According to the 2016 Positive Ageing Report, over two-thirds of older adults aged 50+ in Ireland reported low levels of physical activity. Our guide explains the benefits of exercise and offers some tips on how to incorporate more activity into your daily life.

Older man and woman cycling in the countryside

As we age, there are many reasons why we may slow down and adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. This may be due to a health condition, weight or pain issues, or anxiety about falling. The good news, however, is that you’re never too old to exercise. There are plenty of activities you can try that offer safe and effective ways of staying fit, no matter your age.

What Are the Health Benefits of Physical Activity for Older Adults?

A 2012 study identified physical activity as the number one contributor to longevity, even if you don’t start exercising until your later years. In fact, regular exercise has been associated with a wide range of positive health benefits. For example, exercise improves your muscular fitness, enhances your bone health, and has also been shown to boost your immune and digestive functioning. Research has also found a link between high levels of physical activity and a reduced risk for a number of health conditions including:

  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression
  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Colon Cancer
  • Breast Cancer
  • Obesity

Additional Benefits of Exercise for Older Adults

Enjoy Better Shut-Eye Many older adults struggle to get their full eight hours of sleep. In fact, over half of those aged 60 and over have at least one sleep complaint. Research tells us that people who exercise regularly tend to fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply. They are also more likely to feel more energetic and refreshed during their waking hours.

Greater Independence & Mobility Regular exercise improves your strength, flexibility and posture. These will help with balance and coordination and can greatly reduce the risk of falling. Studies also show that strength training through walking can help alleviate the symptoms of chronic conditions that may hamper mobility such as arthritis.

A Natural Mood-Booster Exercise is a proven stress-reliever as the endorphins it produces can help reduce feelings of depression, stress and anxiety. What’s more, maintaining an active lifestyle can boost your self-esteem and make you feel more confident.

Improves Brain Function Frequent exercise can help improve numerous brain functions such as multitasking and creativity. It has also been shown to help stave off memory loss and cognitive decline. Research indicates that it may even slow down the progression of brain disorders such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Daily Recommended Levels of Physical Activities for Older Adults

According to the NHS, adults aged 65 and over are the most sedentary age group. In fact, many older adults spend an average of ten hours or more sitting or lying down every day. The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises older adults to follow one of the below recommendations:

  1. at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week
  2. a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week
  3. an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous-intensity activity with aerobic activity performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes

If you have issues with mobility, then you should focus on physical activities that help to enhance balance, improve coordination and prevent falls on at least two days of the week. It is also advised that you try to break up long periods of sitting with light activity.

The Different Types of Exercise

Moderate aerobic exercise will raise your heart rate, causing you to breathe faster and feel warmer. Some examples of activities that fall under this category are walking, ballroom dancing or cutting the grass with a lawnmower.

Vigorous aerobic activity will cause you to breathe hard and fast. As a result, you won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath. Examples of vigorous aerobic activities include jogging, aerobics, and fast swimming.

Strength exercises aim to work all the major muscles in the body. As you age, it’s important to build muscle strength for ease of daily movement, to enhance bone strength, to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and to maintain a healthy weight. Some physical activities that incorporate strength training include yoga and Pilates, lifting weights, and carrying heavy loads of groceries.

Flexibility exercises aim to challenge the ability of your body’s joints to move freely through a full range of motion. This involves practising stretches that involve movement to keep your muscles and joints supple and less prone to injury. To improve your flexibility, you can try yoga or tai chi. Benefits of flexibility training include staying limber and maintaining your range of movement for ordinary physical activities.


Tai Chi is a great activity for older adults


How to Exercise Safely

Before starting on an exercise regime, be sure to get the okay from your doctor, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition. Ask your doctor if there are any activities you should avoid.

Once you have received the all-clear, commit to an exercise schedule. Build up the frequency, duration and intensity slowly and steadily to ensure that you don’t overstretch yourself. Always perform warm-up and cool-down exercises to prevent injury.

When exercising, it’s very important to pay attention to your body. Stop immediately and contact your doctor if you feel dizzy or short of breath, develop chest pain, break out in a cold sweat, or experience pain. Take care to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

Stay healthy by complementing your exercise regime with a balanced diet. Read our infographic to learn more about nutrition for older adults.

10 Ways to Fit More Exercise into Your Day

Remember, any amount of exercise is better than none, so getting started is the key. Here are ten ways you can incorporate a greater amount of physical activity into your daily routine:

  1. When planning your exercise regime, be realistic based on your current levels of physical activity and fitness.
  2. Keep an activity journal in which you set fitness goals and track your progress.
  3. Walk to destinations rather than taking the car.
  4. If you take the bus, get off a stop early and walk the remaining distance to your destination.
  5. Break up long periods of sitting with some form of exercise.
  6. Replace inactive visits from family and friends with walks.
  7. You are more likely to maintain an exercise regime if it’s fun rather than a chore, so take up a hobby that will get your body moving such as gardening or ballroom dancing.
  8. Walk or play fetch with a dog.
  9. Find a buddy to exercise with.
  10. Try being active first thing in the morning before you get too busy.