

Physical activity guidelines for older adults

How much physical activity do older adults aged 65 and over need to do to keep healthy?

Seniors doing arm exercises.
There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles.

The amount of physical activity you need to do each week depends on your age and level of health.

To stay healthy or to improve health, older adults need to do two types of physical activity each week: aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity.

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.

It's recommended that adults aged 65 or older do:

  • at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms),
  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups,

Some activity, however light, is better for your health than none at all.

  • an equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week (for example two 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of fast walking), and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.

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.

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

  • walking fast
  • doing water aerobics
  • ballroom and line dancing
  • riding a bike on level ground or with a few hills
  • playing doubles tennis
  • pushing a lawn mower
  • canoeing
  • volleyball.

Daily activities such as shopping, cooking or housework don't count towards your weekly 150 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. Some activity, however light, is better for your health than none at all.

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.

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

  • jogging or running
  • aerobics
  • swimming fast
  • riding a bike fast or on hills
  • playing singles tennis
  • playing football
  • hiking uphill
  • energetic dancing
  • martial arts.

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

What counts as muscle-strengthening activity?

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

For each activity, try to do 8 to 12 repetitions in each set. Try to do at least one set of each muscle-strengthening activity. You'll get even more benefits if you do two or three sets.

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. 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.

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.

However, muscle-strengthening activities don't count towards your aerobic activity total, so you'll need to do them in addition to your aerobic activity.

Some vigorous-intensity aerobic activities may also provide sufficient muscle-strengthening activity. Examples include circuit training and sports such as aerobic dancing or running.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Physical activity guidelines for older adults)

Last reviewed: 
February, 2013