Fitness for Older People

Medical evidence shows that if you keep physically fit by exercising regularly you increase your chances of living a healthier life - feeling well, looking well, staying mobile and independent.

Physiotherapists encourage elderly people to keep active with sensible exercises suited to their age and physical condition.

Why Exercise?
bullet Tone
bullet Circulation
bullet Strength
bullet Mobility
Exercise increases the heart rate, building up the heart muscle, and increasing oxygen supply to the body. The improved circulation helps give a feeling of well-being. Exercise helps to prevent stiffness in the joints and builds up the strength of surrounding muscles. If older people are physically inactive, the tendency towards stiffening with age is much more likely to happen. The general tone of your body improves with exercise. You feel firmer, fitter and more energetic. Exercise can also improve your ability to cope with stress and improve your quality of sleep.

Man and woman
Am I Too Old?

No body is too old for exercise. The degree of exercise will differ depending on the individual's level of fitness and any health problems. Some seventy-year-olds climb mountains - others the same age will be limited to much more gentle forms of exercise. The important thing is to maintain as much activity as your body will allow. Your physiotherapist can advise you on suitable activities.

Am I Too Sick?

Physiotherapists are particularly concerned with older people who have a condition which limits them physically e.g. arthritis, stroke, a fracture. These people need special encouragement and assistance with their exercises. Restoring and maintaining mobility is a vital part of their rehabilitation programme.
Where Do I Start?

You need an exercise programme tailored to suit your level of fitness. Before starting out on a new fitness programme, it is advisable to see your doctor for an overall check. A physiotherapist can assess you physically and give you advice on the best forms of exercise.
What is Best?

Increasing your fitness level means being able to do more with less effort. Remember:
bullet incorrect exercises can be worse than no exercise
bullet the right exercises need to be done correctly and regularly
bullet monitor your progress e.g. check for improved walking times or increased distances
bullet always warm-up and end with some muscle stretches - this helps prevent injury and stiffness
bullet wear sensible, comfortable clothes and shoes when exercising
bullet check your pulse rate during exercise and recovery to make sure you are not over- exerting yourself.
Simple forms of activity should not be forgotten. Increasing your cardio-respiratory rate is important:

Walking Walking - a basic, pleasant and effective activity - pace yourself, but the walk should be brisk enough to increase your heart rate.
Swimming Swimming - an excellent form of general exercise which is not too hard on your body, but allows for plenty of movement with buoyancy - wonderful for bad backs or stiff joints. For those who cannot manage the cold or normal swimming conditions, hydrotherapy pools are recommended.
Cycling Cycling - a low impact choice with no jarring on joints - an outdoor social activity or indoors on an exercise bike.

Warning Signs
bullet Check to see if your pulse rate returns to normal within 5 minutes of finishing your activity
bullet Be careful of overheating or dehydrating during exercise
bullet Proper rest is essential
bullet Do not overdo it - watch for recurring or persisting pain
bullet If concerned, seek early professional attention from a physiotherapist.

Hand-in-hand with exercise is diet. Attention to the food you eat makes a great deal of difference to general health. A proper diet gives you the energy for exercise. Avoid constipation - this makes you feel listless and heavy. As you get older you generally find you need less to eat and your appetite may diminish. Be careful not to become lax about your eating habits such as missing meals or not choosing a balance of protein, fibre and carbohydrates.


A common problem for older women is osteoporosis - a condition which involves a loss of bone density. It often affects the spine, causes shrinkage in height, poor posture and backache. Research has shown that exercise is important in the prevention of osteoporosis.

How Your Physiotherapist Can Help

Physiotherapists are trained specifically on physical aspects of the human body. They are highly qualified to advise you on an individual graded exercise programme and help you monitor your progress. In some areas, physiotherapists run special fitness classes for the elderly. Check with your local branch of the Australian Physiotherapy Association.


Physiotherapists in private practice are listed in the Yellow Pages. Members of the Australian Physiotherapists Association (APA) are bound by a professional Code of Ethics and have access to extensive postgraduate education programmes. Check for the initials M.A.P.A. after the physiotherapist's name.

Health Rebates

You may consult a physiotherapist either directly or by referral from your medical practitioner. Rebates for treatment costs are available under higher table health insurance schemes.
APA Top of page

Move well. Stay well.
Copyright  Australian Physiotherapy Association