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Physical activity guidelines for older adults

 

How much physical activity do older adults aged 65 and over need to do to keep healthy?

To stay healthy or to improve health, older adults need to do two types of physical activity each week: aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity.

The amount of physical activity you need to do each week depends on your age. Click on links below for the recommendations for other age groups:

  • early childhood (under 5 years old)

  • young people (5-18 years old)

  • adults (19-64 years old)  

Guidelines for older adults aged 65 and over

Older adults aged 65 or older, who are generally fit and have no health conditions that limit their mobility, should try to be active daily and should do:

  • At least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and

  • muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).         

  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and

  • muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

  • An equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week (for example two 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of fast walking), and

  • muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

A rule of thumb is that 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity. 

You should also try to break up long periods of sitting with light activity as sedentary behaviour is now considered an independent risk factor for ill health, no matter how much exercise you do. Find out why sitting is bad for your health. 

Older adults at risk of falls, such as people with weak legs, poor balance and some medical conditions, should do exercises to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week. Examples include yoga, tai chi and dancing.

 

What counts as moderate-intensity aerobic activity?


Examples of activities that require moderate effort for most people include:

  • walking fast

  • doing water aerobics

  • ballroom and line dancing

  • riding a bike on level ground or with few hills

  • playing doubles tennis

  • pushing a lawn mower

  • canoeing

  • volleyball 

 

Moderate-intensity activity will raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster and feel warmer. One way to tell if you're exercising at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you can't sing the words to a song.

Daily chores such as shopping, cooking or housework don't count towards your 150 minutes because the effort isn’t hard enough to raise your heart rate, but they are important nonetheless as they break up periods of inactivity.

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What counts as vigorous-intensity aerobic activity?


There is substantial evidence that vigorous-intensity activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate intensity activity.

Examples of activities that require vigorous effort for most people include:

  • jogging or running

  • aerobics

  • swimming fast

  • riding a bike fast or on hills

  • playing singles tennis

  • playing football

  • hiking uphill

  • energetic dancing

  • martial arts

Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity means you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

In general, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.

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What counts as muscle-strengthening activity?


Muscle strength is necessary for daily activities, to maintain strong bones, reduce the risk of falling, regulate blood sugar and blood pressure and to help maintain a healthy weight.

Muscle-strengthening exercises are counted in repetitions and sets. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like lifting a weight or doing a sit-up. A set is a group of repetitions.

For each activity, try to do 8 to 12 repetitions in each set. Try to do at least 1 set of each muscle-strengthening activity. You'll get even more benefits if you do 2 or 3 sets.

 

To gain health benefits from muscle-strengthening activities, you should do them to the point where you find it hard to complete another repetition.

There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, whether at home or in the gym. Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:

  • carrying or moving heavy loads such as groceries

  • activities that involve stepping and jumping such as dancing

  • heavy gardening, such as digging or shovelling

  • exercises that use your body weight for resistance, such as push-ups or sit-ups

  • yoga

  • lifting weights

You can do activities that strengthen your muscles on the same day or on different days as your aerobic activity, whatever's best for you.

However, muscle-strengthening activities don't count towards your aerobic activity total, so you'll need to do them in addition to your aerobic activity.

Some vigorous-intensity aerobic activities may provide 75 minutes of aerobic activity and sufficient muscle-strengthening activity. Examples include circuit training and sports such as aerobic dancing or running.

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  • Download a factsheet on physical activity guidelines for older adults (65+ years) (PDF, 462kb)