The importance of staying active for over 65s

Exercise has huge benefits on health and regular physical activity remains just as important as you get older.

What are the benefits of physical activity?

Physical activity can help:

But the type and amount of exercise you should do changes as you age. Here are some tips on exercise that is suitable for people over 65.

Spend more time being physically active and less time sitting down

Doing housework and other daily activities is good for you as they keep you moving and help reduce the time you are sitting down. Don't stretch yourself too much – the key is to do something within your capability. Even small amounts of physical activity can have great benefits on your health.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity, 5 days a week 

Aim to do physical activity that increases your breathing and heart rate for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. These activities are known as aerobic activities and can be classified into moderate or vigorous intensity. 

Moderate-intensity exercise Vigorous-intensity exercise

These activities increase your breathing and heart rate slightly but they are noticeable. You can still chat during moderate-intensity activity. 

These activities increase your breathing and heart rate significantly. You are not able to chat during vigorous-intensity activity. 

Examples:

  • cycling
  • brisk walking
  • kapa haka
  • stair climbing
  • walking
  • golf
  • housework
  • swimming
  • playing with grandchildren
  • waka ama
  • kaumātua line dancing
  • water aerobics. 

Examples:

  • walking uphill
  • heavy digging
  • fast lane swimming
  • cycling more than 16 km/h
  • fast dancing.

Include flexibility, balance and resistance activities

Some activities can improve flexibility, balance or resistance. Aim to do 3 sessions of flexibility and balance activities as well as 2 sessions of resistance activities per week. 

Resistance activities Flexibility activities Balance activities
  • carrying shopping
  • chair raises
  • cycling
  • golf
  • hill walking
  • knee lifts
  • modified tai chi
  • stair climbing
  • swimming
  • waka ama
  • water aerobics
  • weight training
  • ankle stretches
  • bowls
  • gardening
  • golf
  • housework
  • kilikiti
  • modified tai chi
  • Otago Exercise Programme
  • petanque  (French bowls)
  • pilates
  • stretching
  • washing car
  • yoga
  • bowls
  • chair raises
  • cycling less than 14 km/h
  • golf
  • modified tai chi
  • Otago Exercise Programme
  • petanque (French bowls)
  • pilates
  • poi toa
  • social dancing
  • standing on one leg
  • waka ama
  • yoga

Start slow and build up gradually

Try to start off any physical activity slowly and build up gradually to the recommended level.

Check with your doctor before starting any physical activity

If any of the following applies to you, talk to your doctor before starting or increasing levels of activity:

  • you have not exercised regularly in the recent past
  • you have one or more health conditions
  • you have any injuries.

Recommendations for older people who are frail

It is important to be physically active even if you are frail. You can do these safely by:

  • checking with your doctor first before starting or increasing physical activity
  • speaking to your doctor about whether vitamin D tablets can be beneficial for you
  • being as active as possible and reducing sedentary behaviour
  • starting off these exercises slowly and building up gradually
  • aiming for a combination of low-impact aerobic, resistance, balance and flexibility activities. 

Learn more

Physical activity for older people Ministry of Health, NZ
General benefits of being active Health Navigator, NZ
How to find the right exercise for your age Health Navigator, NZ

References

  1. Physical activity for older people Ministry of Health, NZ
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team, based on Ministry of Health information.