Keeping active and taking regular exercise has many benefits, even if you've been inactive for years. At any age, regular exercise helps to strengthen muscles and can improve your balance, stamina and suppleness, reducing your risk of falling and experiencing a serious injury if you do.
After a fall, many people become less active and stop going out. This can make matters worse – you can lose confidence and become weaker and more unsteady on your feet. If you've had a fall, it's even more important that you stay active, and do this safely.
What can I do?
Keep active every day
Older people should aim to be active every day and, if possible, keep to a minimum the amount of time spent sitting for long periods. Keeping active doesn't necessarily mean going to the gym or doing sports – walking, dancing, active housework, washing the car and gardening are also good ways to keep active.
If you don’t usually exercise, any physical activity you can do is better than none at all. For example, when watching television consider:
- getting up and moving around between programmes or during the adverts
- taking regular walk breaks around the house, garden or street
How much physical activity?
Over the course of a week, the time you spend being physically active should add up to 150 minutes (two and a half hours).
This can be made up of:
- short spells of moderate intensity activity – such as 10 minutes of activity, 3 times a day, 5 days a week
- longer spells of moderate intensity activity – such as 30 minutes of activity, 5 days a week. Activities lasting for 10 minutes or more are of more benefit
A moderate intensity activity is one that makes you:
- feel warmer
- breathe more heavily. However, you should still be able to carry out a conversation
If you're not used to being active, you may find that it won’t take very much activity to reach moderate intensity.
If you're already active, either through daily walking, an active job or engaging in regular exercise, you may still benefit from increasing your physical activity to improve aspects of your fitness.
To reduce your risk of falls, you can also do specific exercises to improve your muscle-strength. Stronger muscles can:
- improve your balance
- take some of the strain off painful joints
- improve your reactions
- make daily activities – such standing up from your chair, climbing stairs and getting down to the floor – less of an effort
As well as doing specific strengthening exercises, you can build up your leg strength by:
- going up and down stairs
- practising standing up from a chair (if you're able)
If you’ve done an exercise that helps to improve your strength, your muscles will feel warm.
Strength and balance exercises you can practice at home
Balance exercise can help you to feel steadier on your feet by challenging your balance. You should feel slightly unsteady when doing these types of exercise as they force your body to get used to working to maintain your balance.
You should aim to do balance exercises at least twice a week.
Tai Chi is a great activity to maintain and improve your balance. If you’re unsteady on your feet, the Tai Chi instructor may be able to adapt some of the movements to suit you.
You need to do falls prevention exercises regularly for them to be effective. If you regularly do falls prevention exercises given to you by an exercise professional, physiotherapist, occupational therapist or falls specialist nurse keep doing them, unless you are injured or your health has changed.
If you're new to physical activity and exercise, or haven't done a lot in a while:
- start slowly and build up gradually over time
- always stay within your comfort levels
- don’t exercise on days you feel unwell
- always stop exercising immediately if you experience chest pain or feel faint. Contact your doctor for advice
To get started:
- create an exercise plan – having a routine is a great way to keep you motivated and on target. Use this plan to record what physical activities and strength and balance exercises you'll do each week and how often
- find supervised groups or classes in your area – exercise classes designed for older people are of particular benefit as they can improve balance and strength. Exercising with others in a class can be fun as well as being good for your health. It can also help to keep you motivated
- join your local gym or sports club – this will give you access to specialised equipment, classes and training from qualified instructors. Most councils offer a discount on gym memberships for people aged 60 or over
Planning your activities
When planning what physical activity and exercise to do, remember that you don't need to do your strength and balance exercises every day, but you should try to be physically active every day.
Plan your physical activity and exercise routine with a friend or partner as this can help you to stay motivated and remove any anxiety or nervousness when doing new activities.
Exercising with medical conditions
If you have certain medical conditions – such as a heart or lung condition or other condition that makes exercise difficult – there may be some exercises or activities that aren’t suitable for you.
If you need help or advice about the best activities for you, speak to your GP, a physiotherapist or qualified fitness instructor.
Where to start
Think about how you currently keep active and exercise:
- What positive things do you already do to keep physically active?
- What changes can you make that might help?
- How will you make these changes?
- Who do you need to talk to?
Age UK provide more information about healthy living for older people, including ways to stay active.
The British Heart Foundation also offer tips and advice for staying active.