The benefits of regular physical activity occur throughout life and are essential for healthy aging. However, many older adults are not getting enough activity. In fact, research shows older adults are the least active age group. The great news is that it is never too late to start being active!
As we celebrate Older Americans Month this May, we’re reminded that health care professionals can play a key role in increasing the awareness of the benefits of physical activity and developing strategies for overcoming common barriers for older adults.
How Much, and What Kinds, of Activity Do Older Adults Need?
- Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day.
- Aerobic Activity: Older adults should aim to do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week.
- Muscle-strengthening Activity: Older adults should do muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
- Multicomponent Activity: As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults should do multicomponent physical activity that includes balance training as well as aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
What to Do When Abilities and Fitness Levels Vary
Not all older adults are able to meet the Guidelines as described. So it is important to remember that older adults should determine their level of effort relative to their level of fitness. Certain types of activity that may be considered light-intensity for some can be moderate- or vigorous-intensity for an older adult with a lower level of fitness. Older adults who are unable to meet the recommended 150 minutes, or are limited by a chronic condition, should be as active as they are able.
Benefits for Older Adults
Regular physical activity can lower the risk of many chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and several types of cancer. Older adults may be particularly interested to learn that physical activity can:
- Improve physical function, reduce the risk of falls, and lower the risk for fall-related injuries;
- Lower risk of dementia, improve perceived quality of life, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression;
- Provide opportunities for social engagement and interaction;
- Provide health benefits for adults living with chronic conditions and disabilities; and
- Improve cognition (executive function, attention, memory, crystalized* intelligence, processing speed) in adults over 50-years old.
*Crystallized intelligence is the ability to retrieve and use information that has been acquired over time. It is different from fluid intelligence, which is the ability to store and manipulate new information.
Physical Activity Resources
Interested in learning more about the Guidelines, and how to include physical activity conversations in your health care practice?
- The fact sheet for Health Care Providers includes tips for starting the conversation with patients, and suggestions to overcome common barriers to activity.
- Chapter 5 of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition focuses on older adults.
- Chapter 6 of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition includes guidance for adults with chronic conditions.
The consumer facing Move Your Way Campaign is designed specifically for people not yet meeting the Guidelines, and includes:
- A series of posters to hang in a health care office or waiting room.
- A fact sheet specifically for older adults, available in both English and Spanish.
- An online activity planner that individuals can use to establish a weekly plan for reaching their goals.
To get the latest information about the Physical Activity Guidelines, Move Your Way Campaign, and other physical activity updates, sign up for ODPHP’s Physical Activity Listserv.