Safe exercise for older adults

The importance of building stability starts from the time we are born and carries through to when we are older.

Older man smiles, riding an exercise bike in a class of other bikers

If you’re experiencing pain or living with a bone disease like Osteoporosis, you can find ways to protect your bones.

Additionally, a physiotherapist can help you identify ways of moving to support your stability and prevent falls.

The way you move can greatly improve our quality of life, regardless of age.


Mobility and balance exercises help prevent falls, a major cause of disability in older adults.

Strength exercises done at a moderate to high intensity build muscles and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activities can be effective in preventing osteoporosis, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, disability, and hospitalisation.

The combination of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity can be effective in preventing:

  • Falls
  • Physical injury or disability
  • Osteoporosis
  • Hospitalisation
  • Hypertension
  • Type 2 diabetes


There are many physical activities with specific health benefits.

Even singing - which can improve the effects of some breathing disorders.

To have the maximum positive impact on muscular strength and balance, exercise needs be sustained at a certain physical level.

This is reflected through a physiological factor like our heart rate. A person’s maximum or optimal aerobic heart rate changes, relative to our age.

Some examples of effective physiotherapy interventions include:

  • Moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activities are also effective for older adults living with vascular or heart disease, stroke, cancer, osteoarthritis, neurological disorders, hip injury, and mental health conditions.
  • Resistance training, even at different levels of intensity assist with managing vascular disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, frailty, obesity, hip injury, sleep problems, and depression.
  • Mobility and balance-focused activities are effective in managing stroke, osteoarthritis, frailty, and sleep problems.
Older woman happily lifting kettlebell with a personal trainer providing encouragement

The Ministry of Health also make recommendations regarding physical activity for older people:

  • Be as physically active as possible and limit sedentary behaviour(s)
  • Start off slowly and build up to recommended daily physical activity levels
  • A minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most if not all days of the week.
    • This should be supplemented with strength, balance, and co ordination activities at least two to three days per week.
  • Splitting the activity in to smaller time periods is an effect way to accumulate movement – e.g. doing 10 minutes at a time.

Accommodating frailty

While additional health benefits come from moderate and vigorous movement, it’s also essential to accommodate your level of frailty.

A person is not excluded from any additional health benefits due to their frailty.

The Ministry of Health advises older people who are frail should:

  • Aim for a mixture of low impact aerobic, resistance, balance and flexibility activities
  • Discuss with their doctor about whether vitamin D tablets would benefit them

To ensure the exercise or physical activity are safe and effective for an individual, supervision and advice may be provided by a health professional such as a physiotherapist.

Health professionals who provide support and advice understand the motivation to exercise requires more than knowledge.

It is important for adopting and maintaining ‘exercise’ that it is enjoyable, meaningful, and culturally acceptable.

A New Zealand-based study found there was better participation when people were enjoying physical activity, feeling joyful, being able to breathe well, and having a sense of self control.

Other influencing factors include time, financial accessibility, along with the encouragement of others such as family, spiritual leaders, and medical practitioners.

Exercise or physical activity are very important for all ages including older populations, for prevention and management and generally better health.


  1. Naci H, Ioannidis JPA. Comparative effectiveness of exercise and drug interventions on mortality outcomes: metaepidemiological study. BMJ. Published online October 1, 2013.
  2. British Society of Lifestyle Medicine
  3. What Do We Know About Healthy Aging? - NIH
  4. The Importance of Physical Activity Exercise among Older People - NCBI
  5. Physical activity - NZ Ministry of Health
  6. Ministry of Health. 2013. Guidelines on Physical Activity for Older People (aged 65 years and over). Wellington: Ministry of Health.
  7. Health Navigator NZ
  8. Live longer, better - Blue Zones

You can book an appointment with an APM Physiotherapist online or in your local area by calling 0800 967 522.

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