How Much Exercise Do You Need If You're Over Age 65?

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The right mix of exercise activities when you are over age 65 can help you stay fit and reduce your health risks. But it can be confusing as to how much exercise you need.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults over 65—who do not have limiting medical conditions—get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. Alternatively, they can do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical exercise during the week or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous-intensity activity.

They also recommend weight-bearing activity at least 2 days per week, such as strength training for all muscle groups. The basic prescription is for seniors to perform endurance, strength, and flexibility exercises. You may also benefit from balance exercises if you are at risk for falls. Here is what you need to know about exercise after age 65.

Why Exercise is Important

Exercise is important at every age, but especially so as you grow older. That's because physical activity can reduce many of the health concerns that come with aging, such as muscle weakness and reduced bone density. Muscle loss can lead to pain, injury, and a lack of independence as you age, but weight-bearing exercise can prevent this from happening.

Exercise is also an excellent defense against cognitive decline. Taking genetic risk into consideration, individuals with healthy lifestyles that include consistent exercise, have a much lower risk of developing dementia than those who lead less active lives.

Exercise also reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, hypertension, stroke, colon and breast cancer, and more.

Moderate or Vigorous Activity

You can combine either moderately intense or vigorously-intense physical activities to reach the total activity. Try mixing it up with some days of moderate aerobic exercise and others of vigorous aerobic exercise. Or, you can perform some moderate activity with intense bursts throughout the session.

Choose the activities you enjoy—dancing, brisk walking, cycling, or swimming. It's also fun to add some variety and enjoy different activities throughout the week.

Moderate Aerobic Exercise

When adding moderate exercise to your daily routine, there are several factors to consider including duration, frequency, and intensity. Here is what you need to know about moderate aerobic exercise.

  • Duration: The minimum time for moderately intense aerobic exercise is 30 minutes per day on 5 days each week, but you will get even more benefits if you can exercise for 60 minutes per day. You can break up exercise into shorter workouts of at least 10 minutes at a time. The total should be at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Frequency: You should exercise at least 5 days a week.
  • Signs: You are at a moderate intensity when your breathing and heart rate are noticeably increased. You can still carry on an entire conversation, but you will be breathing heavier and maybe sweating. On a 10-point scale, with zero being a state of rest, moderate would be a 5 or 6.
  • Types: Brisk walking, easy jogging, using the treadmill, utilizing an elliptical trainer, riding bikes, swimming, and dancing are all moderate-intensity aerobic activities. For older adults, walking is the most accessible exercise. But if you have any orthopedic problems, such as arthritis in your knees and hips, you may want to use aquatic exercise or a stationary cycle to reduce the stress on your joints.

You are not in the moderate-intensity zone with an easy walk where you may be adding steps on your pedometer but not breathing heavier. You need to increase your walking speed, walk uphill, or go up the stairs to boost your heart rate into the moderate zone.

If you haven't been walking for exercise, you can get started by walking for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Work on good posture and steadily increase your walking time by 5 minutes for each session each week.

You should be able to build up your walking time in 4 weeks to enjoy 30 minutes at a time. Once you can walk comfortably for 30 minutes, you can begin improving your walking speed. If you are already walking for fitness, you can use a weekly walking workout schedule that varies the intensity of your walking workouts.

Vigorous Aerobic Exercise

Vigorous aerobic exercise is a little more intense than moderate intensity exercise. Here are some ways to ensure you are getting vigorous aerobic exercise.

  • Duration: If you exercise at a vigorous intensity, your workouts need only be 20 minutes long at a minimum. At this higher intensity, you should aim for a minimum of 75 minutes per week, and 150 minutes may give more benefits.
  • Frequency: To meet the guidelines, you need to exercise at least 3 days a week at this intensity.
  • Signs: At a vigorous intensity, you are breathing rapidly and no longer able to easily carry on an entire conversation, just short phrases. Your heart rate is boosted, and you will probably break a sweat. On a scale from 1 to 10, vigorous exercise would be a 7 or 8.
  • Types: Because everyone has a different fitness level, some people will achieve vigorous exertion with brisk walking. Meanwhile, others will need to jog or bike to increase their effort to the vigorous level.

Muscle-Strengthening Activities

Muscle-strengthening activities are vital for mature adults to not only prevent loss of muscle mass and bone density but to also ensure optimal movement and function. This type of exercise is also called resistance exercise.

  • Frequency: Strength workouts need to occur at least 2 days each week.
  • Getting started: You can visit a fitness center or use a strength training guide to learn the fundamentals. It can be beneficial to get the advice of a certified personal trainer on how to modify exercises, so they are appropriate for your fitness level and address any orthopedic problems you have.
  • Reps: Do eight to 10 exercises, with 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise.
  • Types: Lifting, pushing, and pulling exercises build muscle strength and endurance. Use exercise machines at the gym, resistance bands, or free weights (dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls, and kettlebells). Another option is calisthenics, which use your body weight for resistance. If you are a gardener, count digging, lifting, and carrying as strength exercises.

Flexibility Exercises

Spend 10 minutes, 2 days per week minimum, to stretch your major muscles and tendons. Take 10 to 30 seconds per stretch, and repeat each stretch three to four times. Flexibility is important for your daily activities because it helps you maintain your proper ranges of motion around your joints.

Improving your range of motion also will help you decrease your risks of injuries and avoid tightness and soreness around a joint. Additionally, proper range of motion will improve your other workouts and activities by ensuring proper form and better activation of the muscles.

Balance Exercises Reduce Fall Risk

Engaging in any type of exercise can help strengthen muscles and improve balance which will reduce your risk of falls. But adding balance exercise three times a week can further minimize fall risks.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines recommend balance training with exercises such as backward walking, sideways walking, heel walking, toe walking, and standing from a sitting position. You can add these balance moves to your daily walk to enjoy both activities. Tai chi, standing on one foot, and yoga may also help develop balance.

Avoid Inactivity Over Age 65

If you have limitations that don't allow you to meet the guidelines, the most important thing is to be active in some way each day. Any amount of exercise is better than none, so getting started is the key. You need to avoid inactivity.

Older adults need just as much exercise as those under age 65, plus the addition of flexibility and balance exercise.

While you may decide to enjoy moderate-intensity rather vigorous-intensity exercise, you still need endurance activity. Endurance exercises help to improve the health of your vital organs like the heart and lungs as well impact your circulatory system. Additionally, these exercises can delay or prevent many chronic conditions that are common in more mature adults like diabetes, heart disease, and others.  

Safety Considerations

It is vital that you discuss any new exercise program with a healthcare provider. Be sure you are cleared for the type of exercise that you want to do. A medical professional can also help you devise a plan that best suits your current abilities or limitations.

If you have a chronic condition, working with a medical professional to develop an activity plan that considers any of your health conditions, risks, and therapeutic needs is essential. You will get the most out of the exercise you can safely do.

Also, never push past pain. If you experience any pain, dizziness, cramping, sudden weakness, numbness, or nausea while exercising, stop immediately and consider whether emergency medical treatment is needed. When you exercise, be sure you have someone else nearby in case of a fall or injury. Learning how to properly perform strength training exercises can help you avoid injury as well.

A Word From Verywell

Although it is important to start out slow, once you get into a pattern you can gradually add to the minimum exercise schedule listed in this article. More frequent and longer workouts can further reduce health risks and help with weight maintenance.

Likewise, don't despair if you can't meet the minimum requirements. Simply getting up and doing activities rather than sitting will help reduce your health risks and allow you in your daily life.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Brahms CM, Hortobágyi T, Kressig RW, Granacher U. The interaction between mobility status and exercise specificity in older adults. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. 2021;49(1):15-22. doi:10.1249/JES.0000000000000237

  6. Pallarés JG, Hernández‐Belmonte A, Martínez‐Cava A, Vetrovsky T, Steffl M, Courel‐Ibáñez J. Effects of range of motion on resistance training adaptations: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2021;31(10):1866-1881. doi:10.1111/sms.14006

  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition.

  8. National Institute on Aging. Four types of exercise can improve your health and physical ability.
Additional Reading

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.