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How should I get physical activity?

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Older adults have many ways to get active. Healthy older adults generally do not need a doctor's checkup before starting a new physical activity. However your doctor may be able to suggest an activity plan that suits your fitness level and interests, as well as ways to progress at a safe and steady pace.

If you have a chronic health problem, see your doctor before setting any fitness goals or trying a new activity. Your doctor can make sure that you're healthy enough for physical activity. She or he can give you some activity ideas that fit your abilities and level of fitness, as well as tell you about activities you should not do. If you're new to activity or just rusty, start slowly and work your way up. Your doctor can help you set realistic and safe fitness goals.

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Getting the right amount and mix

So, how much physical activity and what types do you need? All adults, including adults 65 and older, should do the following:

  • Aerobic activity — Aerobic activity makes you breathe faster and deeper and gets your heart pumping. Walking, jogging, bicycling, dancing, swimming, and moderate housework are some examples. Regular aerobic activity will help your heart, lungs, and overall health.

    Adults should do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic physical activity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of moderate and vigorous exercise. Just make sure you do the aerobic exercises for at least 10 minutes at a time during the week.

  • Muscle-strengthening activity — Adults also need to do muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days of the week. This can help you prevent muscle and bone loss. Two ways to do this are through weight machines and free weights. You don't need to invest in a gym membership or expensive home equipment. Hand, wrist, and ankle weights are simpler and cost less. You can even make your own weights, such as with soup cans or empty plastic bottles filled with sand or water. Or, use your own body weight by doing things like push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups.
  • Balance activity — Older adults at risk of falling should engage in activities to maintain or improve balance. Your doctor can show you some simple at-home exercises to do, or you might try activities such as yoga and tai chi.
Did you know?

Adults with chronic health problems or lower fitness levels should aim to follow the same guidelines as they are able. If you are not able to meet these goals, be as physically active as you can. Your doctor can help you decide the type and amount of activity that is safe for you. Keep in mind, any amount of physical activity is better than none.

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Making it fun

Sometimes it's hard to start getting physically active. It may seem like a lot of work, and where's the fun in that? Well, picking something that you enjoy helps. Getting an exercise buddy is a great idea. If you have a regular "appointment" with someone, you won't be as likely to put exercise off. Or you could join a local running or bicycle group. Sign up for a class like water aerobics or ballroom dancing. Doing your activity with a group will also get you out of the house. This can help make you feel more connected.

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Content last updated August 12, 2010.

Resources last updated August 12, 2010.

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