How much physical activity do older adults aged 65 and over need to do to keep healthy? It’s a commonly asked question and one that the NHS spend a lot of time communicating about. Here’s their take on the subject:
To stay healthy or to improve health, older adults need to do two types of physical activity each week: aerobic and strength exercises. The amount of physical activity you need to do each week depends on your age. Older adults aged 65 or older, who are generally fit and have no health conditions that limit their mobility, should try to be active daily and should do:
- at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or walking every week, and
strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
- 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
- a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week. For example, two 30-minute runs, plus 30 minutes of fast walking, equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, and strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
A rule of thumb is that one minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as two minutes of moderate activity.
You should also try to break up long periods of sitting with light activity, as sedentary behaviour is now considered an independent risk factor for ill health, no matter how much exercise you do. Find out why sitting is bad for your health.
Older adults at risk of falls, such as people with weak legs, poor balance and some medical conditions, should do exercises to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week. Examples include yoga, tai chi and dancing.
What counts as moderate aerobic activity? Examples of activities that require moderate effort for most people include:
- water aerobics
- ballroom and line dancing
- riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
- playing doubles tennis
- pushing a lawn mower
Moderate activity will raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster and feel warmer. One way to tell if you’re exercising at a moderate level is if you can still talk, but you can’t sing the words to a song.
Daily chores such as shopping, cooking or housework don’t count towards your 150 minutes, because the effort isn’t enough to raise your heart rate, but they are important nonetheless, as they break up periods of sitting.
What counts as vigorous aerobic activity?
There is good evidence that vigorous activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate activity. Examples of activities that require vigorous effort for most people include:
- jogging or running
- swimming fast
- riding a bike fast or on hills
- singles tennis
- hiking uphill
- energetic dancing
- martial arts
Vigorous activity makes you breathe hard and fast. If you’re working at this level, you won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath. In general, 75 minutes of vigorous activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate activity.
What activities strengthen muscles?
Muscle strength is necessary for:
- all daily movement
- building and maintaining strong bones
- regulating blood sugar and blood pressure
- maintaining a healthy weight
- Muscle-strengthening exercises are counted in repetitions and sets. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like a bicep curl or a sit-up. A set is a group of repetitions.
For each strength exercise, try to do:
- at least one set
- eight to 12 repetitions in each set
- To gain health benefits from strength exercises, you should do them to the point where you find it hard to complete another repetition.
There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, whether at home or in the gym. Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:
- carrying or moving heavy loads, such as groceries
- activities that involve stepping and jumping, such as dancing
- heavy gardening, such as digging or shovelling
- exercises that use your body weight for resistance, such as push-ups or sit-ups
- lifting weights
Try Strength and Flex, a 5-week exercise plan for beginners, to improve your strength and flexibility.
You can do activities that strengthen your muscles on the same day or on different days as your aerobic activity – whatever’s best for you.
Muscle-strengthening exercises are not an aerobic activity, so you’ll need to do them in addition to your 150 minutes of aerobic activity.
Some vigorous activities count as both an aerobic activity and a muscle-strengthening activity.
- circuit training
Download a factsheet on physical activity guidelines for older adults (65+ years) (PDF, 462kb).