By ADM Rachel Levine, Assistant Secretary for Health
In May we celebrate two National Health Observances, Older Americans Month and National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, both of which offer opportunities to explore the benefits of regular physical activity and their importance to healthy aging. Older adults – individuals aged 65 years and older – can reap big rewards from sitting less and moving more.
As we age, the activities we do in everyday life can become more challenging. Being more physically active can help make everyday activities easier and improve quality of life. Being more active comes with additional benefits too, like better sleep, less pain, and better mood.
Physical activity can also slow or delay the progression of some chronic diseases, such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes. For older adults, regular physical activity is particularly important to reduce the risk of falls and fall-related injury, improve blood pressure, increase cardiorespiratory fitness, and build muscular strength.
In addition to the many health benefits physical activity provides, it also gives older adults a chance to spend time with friends and family, enjoy the outdoors, feel more energetic, and live independently for longer. However, many older adults are not getting enough physical activity. The great news is that it is never too late to start being active!
So how much and what kinds of physical activity do older adults need?
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, older adults need to engage in a mix of physical activity for health benefits:
- Aerobic activity: Older adults should aim to do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week.
- Muscle-strengthening activity: Older adults should do muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
- Multicomponent activity: As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults need multicomponent physical activity, which includes a combination of aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and balance activities. Multicomponent activity – like dancing, water aerobics, or tai chi – helps lower risk of falls and fall-related injury.
Older adults who cannot meet the recommended 150 minutes, or are limited by a chronic condition, should be as active as their abilities and conditions allow. Even 5 minutes of physical activity has real health benefits.
We all can play a role in increasing physical activity among older adults and supporting them to be more active. As Older Americans Month and National Physical Fitness & Sports Month come to an end, continue to spread the word about the importance of physical activity for healthy aging. I encourage you to use the Move Your Way campaign materials for older adults to help older adults understand the amounts and types of physical activity they need to be healthy, learn about the benefits of physical activity, and find ways to incorporate more physical activity into their lifestyles.
To get the latest information about the Physical Activity Guidelines, Move Your Way campaign, and other physical activity updates, sign up for ODPHP’s physical activity listserv.