How much physical activity do older adults need?

For many people, the act of cycling is intensely satisfying. It’s a great way to get that heart pumping without much effort, and it’s not so bad on the knees. But it doesn’t have to be a daily commute to work. And it can be done on any kind of terrain, even in a wheelchair.

The key takeaway here is that we need to start thinking more about what physical activity means for older adults. This is not just about getting up and down the stairs 20 times per day — although that’s part of it — but also about how easy (or difficult) it is for your body to do those things. To do this, we need some perspective: how many steps does your body take per day?

How many miles does your body cover in a week? These are all questions that can help us understand how active older adults are and what type of activities they can do at home or in their community (including sports).

The answer to this question is a little bit more complicated than it might seem at first. There is no one “gold standard” of physical activity, and each person’s recommended level of physical activity varies based on their age and general health status. In addition, there are different guidelines about how much is too much exercise for healthy individuals who are not elderly.

For healthy older adults, exercise guidelines are similar to those for younger people. Most research strongly suggests that regular exercise has medical benefits and can reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. The evidence is even more conclusive in the elderly.

Regular physical activity (and exercise ) has the following benefits:

-Build/maintain muscle mass

-Increase bone density, thus reducing fracture risk

-Maintain physical independence and function

-Improve balance, coordination, flexibility, strength , speed, reaction time , and endurance

-Reduce blood pressure  (systolic and diastolic)

-Improve mood , self-esteem, and social engagement

So how much physical activity do older adults need to achieve these benefits?

Guidelines recommend that older adults engage in 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activities most days of the week. Moderate aerobic activities are those that raise your heart rate to at least 50% of its maximum (see below for some examples).

Walking, swimming, dancing, and gardening are all good examples of moderate aerobic activities.

Strength training is also recommended 2 or more days per week to improve muscle mass, bone density, energy, and quality of life. A small amount of strength training has been shown to reduce the risk of falls in the elderly .

If 30 minutes of moderate activity does not sound easy to you, don’t worry. The guidelines also allow for aerobic activities in 10 minute sessions at least 3 days per week. Strength training can be done in 2 to 5 minute sessions 2 or more times per week.

It’s important to note that older adults should avoid intense aerobic exercises like running, intense biking, and any activity/sport that involves jumping. These higher-intensity activities can cause more stress on bones, joints, and muscles in older adults.  

Finally, it is important to be aware of the signs of over-exercise in older adults , including excessive fatigue or shortness of breath. This applies to exercise at home as well as activities in the community.