Physical Activity and Older Adults: A Rapid Guide

By: Lisa Campkin                                                                                                         Published August 28, 2013

The notion of physical activity and exercise can be daunting for adults over the age of 65, especially for those living with a chronic condition or those who have never felt comfortable with being physically active previously. Fear not, older adults! There is plenty of evidence to show that becoming more active is within your reach and well worth the effort.

This article outlines why it is important to get active and how you can do so. Not only will a daily dose of activity improve your health today, it can contribute to your increased quality and life over time as well as decrease the risk of premature death [2].

Let’s outline the ways you can get active. There are a few broad categories to understand regarding fitness and physical activity:

  1. ImageAerobic Activity to get the heart beating faster and increase overall cardiovascular fitness [1]
  2. Flexibility and Balance to keep motion in the joints and help to prevent falls [1]
  3. Strengthening Activity to keep bones strong, maintain muscle mass and strength for daily activities [2]

By maintaining a mixture of these three activities, the preventative and therapeutic effects of physical activity can also improve your health in the following ways:


  • Improve balance [2]
  • Maintain independence further into life [2]
  • Prevent a number of diseases such as heart disease, type II diabetes, osteoporosis & some forms of cancer [2]
  • Improvements in cognition [6]
  • Reduce the incidence of dementia [6]



Specifically, how should you go about creating this lifestyle-based physical activity plan? Generally, it is best to look to Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines [2] for suggestions on how much activity is needed for health benefits as well as useful tips on how to incorporate activity into your life. Take these suggestions for example:

Aerobic Activity…

Strengthening Activity…

Mow the lawn Gardening & yard work (digging, lifting etc.)
Dance Yoga
Walk to the store Carrying groceries
Cross-country skiing Climbing stairs

Overall, the activity should make you…


Finally, how much and how often should you be enjoying activities such as the ones described above?

Take part in at least 2.5 hours of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. This time can be spread into sessions as low as 10 minutes each, and you will still obtain health benefits [2]. Moderate intensity can be best described as a brisk walk while vigorous activity causes further heart rate and breathing rate increases over a moderate level; this intensity would closely resemble jogging for most people [3]. Muscular strength activities should be performed at least two days per week [3]. Inspire others to get off the couch – include friends and family in your efforts to become active and look into joining a community fitness class [2] Make the activity social and fun and you’re more likely to stay engaged longer. These are the minimum current standards to maintain health and prevent illness, so to exceed these amounts could result in further risk reduction of disease and disability [3]. Talk to your health professional if you have any activity-based questions or health concerns regarding these recommendations [2].

ImageThe key to becoming more active lies in your motivation to do so and enjoyment in the journey. Start by finding an activity you truly enjoy, and do it often enough to reap the health benefits associated with it. Only a few older adults are currently meeting basic physical activity guidelines [4]. Be a positive role model for others and get out there!


  1. Nelson, M.E., Rejeski, W.J., Blair, S.N., Duncan, P.W., Judge, J.O., King, A.C., Macera, C.A. & Castaneda-Sceppa, C. (2007). Physical activity and public health in older adults: recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(8), 1435-45.
  2. Public Health Agency of Canada (2012, April 25). Physical activity tips for older adults (65 years and older). Retrieved August 21, 2013, from
  3. Haskell, W.L., Lee, I.M., Pate, R.R., Powell, K.E., Blair, S.N., Franklin, B.A., Macera, C.A., Heath, G.W., Thompson, P.D. & Bauman, A. (2007). Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(8), 1423-34.
  4. King, A.C. (2001). Interventions to promote physical activity by older adults. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 56 (2), 36-46.
  5. Lautenschlager, N.T. Cox, K.L., Flicker, L., Foster, J.K., van Bockxmeer, F.M., Xiao, J., Greenop, K.R. & Almeida, O.P. (2008). Effect of physical activity on cognitive function in older adults at risk for Alzheimer disease: a randomized trial. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 300(9), 1027-1037.

Image: “Balance” by applecorekevin (©2006-2013)

Image: “Cogs” by suedollin (©2007-2013)

Image: “walking” by Ciaran-Brennan (©2004-2013)


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