Exercise and keeping active as an older adult
Finding the motivation to exercise can be difficult for everyone. It can be especially hard if you have a health condition that causes you pain or discomfort. You might also be worried about falling or injuring yourself. But keeping active can improve your quality of life and help you to stay independent.
Being active can also help you to:
- manage the symptoms of your condition, such as joint pain, stiffness or shortness of breath
- improve your mental health and sleep by reducing stress
- avoid falls by increasing your strength and balance
- improve your memory
- keep your bones in good health
- reduce your chance of getting conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and back pain
What can stop you from being active
Pain and discomfort
If pain prevents you from exercising, speak to a GP. They might be able to recommend treatment or review your medicines to manage your discomfort.
ESCAPE-pain is a free 12-week programme for people in south east London with long-term (chronic) joint pain. It helps people to understand their condition and involves a series of exercises adapted for each individual. The programme is held at many different places across the 6 boroughs in south east London. Ask your GP or physiotherapist if they can refer you, or look online to find your nearest class.
Fear of falls and injury
Your GP, physiotherapist or occupational therapist (who helps with health issues that affect everyday activities) can give you exercises to suit your ability. They might also be able to give you equipment to reduce the chance of falling and injuring yourself.
Not having enough support
Trying to keep active on your own can be more difficult. Most people find it easier and more enjoyable to exercise with someone else or as part of a group.
If you join exercise classes in your community, you could meet others, support each other and improve your health.
Joining a gym can be expensive, but there are many ways to exercise for free. These might include:
- doing jobs in the house, such as cleaning or vacuuming
- dancing to your favourite music
You can find out if your local council allows you to join a gym or swim for free or at a discounted price.
- Southwark Council has a free gym and swim scheme. You can find details on their website.
- Lambeth Council's REAL Plus leisure card gives you discounted prices at Lambeth leisure centres. You can apply for a discounted card if you are over 60 or get certain benefits.
- Senior centres or groups also offer membership at a more affordable price. Contact your local council or Age UK for information about your local area.
How much exercise to do
Doing some physical activity is better than none. Even light activity helps your health.
It is a good idea to do a mixture of exercise and activities to improve your balance.
Speak to a doctor first if you have not exercised for a while, or if you have medical conditions or concerns. It is important that your exercise and activities are suitable for your fitness level.
Exercise can be split into moderate exercise and lively exercise. Each week, try to do:
- 2 hours 30 minutes of moderate exercise. This is about 20 minutes every day of activities like swimming, faster than normal (brisk) walking or cycling
- 1 hour 15 minutes of lively exercise. This is about 10 minutes every day of activities like climbing the stairs, running or sports such as tennis
You might prefer to do a mixture of moderate exercise and lively exercise.
Activities to improve your balance
At least 2 days each week, try to
Being more active in everyday life
- take the stairs whenever you can
- go for walks outdoors
- stand up and sit down again a few times whenever there is an advert break on the television
- try some mini-squats (when you slowly bend your knees from a standing position and stand up again) or march on the spot while waiting for the kettle to boil
- add movement to housework, like dancing to your favourite music while you vacuum or wash the dishes
- try outdoor activities like gardening, joining a local gardening club or helping in an allotment
- carry heavy shopping bags
How to keep motivated
- Set small realistic goals and use a progress tracker or an exercise diary.
- Think about what stops you from being active and how you could overcome these barriers.
- Get support from family, friends, carers and healthcare professionals like your GP, physiotherapist or local gym instructor.
- Join a community exercise class or club to get support and encouragement from others.
- Set yourself daily activities like jobs around the house and gardening.
- Find activities that you enjoy, such as going for long walks in the park, walking the dog or dancing.
Classes with Silverfit
Silverfit is a charity led by older people, for older people in London. It offers a choice of activities at different places in London, including:
- Nordic walking (when you walk with 2 specially designed poles to help you move forwards and upwards)
- walking football (a standard game of football where players walk instead of run)
- Tai Chi (a type of exercise, originally from China, that involves slow body movements and gentle stretching)
- Qi Gong (a type of healing practice, originally from China, that involves controlled breathing, gentle movement and meditation)
- indoor cycling
- fitness classes
- indoor rowing
- Bollywood dance (the type of dance used in Indian films)
The charity aims to help people make new friends, feel more confident and enjoy life as they grow older, regardless of their ability or experience.
Find local services with Age UK
Age UK has an online local service finder to find classes near you.
You can also visit your local borough's Age UK website:
Your local centres or gym
You can contact your local gym, health centre or day centre. They might offer suitable exercise classes and activities.
More information on staying active
Age UK has information about being active as you get older.
The NHS website has information for older adults on staying active.