Physical activity in older age: perspectives for healthy ageing and frailty

Biogerontology. 2016 Jun;17(3):567-80. doi: 10.1007/s10522-016-9641-0. Epub 2016 Mar 2.


Regular physical activity helps to improve physical and mental functions as well as reverse some effects of chronic disease to keep older people mobile and independent. Despite the highly publicised benefits of physical activity, the overwhelming majority of older people in the United Kingdom do not meet the minimum physical activity levels needed to maintain health. The sedentary lifestyles that predominate in older age results in premature onset of ill health, disease and frailty. Local authorities have a responsibility to promote physical activity amongst older people, but knowing how to stimulate regular activity at the population-level is challenging. The physiological rationale for physical activity, risks of adverse events, societal and psychological factors are discussed with a view to inform public health initiatives for the relatively healthy older person as well as those with physical frailty. The evidence shows that regular physical activity is safe for healthy and for frail older people and the risks of developing major cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, obesity, falls, cognitive impairments, osteoporosis and muscular weakness are decreased by regularly completing activities ranging from low intensity walking through to more vigorous sports and resistance exercises. Yet, participation in physical activities remains low amongst older adults, particularly those living in less affluent areas. Older people may be encouraged to increase their activities if influenced by clinicians, family or friends, keeping costs low and enjoyment high, facilitating group-based activities and raising self-efficacy for exercise.

Keywords: Exercise; Falls; Frailty; Health; Muscle; Physical activity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Exercise*
  • Frail Elderly*
  • Healthy Lifestyle*
  • Humans
  • Physical Conditioning, Human / standards
  • Sedentary Behavior*