Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health

Physical Activity and Older Adults

Recommended levels of physical activity for adults aged 65 and above

Photo: A. Waak

In adults aged 65 years and above, physical activity includes leisure time physical activity (for example: walking, dancing, gardening, hiking, swimming), transportation (e.g. walking or cycling), occupational (if the individual is still engaged in work), household chores, play, games, sports or planned exercise, in the context of daily, family, and community activities.

In order to improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone and functional health, reduce the risk of NCDs, depression and cognitive decline:

  • Older adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
  • Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.
  • For additional health benefits, older adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of moderate-and vigorous-intensity activity.
  • Older adults, with poor mobility, should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls on 3 or more days per week.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities, involving major muscle groups, should be done on 2 or more days a week.
  • When older adults cannot do the recommended amounts of physical activity due to health conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.

For further information click below and download the complete document "Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health" available in:

Physical activity for all

These guidelines are relevant to all healthy adults aged 65 years and above. They are also relevant to individuals in this age range with chronic NCD conditions. Individuals with specific health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, may need to take extra precautions and seek medical advice before striving to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity for older adults.

There are a number of ways older adults can accumulate the total of 150 minutes per week. The concept of accumulation refers to meeting the goal of 150 minutes per week by performing activities in multiple shorter bouts, of at least 10 minutes each, spread throughout the week then adding together the time spent during each of these bouts: e.g. 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity 5 times per week.

These recommendations are applicable for all older adults irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity or income level.

The recommendations can be applied to older adults with disabilities however adjustments for each individual based on their exercise capacity and specific health risks or limitations may be needed.

Older adults who are inactive or who have some disease limitations will have added health benefits if moving from the category of “no activity” to “some levels” of activity. Older adults who currently do not meet the recommendations for physical activity should aim to increase duration, frequency and finally intensity as a target to achieving them.

Benefits of physical activity for older adults

Overall, strong evidence demonstrates that compared to less active men and women, older adults who are physically active:

  • have lower rates of all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and breast cancer, a higher level of cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, healthier body mass and composition;
  • have a biomarker profile that is more favourable for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and the enhancement of bone health; and
  • exhibit higher levels of functional health, a lower risk of falling, and better cognitive function; have reduced risk of moderate and severe functional limitations and role limitations.

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