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 updated their Physical Activity Guidelines in August 2007. These guidelines are 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, 5 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.
  • How Often: At least 5 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.

    Or, Vigorous Aerobic Activity for 20 Minutes on 3 Days Each Week

    • How Long: 20 minutes
    • How Often: At least 3 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 2 to 3 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 8 to 10 strength-training exercises, 8 to 12 repetitions of each.
    • How Often:: 2 to 3 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.

    Add Balance Exercise If You Are At Risk of Falls

    Engaging in any exercise can help reduce your risk of falls. Adding balance exercise 3 times a week can further reduce fall risks.

    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 3 to 4 times. Flexibility will help you in your daily activities.

    Customize an Activity Plan

    Work with your doctor or another health professional to develop an activity plan that takes any of your health conditions, risks, and therapeutic needs into account.

    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.

    Nelson, M.E.; W.J. Rejeski; S.N. Blair; P.W. Duncan; J.O. Judge; A.C. King; C. A. Macera; and C. Castanedasceppa. "Physical Activity and Public Health in Older Adults: Recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association." Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 39, No. 8, pp. 1435–1445, 2007.

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