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Staying in Shape as You Age

Rerun image Will you be active in your golden years or dependent on others for physical assistance? 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, hormonal 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.

Many Benefits From 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:

Recommendations for Getting Fit

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 US Department of Health & Human Services makes the following general recommendations on the types and amounts of exercise for healthy adults aged 65 and older:

Also, if you have a chronic condition, work with your doctor to find out how you can safely incorporate exercise into your life.

Precautions Before You Begin

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 vigorous 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:

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.


American Heart Association

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute

Public Health Agency of Canada


Brenna FH Jr. Exercise prescriptions for active seniors: a team approach for maximizing adherence. Phys Sportsmed. 2002;30(2):19-29.

Chapter 5: active older adults. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Available at: Accessed November 10, 2017.

Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Available at: Updated December 2015. Accessed November 10, 2017.

Physical activity in older Americans. American Heart Association website. Available at: Updated August 17, 2017. Accessed November 10, 2017.

Physical activity for cardiovascular disease prevention. DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated May 24, 2017. Accessed November 10, 2017.

Physical changes with aging. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated September 2016. Accessed November 2017.

Last reviewed November 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 1/31/2014