Staying physically active

Keeping physically active improves your health and quality of life, and can also help you to live longer. It's never too late to start doing some exercise.

Health benefits

Physical activity means anything from everyday tasks, like cleaning the house, heavy gardening or walking the dog. Or specific exercise like keep fit, swimming, golf, football, gym-based activity or tennis. The best type of activity is one that makes you feel slightly warmer and breathe a bit heavier, getting your heart and pulse pumping faster than usual.

Some of the benefits of keeping active include:

  • a reduced risk of developing a life-threatening disease
  • a greater likelihood of maintaining or reaching a healthy weight
  • a greater sense of well-being
  • improved sleep and increased day-time vitality
  • stay independent
  • have a healthy heart
  • reduce falls
  • keep up with children you know
  • meet people and share the company of others
  • feel happier and keep your brain sharp
  • age better

If you stay physically active, you're also likely to stay independent longer. Exercise can make you stronger. You'll feel more confident and involved in life.

Remember, before beginning a new exercise regime, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor first. Your GP is also a good place to start to learn about exercise for your health.

The risks of physical inactivity

Inactivity puts you at greater risk of:

  • heart disease
  • some cancers
  • diabetes
  • osteoporosis, leading to fractures (half the number of hip fractures could be avoided with regular physical activity)
  • obesity and related health problems

Getting started

If you haven't done any exercise for years - and it's estimated that four out of 10 people over 50 do little or no exercise - then start gently and build up gradually. If you're exercising for the first time or are unsure if you should try a particular activity, talk to your GP.

Experts recommend thirty minutes of moderate exercise a day at least five times a week. It can be all in one half- hour, or split into three periods of ten minutes or in smaller bouts of activity throughout your day.

A good starting point may be to begin with a short five-minute brisk walk in your local park.  Then build up gradually, increasing slowly to the full 30 minutes over a number of weeks. Walking is great for your health. There are walking groups open to different ages around the country.

Age guidelines

There is no reason to give up a sport or exercise you enjoy just because you are getting older. You should aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more times a week. Even if you haven't been particularly athletic at a younger age, there are many benefits of improved fitness as you get older. Remember to keep moving and retain your mobility and flexibility through daily activity as well.

If you're in your 80s or 90s, regular, gentle exercise can help retain muscle strength and improve mobility. Through daily activity you can retain mobility and flexibility.

Daily activities

It's easy to boost your physical activity without making huge changes to your lifestyle. You can begin by incorporating it into your everyday life with little effort or planning.  You can:

  • walk up stairs - don't use the lift or escalator
  • get off the bus or train a stop or two earlier to walk home or to work
  • spend more time enjoying active interests, like gardening or golf
  • leave the car at home more
  • clean the car by hand
  • vacuum the house
  • use email less and walk to talk to people in your office
  • play movement games with children you know – children can always come up with great ideas
  • take a walk with friends rather than sitting with them for a chat
  • move around the house, for example every time you make a cup of tea, walk up the stairs while the kettle boils or the tea brews

Organised activities

There are lots of other ways to stay fit. You could take up a weekly Tai Chi class, play bowls, go swimming, ramble or cycle.

In some areas, your local council might offer free or cut-price gym-based exercise at the local sports or leisure centre.

You can find out more from the Sport Northern Ireland website.

How much activity is enough?

The Chief Medical Officers say “be active for 2? hours each week and do activities to improve muscle strength at least twice a week.” A little activity every day (a ‘daily dose’) can make a big difference.

Remember:

  • routine activities like carrying the washing or shopping can help improve muscle strength
  • regular walking can improve your health
  • go at your own pace
  • listen to your body
  • Little and often, preferably in short periods of at least 10 minutes - all the little periods of activity add up

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