No matter your age, it is important to take part in sport and fitness activities on a regular basis. Of course, it becomes more important to stay active in our older years in order to stay fit and healthy.
The NHS reports that a lot of adults over the age of 65 spend around 10 hours a day either sitting or laying down. This lack of activity is causing serious health problems for many older people. A lack of activity can cause reduced mobility, leading to aches and pains when doing simple things such as walking to the shops. On the other hand, people who remain active have a lower risk of heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.
In today's article, we will be firstly looking at the official sport and fitness guidelines from the NHS. Later, we'll list our top 7 sport and fitness activities for older people.
If you're interested in picking up a new hobby, please take a look at our in-depth guide.
NHS Guidelines for Sport and Fitness
According to the NHS, adults over 65 should aim to be physically active every day. You can find the official guidance for adults between 19 and 64 here, but we'll be focusing on older adults for now.
"Any activity is better than none. The more you do the better, even if it's just light activity."
The NHS recommends a combination of activities for optimum health and fitness. At least 2 days a week, older people should focus on activities that improve strength, balance, and flexibility. Throughout the rest of the week, you should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity. If you already lead an active lifestyle, you can do 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise instead, or a combination of moderate and vigorous exercise.
Regardless of your level of fitness, everyone should try to reduce the time they spend sitting or lying down.
What is Light Activity?
Light activity probably won't raise your heart rate very much or make you feel out of breath. However, it is good to break up long periods of sitting down with brief spurts of light activity.
Examples of light activity include cleaning and dusting around the home, walking at a slow pace, and moving around your home (getting up to make a cup of tea, for example).
Remember that any activity, however light or gentle, is better than staying still.
What is Moderate Intensity Exercise?
According to the NHS, a good way to tell whether an activity counts as 'moderate intensity' is if you can carry on holding a conversation, but not sing. In contrast to light activity, moderate intensity exercise will usually raise your heart rate somewhat. You might also feel warmer and find that your breathing gets faster.
Examples of moderate aerobic activity include:
What is Vigorous Intensity Exercise?
Alternatively, you are already fairly active, you could choose to aim for 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week instead of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise.
You can easily increase the intensity of some moderate exercises to make them vigorous. For example, cycling is generally a moderate intensity activity, but cycling fast or cycling uphill would count as vigorous.
Here are some examples of vigorous intensity exercise:
- Singles tennis
- Swimming fast
- Hiking uphill
- Energetic dancing
If you would prefer some variety in your sport and fitness routine, you could take part in a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity each week. As an example:
Two 30-minute jogs plus 30 minutes of brisk walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, and strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles."
Now that we've discussed the official sport and fitness guidance from the NHS, let's think about the different activities we can use to meet those targets.
7 Sport and Fitness Activities for Older People
Next, let's take a look at 7 great examples of sport and fitness activities for older people:
Swimming gives the body a complete workout. It increases both muscular and cardiovascular fitness, but can also be a fun social activity.
During a swimming session, you burn lots of calories and build up more muscle mass because of the resistance that the water gives. Water is around 800 times denser than air. Since your muscles have to work much harder in the pool, your heart and lungs must work harder to pump oxygen around the body. This work is what improves your cardiovascular health.
Swimming is an ideal physical activity, especially for those who suffer from arthritis. This is because the water can take up to 90% of your body weight. This means that swimming will cause less strain on your joints than jogging, for example. It also helps by toning up the joints' supporting muscles.
As going for a swim can be quite enjoyable, it can also improve your general mood. It can also improve your social life as you become a regular at the leisure centre, meeting new people who enjoy swimming as much as you do.
There are other sport and fitness activities that get you into the pool as well, such as water polo and aqua aerobics.
According to British Cycling, cycling's governing body, more than two million people across the country now cycle at least three times a week. Going for a bike ride is a great way of keeping in shape while reducing the risk of chronic illnesses, as well as being a great form of transport to the shops or to work.
Riding a bike burns more calories than going for a jog and also has less impact on your joints, especially the knees. This is because cycling puts less pressure on them. Cycling works the whole body and can help you lose weight in the process, whilst keeping all your joints moving in a fun, outdoor workout.
As we know from the NHS guidelines, cycling for at least 150 minutes every week will improve your overall cardiovascular fitness. There are a number of cycling clubs across the country which you can join - these can combat loneliness by helping you meet new people and make more friends.
Alongside the health benefits, cycling will also help to save you money. You can ride your bike as a form of transport, rather than using the petrol in your car or paying for a bus or taxi. What's more, fewer cars on the road helps the environment by reducing harmful emissions.
Maybe you were a keen footballer in your youth but haven't felt able to play for a while? Well, you'll be glad to learn that walking football has really taken off since its creation in 2011. This gentler version of the sport may be more appealing to the older generation.
Walking football is specifically for those over the age of 50, who may have believed that their footballing days were over. The rules are similar to that of a regular five-a-side game except of course for the most important rule: NO RUNNING. If the referee catches any player running, then the other team receives a free kick.
Walking football gives you the chance to play the beautiful game with a twist. Despite the ban on running, it still helps to keep your legs moving in a good cardiovascular workout. Above all, walking football means you can exercise without the fear of overdoing it and putting your health at risk.
Squash is an indoor racket sport that gives the whole body a great workout. Players aim to hit a hollow rubber ball against the four walls of the court in a way that means the opposition cannot return the ball.
You can burn an average of 500 calories in half an hour of playing. You will be running and reaching for the ball, meaning that all your joints will receive a good workout. Taking part in a racket sport such as squash can reduce your risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
As it is a two or four-player game, squash is also a sociable game that you can play with friends. If your local gym or leisure centre has a court, squash could be a good way to encounter new people who have a common interest.
You might think of golf as quite a slow, still sport. However, it may surprise you to learn that golf has great benefits to fitness. A recent study found that male golfers burned an average of 721 calories playing nine holes and carrying their clubs in a bag. Additionally, a game of golf gets you out in the fresh air and provides you with a great brain workout.
Golf takes place on a huge course meaning that you will be doing plenty of walking on your trip to the club. Most courses are not flat either, so you will be doing uphill walks along your journey to the next hole. Going for a walk is great for the body, but with a game of golf, you are doing so much more than that.
Your muscles also receive a workout and you can improve your flexibility, balance, and core strength during a game. As you swing your golf club, you are building up more and more strength in your arms and core muscles. This kind of movement can be hugely beneficial to your body as you get older. Of course, carrying your golf clubs or pulling them along in a trolley also gives your muscles a workout along the way.
What's more, golf also gives the brain a workout. Concentration and hand-eye coordination are key to hitting the right shot at the right time. Your brain does plenty of thinking during a game of golf as you memorise each hole and work out the correct club to use. This is a great skill in the battle against the development of dementia.
Walking is by far the easiest form of exercise to introduce to your daily routine. Going for a walk can get the blood pumping around your body without putting too much strain on your cardiovascular system. Taking care of the circulatory system can lead to a reduced risk of stroke.
Not only that, but walking helps to keep high blood pressure in check and can also boost your heart's overall performance. As with all forms of exercise, walking will of course help you to burn those calories and lose excess weight.
Walking has also been proven to help boost mood and improve mental health. There is nothing better than going for a nice walk in the countryside to help clear your mind and brighten your mood. Going for a walk with friends also helps boost your social life, and there are plenty of walking groups across the country too.
If you're looking for something a little more intense than regular walking, Nordic Walking may be for you. This activity provides you with a full-body workout through the use of specially designed walking poles.
The poles help you harness the power of the upper body to propel you forward as you walk. Nordic Walking can help you burn up to 46% more calories than regular walking and also helps to improve your posture and gait.
Again, like regular walking, there are groups around the country that have instructors on hand to help you get to grips with the proper technique.
Remember to consult your doctor before starting a new sport and fitness hobby. Take it slow and steady at first. It's better to gradually improve your fitness, rather than start off too intensely and injure yourself.
Personal Alarm Information
As an older person, deciding to improve your fitness is one of the best choices you can make for your overall health and wellbeing. It would also be wise to consider a Lifeline personal alarm. Physical activity improves your balance as well as your fitness, so you might become slightly less prone to falls. However, falls remain common among over-65s.
For more information about our life-saving personal alarm service, please get in touch with our friendly team on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our contact us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Don't forget to use discount code BLOG2020 at checkout to get £10 off your new Lifeline alarm.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 21 May 2021 to reflect current information.
Originally published 9 October 2018.