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Staying physically active is a very important part of keeping healthy and happy in older age. Read on to find out about exercise suitable for older people.

It can be difficult to know how to approach exercise if your relative is frail or has mobility problems. The good news is there are many options he or she can explore.

On this page you can find information on:

1. The importance of physical exercise for older people
2. Recommended levels of exercise
3. Regaining confidence
4. Home exercise  
5. Exercise outside the home

The importance of physical exercise for older people

Exercise can help you maintain your health at any age, providing physical benefits as well as having a positive effect on a person’s sense of wellbeing.

In older age, remaining active is even more important, though the recommended level of physical exercise will depend on the individual and their circumstances. 

If your relative has mobility problems or is particularly frail, it is still important to make daily activity a part of their routine.

‘Keeping physically active’ doesn’t mean your relative needs to perform strenuous exercise every day - even moderate activity can have a positive effect. It can be as simple as going for a daily walk or a weekly swim. Any sustained activity that keeps the body moving will help your relative to stay fit and healthy.

Key benefits associated with staying physically active include:

  • managing stress
  • elevating mood and reducing the risk of depression
  • reducing the impact of some mobility problems
  • lowering high blood pressure
  • easing symptoms of arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.

Recommended levels of exercise

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the chief medical officers for the UK recommend 30 minutes of physical activity a day, at least five days a week. The time can be broken down into 10- or 15-minute periods, depending on your relative’s needs and preference.

Before your relative starts a new exercise regime, it’s important to bear in mind that some activities will suit them better than others. Most low-impact exercises and physical activities can be tailored to suit the needs of an individual.

How physically healthy your relative is will have a significant effect on which exercises are most appropriate and how many rest periods he or she will need during physical activity. If your loved one persists with regular exercise, they may find that their tolerance for physical activity improves over time, at which point they could consider changing their routine accordingly.

It’s important for your relative to speak to their GP before starting any exercise routine. It may also be beneficial to have their eyesight and hearing checked beforehand.

Regaining confidence

If your relative is recovering from a fall or illness, they may have lost confidence in their physical abilities or have concerns about further injuring themselves. Take the time to talk through their concerns and provide reassurance. In this situation, the most important thing you can do is to help to build their confidence.

The best way to do this is to encourage them to start small and to make sure your relative isn’t putting pressure on him- or herself to do too much too soon. Gentle activities, such as walking around the garden, can be a great place to start, allowing your relative to build their confidence in a comfortable setting.

Home exercise

There are a range of gentle home exercises that are suitable for older people and those who are less active.

These home exercises focus on flexibility, strength and balance, and some can be carried out from a sitting position. You can find a complete guide to these exercises, including diagrams and advice, on the NHS website.

It’s also important to encourage your relative to keep going with pastimes and other things they enjoy.  Anything that keeps them moving around the home can have a positive impact. Everyday activities that you may not associate with exercise, such as gardening or baking, can be beneficial.

All of the small things that people do as part of a normal routine (such as hanging out the washing, making tea or feeding the birds) can contribute to improved health and wellbeing.

Exercise outside the home

There are so many exercise groups available these days that it’s possible to find one that suits almost anyone, for example there are classes tailored to the needs of people with dementia

Everything from yoga to dancing classes is available, with many local groups providing tailored sessions for older people. Taking part in this kind of group session can also help your relative to continue to feel a part of the community and reduce the risk of loneliness.

There are also many options for people who would prefer to exercise individually or in smaller groups, such as swimming. In addition, keeping going with daily activities like taking the dog for a walk can have a positive impact.

It's important to think creatively around your relative's pastimes and interests to ensure that he or she continues to enjoy life while maintaining their health.

More information

Dealing with a fall: our guide contains advice and information about what to do if your relative has a fall.
Mobility aids: here you can find details about the various mobility aids that are available.
Elderly people and driving: if you are unsure about how to talk to your relative about driving, this guide may help you.

Page last reviewed: November 2016
Next review due: April 2018