The Ultimate Fitness Guide for Older Adults

It’s really important to stay fit and active as you get older, not least because it can stop you becoming overweight as well as reducing the risk of getting a number of different health conditions and chronic diseases. However, keeping fit when you are entering your later years is not always easy as your body naturally slows down and finds it harder to undertake physical exercise.

Luckily keeping active when you are older does need to mean running half marathons or going to a boot camp for the weekend. Instead, there are many different exercises and activities you can do which will help you maintain your physical fitness levels. These range from gentle exercise routines in the home to more strenuous activities such as running, swimming or cycling. Which type of exercise you choose is really down to you own personal capabilities and what you feel most comfortable doing. The really important factor is to remain as active as possible, regardless of what type of exercise you prefer.

Benefits of exercise for older adults

Regular exercise in later life can yield a whole host of different benefits which include :-

Weight loss – When you are older your metabolism slows down, making you more susceptible to putting weight on. Exercise is a great way to combat this and can help you maintain a healthy weight. A Health Survey carried out back in 2014 found the following proportions of older adults were overweight…

  • 78% of men aged 65 to 74
  • 80% of men aged 75 to 84
  • Over 70% of women aged 65 to 84.

Keep your heart healthy – Coronary heart disease or CHD is a major killer in the UK, with 14% of men and 10% of women dying each year from the disease.  However, those who take regular exercise are at a lower risk of developing CHD, as well as being less likely to develop heart disease high and high blood pressure (the latter of which is a commonly linked to having a Stroke).

Reduced risk of Cancer – According to data from Cancer research UK, around 25% of all deaths in the UK are from a form of Cancer. Physical exercise, although not a preventative measure can help reduce the risk, particularly when it comes to bowel, beast and womb related cancer.

Maintain well being and mental health – Exercise can also have psychological as well as physical benefits, such as maintaining a healthy state of mind and well being. It can also improve your overall mood as well as helping to relieve depression, something many older adults suffer from.

Reduce risk of dementia – Although not medically proven, many experts believe regular exercise can help reduce the risk of dementia. It is also argued that regular exercise can help those already with dementia as it can improve sleeping patterns as well as making individuals stronger and more flexible.

Improve social interaction – Exercising can also be a way for older adults to become more sociable, particularly if they partake in a group based exercise activity, such as a fitness class for example. Isolationism is a major problem for many older adults, particularly if a partner dies before them. Exercise can be a great way to stay active and engaged with others in the community as well as building up new friendships.

Maintain independence – Perhaps one of the most important benefits of regular exercise is it allows older adults to maintain their independence, something many older adults cherish above all else. Even gentle exercises can help avoid being reliant on others to help with mobility.

Reduce risk of type 2 Diabetes – Individuals who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, something around 4 million people in the UK already have. Taking regular exercise as well as maintaining a healthy diet is an obvious way to prevent you becoming overweight and in turn will help to reduce your overall risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

Keeping bones strong- Exercise can also help prevent brittle bone disease (osteoporosis), a condition which many older people suffer from. In fact research has shown that osteoporosis in the primary reason why 50% of men and 20% of women aged over 50 will break a bone.

How to motivate yourself

There’s no getting away from it, for many of us, exercise can seem nothing but a chore. Below we have outlined some useful tips to help keep you motivated:-

Find something you enjoy – You are more likely to stick at something if you are enjoying it, so pick an exercise or activity you will actually like doing, rather than doing something purely for the sake of it. For example if you like music and dancing, join a Zumba class or,  If you like being in a team, why not join a running club?

Find a fitness buddy – Having an exercise partner or friend alongside you should help you stay motivated. It can also make the exercise or activity more of a social event rather than just a chore.

Set goals – Setting goals can be useful if you want to upscale the level of exercise you are undertaking. It’s not for everyone, but can be useful for those who want to measure and improve on your current fitness levels.

Get into the fitness habit – Nothing beats repetition like having a routine, so make sure you plan your exercise activity ahead. For example, getting your stuff ready the night before may help you with willing yourself into sticking with your routine.

Have a treat – Exercise and keeping fit does not mean you have to go cold turkey on life’s luxuries, so make sure you “treat” yourself now and again to some chocolate or a glass of wine, whichever is your preference!

Over 50’s Exercise Ideas

For most older adults low impact exercises will be the most suitable. (Low impact is defined as keeping one foot on the ground). Below we have listed the most popular actives for older adults to enjoy :-

Walking – one of the easiest ways to stay fit and healthy is to take regular, brisk walks. For those who really want to get into this, there is the option of finding a local walking club.

Walking football – For those who prefer a team activity an increasingly popular pastime in walking football. Age UK, the UK leading charity for older adults run a number of walking football clubs up and down the country.

Dance   Why not showcase your moves at a local dance class? There are many different styles of dancing to choose from including latino, salsa, ballroom as well as line dancing. Again, Age UK run dedicated dance classes for older adults

Pilates / Yoga – If you prefer something less strenuous then Pilates or Yoga maybe just for you. Most routines are done sitting or lying down and can help boost muscle strength. The website YogaClassNearYou allows you to find over 50’s Yoga classes in your local area.

Tai-Chi – This is an ancient Chinese activity which helps improve posture and balance as well as improving your overall mental well-being. It is practised by thousands of older adults across the world as in becoming increasingly popular in the UK

Zumba Gold – A lower intensity version of the popular activity Zumba, this routine is popular with older adults across the UK. Visit the official website to find a class near you.

Golf – Notwithstanding classic stereotypes about older people going down the golf club, golf is a great way to stay fit in later life. Dispelling another stereotype, it is also not just the preserve of older men as most clubs now admit both men and women.

Tennis– This is a great sport for those who like to be competitive in a one on one environment. Can often be weather dependent of course, but a great way to stay fit and active all the same.

Swimming – Another fantastic way to stay fit with most local swimming centres running dedicated sessions for older adults. You can find a range of swimwear for older adults here.

Easy to do stretches

If you find it difficult to get out the house or you just want some simple stretches to do in the home then check out the following routines :-

Squat to chair – Stand in front of a chair and keep your feet wide apart. Move your hips back and start to bend your knees without actually sitting down. Outstretch your arms forwards to help maintain your balance. Repeat a dozens times if you can.

Wall Push – Great for those who cannot get down to do press ups. Standing two feet or so away, place your hands flat against a wall, keeping them inline with your shoulders.Bend your elbows outwards and lift your heels as if you were doing a press up against the wall. Repeat up to 12 times.

Wall Angels – Stand with your back facing the wall and your arms positioned at a right handle. Start to move your hands up and down whilst trying to keep your back against the wall. Repeat a dozen times.


Quadriceps Stretch – Really simple, just stand at ease and then bend your knee backwards until you are holding onto one foot.You may find holding onto a chair or sideboard with your other hand will help you maintain your balance. Hold for 30 seconds and then release, repeat as you feel comfortable, then swap to the other foot.

Chair based exercises

These are perfect for older adults with limited mobility.

Ankle circles – Sit upright in a sturdy chair and then outstretch one leg, keeping the other foot on the foot.  Start to rotate your ankle in a circular movement.

Do 10 to 15 rotations on one leg and then swap to the other leg.

Heel Digs – Sit upright, place one foot flat on the floor. With the other foot, pull your toe towards you shin.Repeat 10 or 20 times, then swap to the other foot.


Arm Across body – Place your right arm diagonally across your left shoulder, then return your right arm to the sidearm of the chair.Repeat 10 to 15 times, then swap arms.


Arm back and forth – Again sitting up right, outstretch both hand forwards in front of you, then, move your hands back to the arm rest. Repeat 10 to 20 times.


Arm move with heel dig – This combines two of the previous routines. Place one hand on your opposite shoulder with your arm diagonally across your chest. At the same time dig one heel into the floor and move your toe towards our shin, keeping the other foot flat. Return your hand to the armrest. Repeat 10 to 20 times then swap arm/foot.

Neck rotation – Sit up right, looking forwards. Gently turn your head left 90 degrees, holding that position for 5 seconds, before slowly moving back to facing forwards. Repeat the same action to the right.

Lifestyle Exercises

It is important to note that not all exercise has to be a pre-planned activity or class. Many everyday routines can help with you maintain a healthy lifestyle. For example :-

Walking the dog – This will benefit you as well as the dog. Why not try a longer or different route, or chase the ball or stick in the park. The extra step will really help.

Childcare – Many over 50’s will confess this can be the most exhausting exercise of them all! Great for the body and mind, playing games with the grandchildren is a lovely way to stay fit and active.

Gardening – Enjoy the fresh air as well as a weed-free garden. Just be careful not to over do it when stretching down.

Take the stairs – Whilst it maybe tempting to get in a lift or escalator, merely by opting for the stairs you can help to improve your overall fitness levels.


Fitness Over 50 – An over 50’s fitness Guru
Move it or Lose it – Find local exercise classes for older adults
NHS fitness Classes -Find local fitness classes using the NHS search
NHS fitness guidelines for Older Adults – Find out how much exercise you should be doing
SAGA – Exercise & Fitness Guide – Useful guide to over 50’s fitness