The Importance of Regular Physical Activity

Always consult a medical professional before beginning any physical or aerobic activity program.

Regular physical activity is essential for healthy aging. Adults aged 65 years and older gain substantial health benefits from regular physical activity, and these benefits continue to occur throughout their lives. Promoting physical activity for older adults is especially important because this population is the least physically active of any age group.

Older adults are a varied group. Most, but not all, have one or more chronic conditions, and these conditions vary in type and severity. All have experienced a loss of physical fitness with age, some more than others. This diversity means that some older adults can run several miles, while others struggle to walk several blocks. When putting these guidelines into action, it’s important to consider the total amount of activity, as well as how often to be active, for how long, and at what intensity.

Aerobic Activity

People doing aerobic activities move large muscles in a rhythmic manner for a sustained period. Brisk walking, jogging, biking, dancing, and swimming are all examples of aerobic activities. This type of activity is also called endurance activity.

Older adults also should strongly consider walking as one good way to get aerobic activity. Many studies show that walking has health benefits, and it has a low risk of injury. It can be done year-round and in many settings.

Aerobic activity makes a person’s heart beat more rapidly to meet the demands of the body’s movement.

Over time, regular aerobic activity makes the heart and cardiovascular system stronger and fitter.

The following guidelines are the same for adults and older adults:

  • All older adults should avoid inactivity. Some physical activity is better than none, and older adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits.
  • For substantial health benefits, older adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
  • Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week.
  • For additional and more extensive health benefits, older adults should increase their aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond this amount.
  • Older adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

The following Guidelines are just for older adults:

  • When older adults cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week because of chronic conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.
  • Older adults should do exercises that maintain or improve balance if they are at risk of falling.
  • Older adults should determine their level of effort for physical activity relative to their level of fitness.
  • Older adults with chronic conditions should understand whether and how their conditions affect their ability to do regular physical activity safely.

How much total activity a week?

Older adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, or an equivalent amount (75 minutes or 1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity activity. Older adults can also do an equivalent amount of activity by combining moderate- and vigorous–intensity activity. As is true for younger people, greater amounts of physical activity provide additional and more extensive health benefits to people aged 65 years and older.

No matter what its purpose—walking the dog, taking a dance or exercise class, or bicycling to the store—aerobic activity of all types counts.

How many days a week and for how long?

Aerobic physical activity should be spread throughout the week. Research studies consistently show that activity performed on at least 3 days a week produces health benefits.

  • Spreading physical activity across at least 3 days a week may help to reduce the risk of injury and avoid excessive fatigue.

Episodes of aerobic activity count toward meeting the national guidelines if they last at least 10 minutes and are performed at moderate or vigorous intensity. These episodes can be divided throughout the day or week. For example, a person who takes a brisk 15-minute walk twice a day on every day of the week would easily meet the minimum national guideline for aerobic activity.

Inactive Older Adults

Older adults should increase their amount of physical activity gradually. It can take months for those with a low level of fitness to gradually meet their activity goals.

To reduce injury risk, inactive or insufficiently active adults should avoid vigorous aerobic activity at first.

Rather, they should gradually increase the number of days a week and duration of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Adults with a very low level of fitness can start out with episodes of activity less than 10 minutes and slowly increase the minutes of light-intensity aerobic activity, such as light-intensity walking.

Older adults who are inactive or who don’t yet meet the national guidelines should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of relatively moderate-intensity physical activity. Getting at least 30 minutes of relatively moderate–intensity physical activity on 5 or more days each week is a reasonable way to meet these Guidelines. Doing muscle-strengthening activity on 2 or 3 nonconsecutive days each week is also an acceptable and appropriate goal for many older adults.

Active Older Adults

Older adults who are already active and meet the national guidelines can gain additional and more extensive health benefits by moving beyond the 150 minutes a week minimum to 300 or more minutes a week of relatively moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Muscle–strengthening activities should also be done at least 2 days a week.

Older Adults With Chronic Conditions

Older adults who have chronic conditions that prevent them from doing the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week should set physical activity goals that meet their abilities. They should talk with their health-care provider about setting physical activity goals. They should avoid an inactive lifestyle. Even 60 minutes (1 hour) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity provides some health benefits.

Flexibility, Warm-up, and Cool-down

Older adults should maintain the flexibility necessary for regular physical activity and activities of daily life. When done properly, stretching activities increase flexibility. Although these activities alone have no known health benefits and have not been demonstrated to reduce risk of activity-related injuries, they are an appropriate component of a physical activity program.

Research studies of effective exercise programs typically include warm-up and cool-down activities. Warm-up and cool-down activities before and after physical activity can also be included as part of a personal program.

A warm-up before moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity allows a gradual increase in heart rate and breathing at the start of the episode of activity.

A cool-down after activity allows a gradual decrease at the end of the episode. Time spent doing warm-up and cool-down may count toward meeting the aerobic activity set by national guidelines if the activity is at least moderate intensity (for example, walking briskly to warm-up for a jog). A warm-up for muscle-strengthening activity commonly involves doing exercises with less weight than during the strengthening activity.

Always consult a medical professional before beginning any physical or aerobic activity program.


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