How Much Exercise Do You Need if You are Over Age 65?

Guidelines for Older Adults and Over Age 50 with Chronic Conditions

Senior Women Walking on Hill
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What's the right mix of exercise activities to stay fit and reduce health risks over age 65? The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association have guidelines for adults over age 65, and for those age 50 to 64 with a chronic condition, such as arthritis. 

Choose Moderate or Vigorous Aerobic (Endurance) Exercise

Raise your heart rate for at least 10 minutes at a time. The guidelines show how you can do it with either moderately intense or vigorously intense physical activities.

Choose the activities you enjoy—dancing, brisk walking, cycling, or swimming. It's also fun to enjoy different activities throughout the week.

Moderate Aerobic Exercise for 30 Minutes a Day, Five Days a Week

  • How Long: The minimum time for moderately intense aerobic exercise is 30 minutes per day. But you can break that up into shorter workouts of at least 10 minutes at a time. Note that this is the minimum. You are likely to get even more health benefits by doubling that amount of exercise, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
  • How Often: At least five days a week
  • What Does Moderate Aerobic Exercise Feel Like? You are at a moderate intensity when your breathing and heart rate are noticeably increased. You can still carry on a full conversation, but you will be breathing heavier and may be sweating. On a 10-point scale, with zero being a state of rest, moderate would be a 5 or 6.
  • Kinds of Exercise: Brisk walking, easy jogging, treadmilling, elliptical trainer, bike riding, swimming, dancing.
  • What Doesn't Count: You are not in the moderate intensity zone with an easy walk where you may be adding steps on your pedometer but not breathing heavier. You need to increase your walking speed or walk uphill or up stairs to boost your heart rate into the moderate zone.
  • How to Start Walking: If you haven't been walking for exercise, see how to get started and build up your walking time to be able to enjoy 30 minutes at a time.
  • Weekly Walking Workout Schedule: Use this workout plan to vary the intensity of your walking workouts.

Or, Vigorous Aerobic Activity for 20 Minutes on Three Days Each Week

  • How Long: 20 minutes
  • How Often: At least three days a week
  • What Does Vigorous Aerobic Exercise Feel Like? At a vigorous intensity, you are breathing rapidly and no longer able to easily carry on a full conversation, just short phrases. Your heart rate is boosted and you will probably break a sweat. On a scale from 1 to 10, vigorous exercise would be a 7 or 8.
  • Kinds of Vigorous Aerobic Exercise: With different levels of fitness in older people, some will achieve vigorous exertion with brisk walking. Others will need to jog or bike to increase their exertion to the vigorous level.

Add Strength Training Two to Three Days a Week

Strength training exercise is especially important for older adults to prevent loss of muscle mass and bone density, as well as to be able to move and function better.

  • How Many: Do eight to 10 strength-training exercises, eight to 12 repetitions of each.
  • How Often:: Two to three days each week
  • What Are Strength Training Exercises? Lifting, pushing and pulling exercises will build muscle strength and endurance. You can use exercise machines at the gym, resistance bands, or free weights such as dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls. and kettlebells. In addition, if you are a gardener, you can count digging, lifting, and carrying as strength exercises.
  • Strength Training Guide: Learn the fundamentals of strength training and how to get started.

Add Balance Exercise If You Are At Risk of Falls

Engaging in any exercise can help reduce your risk of falls. Adding balance exercise three times a week can further reduce fall risks.

The HHS guidelines recommend balance training with exercises such as backward walking, sideways walking, heel walking, toe walking, and standing from a sitting position. You can add these balance moves to your daily walk to enjoy both activities. Tai chi and yoga may also help develop balance.

Add Flexibility Exercises Such as Stretching

Take 10 minutes extra on each exercise day to stretch your major muscle and tendon groups. Take 10 to 30 seconds per stretch, and repeat each stretch three to four times. Flexibility will help you in your daily activities.

How Do the Guidelines Compare with Others?

The ACSM/AHA guidelines vary from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2011 guidelines in only a minor way. The HHS guidelines call for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity in a week, and say to spread it out throughout the week. That is the same amount of exercise, but with more leeway in how it is apportioned throughout the week. The organizations say they endorse the HHS guidelines.

Customize an Activity Plan

Healthy older adults can get started on their own, but may want to work with a healthcare provider or trainer to devise a workout plan that is safe and appropriate. If you have a chronic condition, work with your doctor or another health professional to develop an activity plan that takes into account any of your health conditions, risks, and therapeutic needs. You will get the most out of the exercise you can safely do.

More Is Better—But Getting Started is Best

You don't have to stop with just performing the minimum exercise schedule listed. More frequent and longer workouts can further reduce health risks and help prevent weight gain.

However, some older adults may have limitations and not be able to meet the minimum. Any amount of exercise is better than none, so getting started is the key. You need to avoid inactivity. Get started with any level of activity.

Sources:

ACSM, AHA Support Federal Physical Activity Guidelines. American College of Sports Medicine. http://www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/acsm-in-the-news/2011/08/01/acsm-aha-support-federal-physical-activity-guidelines.

Nelson ME, Rejeski WJ, Blair SN, et. al. Physical Activity and Public Health in Older Adults: Recommendation From the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2007;116(9):1094-1105. doi:10.1161/circulationaha.107.185650.

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, Chapter 5: Active Older Adults. HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. https://health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter5.aspx.

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