Physical activity and exercise

Even as you get older, it is important to remain as active as possible. While you may not be able to participate in activities the way you used to, getting aerobic exercise, and improving balance, flexibility, and strength will help you stay healthy and fit. Physical activity has many benefits for your health, including:

  • Keeping your heart strong and controlling your blood pressure
  • Strengthening your bones
  • Improving your mood and mental wellbeing
  • Helping you to stay independent
  • Helping improve your sleep at night
  • Reducing your risk of developing cancer, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and falls
  • Helping you lose weight

Guidelines

According to the Ministry of Health Guidelines, all older people should be as physically active as possible and limit sedentary behaviour. Normal daily activity such as housework, gardening, walking the dog, and washing the car can also count towards your daily exercise.

If you have not been very physically active recently and are planning on starting or increasing your physical activity, you should consult your doctor or other health professional. You should start physical activity slowly and build up to the recommended daily levels to ensure you are exercising safely.

The Guidelines recommend doing aerobic (cardio) activity 5 days a week. If you are doing exercises of moderate intensity, you should aim to complete at least 30 minutes a day, and if your exercises are of vigorous intensity, you should aim for 15 minutes. You should also aim to do at least three sessions of flexibility and balance activities, and 2 sessions of muscle-strengthening activities a week.

If you have poor mobility, balance, or are frail, you should aim to do low impact aerobic, resistance, balance, and flexibility activities after checking with your doctor.

Types of exercise

Different types of exercise will affect your body in different ways. The main types of exercise include aerobic (cardiovascular), flexibility, balance, and resistance (strength).

Aerobic

These types of exercises aim to speed up your heart rate and breathing to improve the function of your heart and lungs. You should aim to do aerobic exercise at least five days a week.

If you are doing moderate intensity aerobic exercise, you should aim to do at least 30 minutes each day. Some examples of moderate intensity aerobic exercise include walking, doing housework, playing golf, water aerobics, playing with grandchildren, walking up stairs, and gardening.

For vigorous intensity aerobic exercise, you should aim to do at least 15 minutes a day. Some examples of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise include running, walking uphill, cycling at more than 16 km/h, lane swimming, fast dancing, and heavy gardening such as digging.

Flexibility

Physical activity that promotes flexibility helps to keep your muscles functioning properly. As you age, you may lose some flexibility in your muscles and tendons, or your joints may get stiff from arthritis or lack of use. It is important to stretch and use your muscles to keep your flexibility. You should always warm up your muscles before doing an activity that involves stretching. Some examples of flexibility exercises include gardening, doing housework, tai chi, yoga, bowls, and washing the car. 

Balance

Exercises that improve your balance will help keep you steady on your feet and prevent falls. Your balance may decline if you have issues with your vision, hearing, or muscles so it is important to frequently do exercises to improve your balance. Some balance exercises include playing bowls, doing tai chi, yoga, chair raises, golf, cycling, and standing on one leg. 

Resistance

These types of exercises will build muscle and improve your strength. By strengthening your muscles, you will improve your balance, reduce stress on your joints, stimulate bone growth and strength, and lower your blood sugar. Some examples of resistance exercises include carrying shopping, walking uphill, tai chi, climbing stairs, chair raises, swimming, and weight training.

Walking

A common and easy exercise for many older people is walking. Walking every day can easily fit in with your daily schedule by making small choices such as choosing to take the stairs instead of the lift or parking at the far end of a carpark. Walking will help improve your weight, improve your balance, maintain joint flexibility, and strengthen your bones. If you are walking as part of your daily aerobic exercise, you should try to walk at a pace that makes you a little bit out of breath but you can still hold a conversation. Walking is also a great opportunity to socialise. You can check Walking New Zealand to find walking groups in your area or contact your local Age Concern to enquire about local social walking groups.

Steady As You Go©

If you enjoy group exercise, the Steady As You Go© programme offers fun and social weekly exercise classes for older people. These classes are aimed at building strength and improving balance. Sessions are social and people with varying mobility skills can participate. Most Steady As You Go© classes have a small cost of about $3 to cover the venue cost. If you are interested in joining a class, contact your local Age Concern.

Live Stronger for Longer

The Live Stronger for Longer campaign was developed by ACC, the Ministry of Health, and Health Quality and Safety Commission to provide strength and balance exercise classes for older people to help promote wellbeing and prevent falls. They offer local exercise groups with low costs to attend. You can find your nearest group at Live Stronger for Longer.

Green Prescriptions

A Green Prescription is a referral given by a health professional for a person who needs support increasing their physical activity. A Green Prescription provider may encourage a person through meetings, finding community groups to participate in, or finding resources with more information. You can read more about the Green Prescription here.

Websites of interest

Find your nearest Age Concern