Regular physical activity is good for people of all ages. However, it is most important for people over 50.
Aging slowly reduces muscle tissue and strength. This makes it hard to move with ease. Daily activities such as chores, shopping, and climbing stairs become more difficult.
Regular exercise can help:
- Increase energy
- Keep bones strong—and lower risk of osteoporosis
- Improve muscle tone, strength, and flexibility
- Help the heart and lungs work better
- Improve digestion
- Improve balance, which helps prevent falls
- Lower blood pressure
- Ease stress and improve self-esteem
- Improve memory and alertness
Being physically active also helps prevent long term diseases, such as:
Get a Checkup First
Anyone can be more physically active. Before starting an exercise program, talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you:
- Are older
- Have a long term disease
- Are taking medicine
- Are overweight
- Have not exercised regularly in the past few years
Your doctor may advise a special exercise program. This depends on your needs.
Create a Goal
During the day, adults should move more and sit less. Some physical activity is better than none. With your doctor's approval, aim for:
- 150 minutes of moderate level aerobic exercise each week —such as walking briskly.
- Or, aim for 75 minutes of more intense exercise throughout the week . Examples are jogging or running.
- In addition, do strength-training exercises. Work the muscles in your legs, hips, back, belly, chest, and arms. Do this 2 or more times per week.
- Or, do moderate- and more intense exercise—along with the strength training.
For more health benefits, try these weekly goals:
- 300 minutes of moderate-level exercise—along with 2 or more days of strength training
- Or, 150 minutes of more intense exercise—and strength training
- Or, moderate- and more intense exercises—along with strength-training
It is best to slowly work your way up to your goal. The key is to do it safely.
Do a Variety of Activities
Include these exercises in your weekly routine:
Aerobic exercise increases the heart rate for a length of time. Over time, aerobic activity conditions your body in general. It helps your heart and lungs to do more work with less effort.
- Find an aerobic activity you enjoy. This will help you to stick with it.
- Find an aerobic activity that is low impact. Low impact activities are easier on your joints. Examples are brisk walking, swimming, or low-impact aerobics classes.
Strength training helps tone your body and makes all movement easier. It supports your joints and helps prevent falls.
There are many strengthening exercises. Some use:
- Weight machines
- Free weights
- Medicine balls
- Resistance bands
Exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, and lunges also build your muscles. Start slowly with your new routine.
Stretching exercises help keep joints and muscles flexible. They can ease the effects of arthritis and help prevent injuries. A physical trainer can design a stretching program for you.
To have a better exercise session:
- Always wear comfortable clothing. Choose athletic shoes that fit you well. In cold weather, wear layers of clothing and protect all parts of your body. In hot and humid weather, wear clothes that breathe. Drink plenty of liquids before and during exercise.
- Warm-up before you exercise.
- Cool down after aerobic exercise. For example, walk for 5 to 10 minutes after your routine.
- Do not exercise if:
- The weather is extremely cold, hot, or humid
- You have an illness or injury
- You have just eaten a heavy meal
Stop exercise right away if you have:
- Coughing or problems breathing
- Chest pressure or pain
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Extreme sweating
- Severe pain, cramps or muscle aches
- Extreme tiredness after exercising
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American College of Sports Medicine
National Institute on Aging
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology
Chapter 5: Active older adults. US Department of Health & Human Services website. Available at: https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf. Accessed October 19, 2021.
Exercise and physical activity: Getting fit for life. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/four-types-exercise-can-improve-your-health-and-physical-ability. Accessed October 19, 2021.
How much physical activity do older adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/older_adults/index.htm. Accessed October 19, 2021.
Physical activity for cardiovascular disease prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/physical-activity-for-cardiovascular-disease-prevention. Accessed October 19, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 10/19/2021