Will you be hale and hearty in your golden years or dependent on others? The answer greatly depends on how physically active you are.
Many older Americans do not get enough exercise to maintain good health. This presents a problem as the normal aging process slowly takes its toll. With each passing decade after age 50, we lose muscle strength and heart function. These losses come from a combination of factors, like poor nutrition, hormone changes, and declining muscle and nerve cells. But the main cause of dwindling independence as we age is usually a sedentary lifestyle.
The good news is that —no matter what age you are—you can still make gains in cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness. So, it is never too late to start reaping the rewards of more exercise.
At any age or level of ability our bodies need regular physical activity to function well. Here are just a few of the major benefits of exercise:
- Increased muscle mass, strength, and flexibility
- Lower body fat, especially in the abdomen
- Higher metabolic rate and less tendency to gain weight
- Improved ability to do everyday tasks
- Better balance and less risk of falls or fractures
- Increased joint mobility and less arthritic pain
Decreased risk of many chronic diseases, including:
- Increased longevity (decreased death rate from all causes)
- Improved quality of life (greater self-sufficiency and independence)
Exactly how much exercise do older adults need to achieve good health? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Heart Association (AHA) and the United States Department of Health & Human Services makes the following general recommendations on the types and amounts of exercise for healthy adults aged 65 and older:
- Do moderately-intense exercise (raises your heart rate, but you are still able to have a conversation) for 30 minutes a day for five days out of the week, or do more vigorous exercise for 20 minutes a day for three days out of the week. Remember that if you exercise more, you will get more benefits! If you are unable to meet the activity guidelines, strive to be as active as you can be.
- Do a strength training routine at least twice a week.
- Do activities that promote flexibility.
- Do balance exercises to reduce your risk of falling.
Also, if you have a chronic condition, work with your doctor to find out how you can safely incorporate exercise into your life.
Since physical activities can stress your body and heart,
check with your doctor
before starting a program. For sedentary or minimally active older adults who plan to start a
exercise program, some experts advise an exercise stress test. But, many doctors reserve exercise tests for people with chest pain or major risk factors for heart disease.
Besides getting your doctor’s advice, it is wise to do what you can to guard against injury. Here are some simple safety measures you can take while exercising:
- Start slowly, gradually increasing your time and intensity. Experts generally recommend a low-to-moderate level of low-impact exercise, such as walking, biking, or swimming for older adults.
- Do low-intensity warm-up and cool-down activities. This allows time for your body to adjust. It also helps prevent your blood pressure from dropping, which can happen if you suddenly stop exercising.
- Pace yourself so you can still talk comfortably during exercise. Or learn to check your pulse rate.
- Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercising.
- Stop your activity and consult a doctor immediately if you have chest pain or pressure, dizziness, nausea, abnormal heartbeats, trouble with breathing or balance, or other unusual symptoms.
If you take sensible precautions to avoid injury, exercise can give you the strength and energy to do the things you enjoy as you age.
Exercise prescriptions for active seniors.
The Physician and Sportsmedicine.
Chapter 5: active older adults. US Department of Health & Human Services website. Available at:
. Updated October 16, 2008. Accessed May 23, 2012.
Exercise and age: a prescription for mature adults. Harvard Medical School. 2001 April 14.
Exercise and the older adult.
Am Acad Sports Med.
Frankel JL, Bean JB, Frontera WR. Exercise in the elderly: research and clinical practice.
Clinics in Geriatric Medicine.
Maximizing the benefits of exercise in the elderly.
Family Practice Recertification. January 2002.
McDermott A, Mernitz H. Exercise and older patients: prescribing guidelines.
Am Fam Physician.
Nied RJ, Franklin B. Promoting and prescribing exercise for the elderly.
Am Fam Phys.
Physical activity and public health guidelines. American Heart Association, Circulation website. Available at:
. Published 2007. Accessed May 15, 2012
The physiology of aging.
Am Acad Sports Med.
Position stand: exercise and physical activity for older adults.
Medicine Science in Sports Exercise. June 1998.
Resistance training in the older adult.
Am Acad Sports Med.
Scott SM. ACSM revises guidelines for exercise to maintain fitness.
Am Fam Phys.
1999 Jan 15.
Thompson PD, Buchner D, Piña IL, et al. Exercise and physical activity in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
US Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans website. Available at:
. Accessed September 3, 2008.
Last reviewed May 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.