It is inevitable that as we age, our body’s will deteriorate; we cannot overcome the inexorable march of time and the effects of our biology. We can, however, manage this decline as best we can to minimise these deleterious effects. One tool in our arsenal is physical activity and exercise. Whilst there are many contributing factors to healthy ageing, the importance of regular physical activity cannot be understated. It not only contributes to good physical and mental function, but also mitigates against the symptoms of many medical conditions and functional impairments, and can even enhance social functioning thereby lessening the debilitating effects of social isolation and loneliness. It improves quality of life and can help us to remain independent.
A key message is that it is never too late to start being more physically active. Even small changes in activity levels can provide valuable benefits to health and function.
Physical Activity Guidelines for older adults (CMO, 2019)
A summary of these guidelines can be seen in the infographic below.
Older adults should be active every day to obtain health benefits. Accumulating 150 minutes a week (or two and a half hours) of moderate intensity physical activity is recommended. Moderate intensity activity involves breathing slightly heavier than normal, but you can still hold a conversation.
If this sounds too scary, please remember that some is better than none, and even light intensity/effort will elicit some health benefits (especially important for frailer older adults or those currently considered inactive). More activity is better though and will accrue even greater benefits. Start with what you can manage and build up gradually over time.
It is important you punctuate any lengthy periods of sitting down (sedentary behaviour) with light activity, or at the very least, by standing up.
Older adults should also take part in activities that target muscle strength, balance, and flexibility at least twice a week. If this sounds like it is all too much, there is no reason you can’t combine this with the moderate intensity aerobic activity described above. For example, weight-bearing activities are activities that force you to work against gravity, and includes activities such as walking, climbing stairs, and dancing – these are also great for bone health.
You don’t need to go to the gym to be active (although you can if you want to). You simply need to be more active in your daily lives; for example, by going for daily walks. We have some resources on our website which show you how you can exercise whilst sitting down (called chair-based exercise). Check out these free Information Guides.