A study by the CDC reports that 28% of American adults over the age of 50 do not engage in regular physical activity.


Regular physical activity is essential to healthy aging and helps to reduce the risk of premature death. Adults over the age of 50 are more likely to be living with a chronic disease like osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, dementia, or cardiovascular disease, which are all catalysts for illness and disability. It is recommended that adults of this age group engage in 150 minutes or 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity per week including muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups. Regular physical activity has been linked to improved health outcomes by preventing or slowing the progression of chronic diseases and enable older adults to live independently with a higher quality of life.

However, a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. reports that an alarming 28% of adults (31 million Americans) over the age of 50 do not engage in regular physical activity. Data was analyzed from the 2014 Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System, a health survey examining health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventive services by U.S. residents.

An analysis of survey data on the inactivity of adults who were 50 years or older revealed that:

  • Women were more inactive than men (29.4% vs 25.5%)
  • Inactivity significantly increases with age:

50-64 years (25.4%)

65-74 years (26.9%)

75 years and older (35.3%)

  • Adults with a chronic disease were more inactive (31.9%) compared to adults without a chronic disease (19.2%)
  • Inactivity decreased as education increased
  • Inactivity increased as weight increased

Adults in this age group account for $860 billion dollars each year in U.S healthcare costs. This does not include adults who are in correctional facilities, nursing homes, or long-term care facilities. With regular physical activity, it has been shown that 1 in 5 chronic health conditions associated with aging can be prevented or managed.

So what can be done to help increase physical activity? The answer lies in adults making a conscious effort to engage in regular physical activity, as well as obtaining support from governments, transportation and community planners, and community organizations to create a culture that is amenable to this cause. The CDC is currently working with state health departments to increase pedestrian and bike-friendly transportation plans and has launched proven programs to help older adults be more active and communities support physical activity.

The recommended physical activity for adults aged 50 and over can be spread out over the duration of a week and does not have to be done all at once. Simple activities like walking with friends, biking rather than driving to the store, mowing the lawn, trying a recreational program, or playing with kids or grandkids all count as aerobic activity since they get your heart beating faster. The type and intensity of activity is dependent on each individual – pick one that you are comfortable with doing based on your health condition and how good shape you are in. Additional examples and detailed guidelines can be found on the CDC Physical Activity site.

Remember: any amount of physical activity is better than no activity!


Written By: Fiona Wong, PhD

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