Keeping fit: banish aches and pains as you get older

Profile picture of Adam Byrne
Senior MSK Physiotherapist, Bupa UK
20 October 2021
Next review due October 2024

Do you get aches and pains, feel stiff in your joints and feel slower on your feet as the years go by? One of the best things for your health is to keep active as you age. But research shows that as we get older, we exercise less. So, here are my tips and advice on how to stay in shape as you get older.

Is joint or muscle pain a medical problem?

There may be times when joint or muscle pain could be because of a medical problem that needs to be investigated and treated. Use your common sense; if it’s severe, comes on suddenly, or has you worried, see your doctor.

You also need to have it checked out if there is redness or swelling, or if the symptoms last without relief for more than a few weeks. Don’t start an exercise programme until you know what the underlying problem is. Make sure you have advice on how to proceed safely.

Is it normal to ache as you get older?

Yes, often aching joints and muscles are simply the effects of age. As you get older, the natural tendency is for muscles to get smaller and lose some of their strength. Bones also start to get weaker over time. To some degree, you can hold back the years by keeping your muscles, joints and bones strong with regular exercise.

Why is it important for older adults to exercise?

Regular physical activity has so many benefits including:

It also reduces the chance of:

How to stay fit as you age

Already active?

If you’re already a keen athlete or dancer, you may be used to keeping active at a high level. Or you might find that you need to slow down. You may need to adapt your routine as you get older, to reduce the risk of injury. It will be different for everyone. But if you love something, don’t give it up all together. Stay out there and stay active.

Many sporting clubs now have a senior or master’s team for older members. So if the time is right, go for it. Many master’s or veteran clubs have coaches who can offer guidance on appropriate levels of training for your age and fitness levels. With years of experience, you also have valuable knowledge to offer. Think about coaching, teaching or being a referee.

Aim to do some exercise every day. Guidelines recommend you do 150 minutes of moderate exercise over the course of each week. If you already regularly exercise, then you may want to try doing more vigorous activity for 75 minutes over each week instead. Or a combination of the two. This will give you even greater benefits.

New to exercise?

If you don’t currently exercise, it may seem daunting to start. But physical activity can take many forms. Even regular amounts of light activity can improve your health. It’s never too late to give it a try. Start from where you’re at now, and you’ll soon feel the benefits.

Exercise every day. Try to meet the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week, but build up gradually if you need to. Some good activities include aqua aerobics, cycling, brisk walking and dancing.

Break up periods being sedentary by doing regular light activity. This could be gentle gardening, dusting, or daily activities where you are naturally moving about, such as climbing the stairs.

If you’re unable to do any light activity, see if you can stand up for a little while each hour, as this can be beneficial for older adults. Focus on walking a little bit farther rather than increasing your speed.

What about strength, balance and flexibility?

On at least two days a week it’s important to do physical activity that helps your strength, balance and flexibility. This could include lifting weights, using resistance bands, Tai chi, Pilates and other exercise classes.

Remember to listen to your body and go at your own pace. If you have any concerns about your health and exercise, speak to a doctor or physiotherapist.

Try chair yoga

If you’re just starting out, why not try our gentle chair yoga routine.

If you have a muscle, bone or joint problem, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get advice from a physiotherapist usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Profile picture of Adam Byrne
Adam Byrne (he/him)
Senior MSK Physiotherapist, Bupa UK

    • Statistics on obesity, physical activity and diet, England, 2020. NHS Digital., published 5 May 2020
    • McPhee, Jamie S et al. Physical activity in older age: perspectives for healthy ageing and frailty. Biogerontology 2016; 17(3): 567-80. doi:10.1007/s10522-016-9641-0
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    • Pinheiro MB., Oliveira J, Bauman A et al. Evidence on physical activity and osteoporosis prevention for people aged 65+ years: a systematic review to inform the WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 2020; 17:150. doi:10.1186/s12966-020-01040-4

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