Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies



Exercise for older people

Being active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for everybody. But as you get older, you may hit some health problems that could put you off exercise. Yet staying active may be the key to maintaining your health and independence.

Older lady leaning on side of swimming pool


  • Why do I need to exercise? Why do I need to exercise?

    Studies show that older people who regularly exercise are healthier and less likely to develop serious long-term conditions than those who don’t. Regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing:

    Exercise can also improve your muscle strength and tone. This means you’re less likely to have an accident or a fall that could lead to an injury. As well as these benefits, regular exercise can help:

    • your ability to continue with everyday activities and be independent
    • how well your brain works, including your memory
    • your sense of wellbeing and self-esteem

    Bupa Health Assessments

    If you are concerned about your health, Bupa can help you get a diagnosis.

  • How much exercise should I do? How much exercise should I do?

    Aim to do about 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, along with a bit of muscle strengthening. During moderate exercise your breathing and heart rate are faster and you feel warmer. Don’t be put off if this seems a lot! If you’re just getting started, take it easy at first and gradually increase how much activity you do to build up your fitness. The most important point is to spend as little time as possible being inactive.

  • Types of exercise Types of exercise

    Aerobic activity

    Your aerobic fitness is a measure of how healthy your heart and lungs are. As you get older, your aerobic fitness tends to decrease naturally. But you can keep fit by doing any activity that raises your heart rate and makes you slightly breathless.

    Strengthening activity

    Your muscles lose strength as you age but it’s definitely possible to reduce how much is lost. You can build up your muscles with strengthening exercises. Keeping them as strong as possible will make it easier to carry out daily activities and reduce your risk of falls.

    We’ve put together some suggestions of activities to build up both your aerobic fitness and strength. Doing some balance and stretching exercises will help you reap even more benefits. Have a go at a few things until you find what suits you.

    Aerobic activities Strengthening activities
    Take a bike ride to the shops. Head to a Pilates class – this gentle, non-impact exercise will improve your posture, circulation and balance.
    Go for a brisk walk – make it more interesting by listening to an audiobook or podcast while you walk. Start your day with some tai chi – this gentle, Chinese martial art is a great way to improve your strength, balance and posture.
    Go for a swim – try racing with your grandchildren. Join a yoga class. Some types are more demanding than others but Viniyoga is a good option for beginners. This focuses on coordinating your breathing with movement.
    Aquarobics is a good activity for everybody – water supports your weight while you exercise. Gyrotonic – this is a mix of swimming, ballet, gymnastics, Pilates and yoga.
    Go dancing – it doesn’t have to be a formal class, put some music on and dance around the living room. Carrying the shopping – this chore has the hidden benefit of working your muscles.
    Take on your friends in doubles tennis. Gardening – get some fresh air and work your muscles at the same time.
    Mow the lawn – pushing that lawnmower will get your heart racing. Go to the gym and lift light weights – an instructor can advise you on what exercises to do.
  • Bupa Health Assessments

    Get an overview of your current health and any potential future risks with a Bupa health assessment. Book yours today.

  • What if my health is bad? What if my health is bad?

    As you get older, your muscles get weaker, you tend to get more aches and pains and you become more prone to falls and injuries. As with any age group, the level of fitness of adults over 65 varies from person to person. Some people run marathons, whereas others find it difficult to get out of a chair without help.

    If you have a health condition or are recovering from an illness, it may affect how much you can do. But don’t assume it will stop you from being active altogether. It may be more important than ever to exercise to help you to get better.

  • Advice from our expert Advice from our expert

    Dr Pippa Bennett, Bupa Lead MSK Physician, gives advice on exercising in situations where you might be anxious to do so.

    The problem

    “I had a bad fall last year and since then I’ve been reluctant to exercise because I’m worried I’ll have another one.”

    Pippa's advice

    “Sign up to do a yoga or Pilates class a couple of days a week. It may help to improve your balance and coordination and prevent you having any more falls. You could pick a class that’s especially for older people or join any group and just do what you can. Make sure you tell your instructor about any health concerns.”

    The problem

    “I have arthritis in my knee and it’s so painful at times I can hardly move.”

    Pippa's advice

    “You might worry that exercise will harm your knee but the opposite is true. If you keep moving and do some exercise, it can help to keep your joints working well and lessen pain. Research has shown that if you have osteoarthritis in your knee, exercise reduces pain and improves how well your knee joint works. Try swimming to start with because you can exercise your joints without the pressure of your weight on them. Another activity you might like to try is tai chi, which may also help to reduce the pain from osteoarthritis of the knee.”

    The problem

    “I’m pretty much chair-bound from a long-term illness.”

    Pippa's advice

    “If you can’t move around easily, it’s even more important to try to exercise. It can improve your whole outlook on life and is really beneficial for your mental health. One exercise you could try is chair aerobics. In this, you do a series of repetitive movements while sitting down that will raise your heart rate and help you burn calories. Have a chat with your GP about other exercises that may be suitable for you.”

    The problem

    “I’m too old to start exercising.”

    Pippa's advice

    “You’re never too old to exercise! Start with some gentle walks and build up your fitness gradually. Once you get your confidence up, try having a go at other activities.”

  • When should I stop? When should I stop?

    If you go about it sensibly, exercising has very few risks, and certainly fewer than result from not being active. If it’s been some time since you exercised, start slowly and see how you get on.

    If you get any of the symptoms listed here while you’re exercising, stop and get medical advice – particularly if they don’t go away when you stop.

    • Chest pain.
    • Pain in your joints.
    • Dizziness.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • A strong heartbeat (palpitations).
  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Age UK
    0800 169 6565
    Age UK has a range of information about how you can keep active as you get older. This includes guidance on strength and balance exercises to help prevent falls and advice about how to stay steady on your feet.
    Walking for Health
    020 7339 8541
    Walking for Health is a network of walking schemes in England. They aim to help people live a more active lifestyle by organising weekly walks across the country. These are run by volunteers and are open to everyone, no matter how active or inactive you are.


    • Physical activity: encouraging activity in all people in contact with the NHS. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), March 2015.
    • Start active, stay active: a report on physical activity from the four home countries’ chief medical officers. Department of Health., published 2011
    • Physical activity guidelines for adults (19–64 years). Department of Health., published July 2011
    • Physical activity guidelines for older adults (65+ years). Department of Health., published July 2011
    • Disability in older people. PatientPlus., reviewed 22 June 2011
    • How much physical activity do older adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention., published 1 December 2011
    • Getting moving. Age UK., accessed 11 June 2015
    • Measuring physical activity intensity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention., published 4 February 2015
    • Gillespie LD, Robertson MC, Gillespie WJ, et al. Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 9. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007146.pub3
    • Osteoarthritis. BMJ Best Practice., published 24 September 2014
    • Osteoarthritis. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), February 2014.
    • Map of Medicine. Osteoarthritis. International View. London: Map of Medicine; 2014 (Issue 3)
    • Fransen M, McConnell S, Hernandez-Molina G, et al. Exercise for osteoarthritis of the hip. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 4. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007912.pub2
    • Osteoarthritis. Medscape., published 27 March 2015
    • Kang JW, Lee MS, Posadzki P, et al. T'ai chi for the treatment of osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open 2011; 1(1):e000035. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2010-000035
    • Chair exercises and limited mobility fitness., published April 2015
    • Exercise and physical activity: your everyday guide from the National Institute on Aging. Chapter 2: get set. National Institute on Aging., published 28 May 2015
  • Has our information helped you? Tell us what you think about this page

    We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
  • Related information Related information

  • Tools and calculators Tools and calculators

  • Author information Author information

    Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Content Team, August 2015.

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.

    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
    verify here.

    This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

What our readers say about us

But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.

Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.

It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.

Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.

Meet the team

Nick Ridgman

Nick Ridgman
Head of Health Content

  • Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
  • Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
  • Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
  • Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights
  • Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
  • Fay Jeffery – Web Editor
  • Marcella McEvoy – Specialist Editor, Content Portfolio
  • Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor (on Maternity Leave)

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.


In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.


We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.


We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road

Find out more Close

Legal disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

The information contained on this page and in any third party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment. Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. We do not accept advertising on this page.

For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the 'About our health information' section.

ˆ We may record or monitor our calls.