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Over Age 65: How Much Exercise Do You Need? And What Kind?

Guidelines for Older Adults and Over Age 50 with Chronic Conditions

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Updated September 07, 2013

Senior Walker on Treadmill

Senior Walker on Treadmill

A Bello / Getty ©
How much exercise do you need to improve and maintain good health? What kind of exercise do you need? 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

All healthy adults need endurance exercise, which noticeably accelerates their heart rate for at least 10 minutes at a time. They can get it either with moderate or vigorous exercise. You can enjoy a brisk walk, jog, dance, bike, or swim. You can also mix it up and enjoy moderate activity some days and vigorous activity other days, if you wish.

Moderate Aerobic Exercise for 30 Minutes a Day, 5 Days a Week

  • How Long: A minimum of 30 minutes a day. The 30 minutes can be broken up into 10-minute increments.
  • How Often: At least 5 days a week
  • What Does Moderate Aerobic Exercise Feel Like? A moderate level of activity noticeably increases your heart rate and breathing rate. You may sweat, but you are still able to carry on a conversation. 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.
  • What Doesn't Count: An easy walk of under 10 minutes where you are not breathing a little heavier doesn't count as aerobic activity. You can build moderate activity into your lifestyle by walking briskly for at least 10 minutes to the bus, etc. But just adding steps on your pedometer doesn't count.
  • How to Start Walking
  • Weekly Walking Workout Schedule: Vary your walking intensity.

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? You are breathing rapidly and only able to speak in short phrases. Your heart rate is substantially increased, and you are likely to be sweating. 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

Moderate or vigorous aerobic activity is needed, but you also need strength training exercise 2 to 3 days a week. Strength training 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? Strength training exercises have you lift, push or pull to increase muscle strength and endurance. These include lifts with dumbbells and barbells. You may also use resistance bands or gym equipment.
  • Strength Training Guide

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

These guidelines outline the minimum amount of exercise you need to maintain good health. 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. If you workout longer or more often, you further improve your fitness and reduce your risk of chronic disease and weight gain.

Source:

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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