Share Button


(Image Source: Flickr)

The NHS recommends that the over 65 population in the UK should be undertaking at least 150 minutes of exercise each and every week. This advice is understood by healthcare professionals to be beneficial in reducing instances of disease and illness in the elderly, but it is believed that many older people aren’t meeting these guidelines – or even getting anywhere close to achieving the target. One of the greatest barriers limiting access to exercise is, of course, restricted mobility, which is very common among the older population. So how can older adults take part in, enjoy, and benefit from physical activity?

The Importance of Exercise

Regular exercise is important for all ages, even the elderly. It is reported that physical activity can reduce the risk of disease, minimise the chance of disability, and lower instances of hospitalisation among older people through proper maintenance and care of the body, and there is also shown to be a definite link between inactivity and the risk of falls. Research shows that elderly people who do not undertake regular physical activity are more likely to fall than those who live active or very active lifestyles. This is widely believed to be due to improved balance, resulting from regular movement. 


(Image Source: Flickr)

Exercise isn’t just for physical health, either. Experts believe that regular exercise could also have a significant effect upon the mental health of older adults. In one study, among a representative sample of older people, 30 percent of those who didn’t exercise due to restricted mobility reported feelings of depression and anxiety, compared to just 3 percent of able-bodied people who found it easier to access forms of physical activity. It seems clear that there are many benefits to exercising in later life, but a question we need to be asking is how older people can undertake exercise easily and safely.

Barriers & Obstacles

Limited mobility is one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to exercise among older people. With Acorn Stairlifts reporting that one of their models is installed around the world every 9 minutes, it becomes easier to see just how commonplace limited mobility really is. According to the World Health Organisation, we lose around 10 percent of our strength and endurance, and 30 percent of our muscle power, every 10 years from the age of 30 onwards, which means that limited mobility is, unfortunately, a natural part of the aging process. However, this doesn’t mean that exercise is an impossibility.

The common barriers and obstacles preventing people with limited mobility from exercising can easily be overcome through selecting gentler exercises that are effective without creating unnecessary strain on the body. And the good news is that exercise doesn’t need to be intense, nor do we need to be hitting that 150 hour per week goal straight off. In fact, experts claim that every minute of physical activity can be beneficial for the elderly, particularly when it comes to reducing the risk of heart problems. Exercise really is what you make it, and it can be as gentle as you need it to be. 


(Image Source: Flickr)

Types of Exercise to Consider

There are many online resources for older people which focus on incorporating exercise into daily life, but the problem with these resources is that they’re not designed for those with restricted mobility. Some common exercises for older people which are often recommended are dancing, swimming, and gardening, for example, which would not be particularly suitable for people who find moving painful. Instead, more gentle exercise should be recommended. One of the most popular forms of exercise for older people is chair-based exercise, while forms of stretching and squatting are also beneficial.

Chair exercises involve sitting on a chair and slowly lifting the arms and legs to improve control and help build muscle. These exercises may also involve stretching the neck and twisting the torso – both from a sitting position, which reduces risk, and makes it easier for elderly people with limited mobility to partake in the exercise in a safe manner. While chair exercises may not sound particularly useful, research says otherwise. It’s been shown that seated exercises, such as leg raises, can actually have a more significant effect on health and wellbeing than standing and balance exercises, such as standing on one leg.


(Image Source: Flickr)

By regularly performing chair exercises, fitness should slowly begin to improve, and this improvement should be noticeable. As fitness levels begin to rise, older people may wish to begin looking into other sorts of gentle exercise that challenge the body more, and are a better match for their physical improvement. Stair climbing is a good exercise to try, with reports suggesting that people with restricted mobility who climb stairs typically have a 17 percent improvement in leg power. However, it’s important to take care on the stairs, and perhaps to use a stairlift to come back down if balance is an issue, to avoid the risk of falls and injury.

Staying Safe

Before beginning any sort of new fitness regime or significant lifestyle change, it’s important to visit your GP to ensure that you won’t be putting your body at unnecessary risk. This is especially true for people who have been relatively sedentary in recent years. Your GP will be able to assess the types of exercise you’re planning on undertaking, and make recommendations based on individual circumstances.



(Image Source: Flickr)

Preparing for a new exercise routine is almost as important as the exercise itself. Always dress correctly for physical activity, in loose clothing that won’t restrict your ability to move, but isn’t so loose that it could increase the risk of trips and falls. Keep a chair nearby for regular rests, have a bottle of water handy to ensure you’re staying well hydrated, and prepare a small snack to eat afterwards. For chair-based exercises, make sure you have a suitable chair which is strong, non-wheeled, and placed on a flat surface, and don’t be afraid to invite a friend or family member over for a little bit of moral support.

Exercise Clubs & Classes in the UK

Exercise doesn’t have to be undertaken in the home exclusively. In fact, there are research reports suggesting that group exercise classes may actually be more beneficial! One study found that elderly people with limited mobility who joined an exercise class performed better in the group setting than those who exercised alone at home. They were able to walk up more steps, walk faster and further, take bigger strides, and were even able to undertake more sit-to-stand movements than their counterparts.


(Image Source: Flickr)

* Oomph!
Oomph! are the largest provider of activity programmes for older adults in the UK. They offer classes as community centres all across the country, and each class is co-designed by an older person, creating exercises and movements that are safe, suitable, and effective for the elderly.

* Extend
Extend hold exercise classes for older people in hospitals, village halls, sports clubs, and day centres in the UK. Their classes combine both seated and aerobic activities, as recommended by the NHS, ensuring that there’s something for everyone, regardless of current activity level.

* Local Gym
It’s well worth enquiring at your local gym to see if they do any classes for the elderly. The 24 Hour Fitness chain, for example, offers a range of ‘Silver Sneakers’ classes for older people, including aqua aerobics, yoga, cardio workouts, weightlifting, and resistance training.

Is exercise for the elderly easy? Not always. For elderly people who have had struggles with restricted mobility for some time, making the change from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one can be challenging. However, one of the best things about exercise is that it isn’t one specific thing – it encompasses a wide range of activities that can be taken at an individual’s preferred pace. Even activities that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being ‘exercise’ can really make a big difference, such as taking a short walk to the local shop, or putting away groceries. Start easy, and build up from there. That’s all it takes!

Article contributed by Harold H. Rigby, health and lifestyle writer focusing on retired peoples’ experiences.

Andy McGowan
Latest posts by Andy McGowan (see all)