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The benefits of being active

Dr Miriam Clegg gives 7 reasons for staying active as we age.

Seven reasons to stay active (or get active) as you age

The saying goes, “you can’t outrun a bad diet”. However, the opposite is equally true. Physical activity and nutrition go hand-in-hand with neither being more important than the other. As we age, being physically active becomes even more important. Here are seven reasons to stay active which you can use to encourage or persuade the people you care for.

  1. Helps to prevent disease: The most obvious and well known reason to exercise is to stay healthy. It’s well established that regular physical activity can help to prevent or delay the onset of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes1. Even light exercise, such as walking, can be a powerful preventative tool in managing disease, and weightbearing exercises can strengthen our bones preventing osteoporosis. (Osteoporosis is a health condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break.)
  2. Maintains independence: This could be the most important reason to increase your physical activity, or maintain it if you are already active. Being active helps you to maintain the capabilities to live independently. Whilst care homes are essential for some, many older adults would like to live independently in their own homes for as long as possible.
  3. Decreases risk of falls: Older adults are at increased risk of falls2 and can take longer to recover from them which can have devasting consequences impacting both health and independence. The right exercise can provide you with increased muscle and bone strength, balance and flexibility to stop preventable falls from happening.
  4. Improves cognitive function: Unfortunately, a natural part of ageing is a decrease in cognitive function. Researchers know that people who participate in physical activity in their leisure time have a lower risk of dementia and higher cognitive function later in life than those who are inactive3. Recent research has also shown that any amount of physical activity, starting at any age, is helpful for long-term cognitive health, so it’s never too late to get started.
  5. Improves sleep: There is good evidence that physical activity helps you to fall asleep more quickly and improves the quality of your sleep4. Getting enough sleep has been shown to reduce the incidence of chronic physical and mental health conditions and is essential for our emotional well-being3.
  6. Improves mental health: Exercise releases ‘feel-good’ hormones called endorphins that leave you feeling better in yourself and give you more energy. They can also help to reduce anxiety and manage stress. As mentioned above, exercise also helps you sleep better which is a key factor in managing your mental health.
  7. Improves social relationships: Maintaining social connections is important as we transition into retirement and beyond. Sometimes this can be a lonely period and group-based physical activities and clubs can be an excellent way to alleviate this loneliness, build friendships and give a sense of purpose.


You can see from these reasons that staying active isn’t just good for the health of those you care for, it’s good for their independence and well-being. Staying active is a matter of finding something that they enjoy and making it a priority and habit in their daily life. In the next Step, we’ll look at the recommended physical activity guidelines for older adults and suggest ways in which they can be achieved.


Which of these reasons is most likely to convince the adult(s) you care for of the benefits of being active? Make a note of it and plan a time to chat to them about it. Carry out some research and see if you can find relevant exercise groups for older adults in your area. If you work in a care setting, can you talk to your management team about the benefits of starting an exercise group for the residents?


  1. Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association by Colberg, S.R., et al. (2016) Diabetes Care 39(11):2065–2079.
  2. Evidence on physical activity and falls prevention for people aged 65+ years: systematic review to inform the WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour by Sherrington, C., et al. (2020) Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 17, 144.
  3. Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits by Mandolesi, L., et al. (2018) Front Psychol. 9: 509.
  4. The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: Implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvement by Kline, C.E. (2014) Am J Lifestyle Med. 8(6): 375–379.
© University of Reading, INRAE, CHU, NOFIMA, VUB
This article is from the free online

Ageing Well: Nutrition and Exercise for Older Adults

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