Staying in Shape as You Age

Rerun image Will you be active as you get older or need physical help? It can depend on how physically active you are.

Many older Americans do not get enough exercise. This can be a problem as aging slowly takes over. Every 10 years after age 50, we lose muscle strength and heart function. These losses are due to many things. Examples are poor nutrition and changes in hormones. Muscle and nerve cells also decline. However, lack of physical activity is the main problem.

The good news is, no matter what age you are, you can get in shape.

Physical Activity Has Many Benefits

Our bodies need regular physical activity to function well. It does not matter how old we are or our level of ability. A few benefits of exercise are:

  • More muscle mass, strength, and flexibility
  • Lower body fat
  • Burning more calories
  • It is easier to do daily tasks
  • Better balance and less risk of falls or broken bones
  • More flexible joints and less arthritis pain
  • Lower risk of many long-term conditions, such as:
  • Longer life
  • Improved quality of life

Recommendations for Getting Fit

How much exercise do older adults need? General guidelines for healthy adults aged 65 and older are:

  • Do moderate exercise for 150 to 300 minutes a week. Do activities that raise your heart rate a bit. During activity, you should still be able to talk. OR do more heavy exercise for 75 to 150 minutes a week. If you cannot meet these guidelines, be as active as you can.
  • Do strength training at least twice a week.
  • Do activities that help you be more flexible.
  • Do balance exercises to lower your risk of falling.

If you have health problems, talk to your doctor. Find out how you can safely do more physical activity.

Precautions Before You Begin

Physical activities put stress on your body and heart. Check with your doctor before starting a program.

Also take steps to help prevent injury. Here are some ways to stay safe:

  • Start slowly. Slowly increase your time and intensity. Choose more low-impact exercises. Examples are walking, biking, or swimming.
  • Do light warm-up and cool-down activities.
  • Pace yourself. You should be able to talk easily during exercise. Or learn to check your pulse rate.
  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercising.
  • Stop your activity and call a doctor right away if you have:
    • Chest pain or pressure
    • Lightheadedness
    • Nausea
    • Abnormally fast, uneven, or skipped heartbeats
    • Problems with breathing or balance
    • Any other unusual symptoms.

Use safety measures. Choose physical activities that you like. You can get stronger and have more energy. Best of all, it will help you do the things you enjoy!


American Heart Association

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute

Public Health Agency of Canada


Chapter 5: active older adults. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: . Accessed June 16, 2021.

Dietary guidelines for Americans 2020 to 2025. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: . Accessed June 16, 2021.

Physical activity for cardiovascular disease prevention. DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed June 16, 2021.

Physical activity in older Americans. American Heart Association website. Available at: Accessed June 16, 2021.

Physical changes with aging. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Accessed June 16, 2021.

Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board   Last Updated: 6/16/2021