Keeping Active

In this section you will find information about the importance of physical activity for older people.

Exercise and older people
Health benefits
Important general guidelines
Caution signs
Go for Life
Other sources of information


Exercise and older people
As we get older we need to ensure we keep ourselves physically active. Taking up a programme of regular physical activity is one of the most important steps older adults can take to keep ourselves healthy and maintain our quality of life.

Physical activity does not have to be strenuous. The level best suited for older people is described as ‘moderate intensity’, practiced for at least 30 minutes on five or more days of every week. This should bring a little sweat to your brow and cause your heart to beat a little faster and your lungs to breathe deeper and faster, but not out of breath.

Activities could range from stretching, working in the garden or washing the car, to lifting weights or cans or even employing yoga and Tai chi. A combination of these could help improve strength, balance, flexibility and aerobic fitness.

Health benefits
Even a moderate amount of physical activity can bring significant health benefits, including:

  • Improved blood pressure
  • Decreased risk of coronary artery disease
  • Improved heart failure symptoms and decreases hospitalisation rate
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Decreased risk of diabetes
  • Helping the body use sugar more efficiently
  • Decreased bone-density loss in postmenopausal women
  • Decreased hip and vertebral fractures
  • Decreased risk of falling
  • Improved function and decreases pain in osteoarthritis
  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Improved mental function and short-term memory
  • Decreased rate of depression
  • Potentially decreased risk of colon, breast, prostate, and rectal cancers
  • Decreased risk of obesity
  • Helping maintain muscle and physical functioning.

Remember, modest increases in how long you live are possible even if you don't begin exercising until 75 years of age. Thus any activity for older people is better than none.

Important general guidelines

  • Talk to a health professional before starting a physical activity programme to identify your limits 
  • Some minor soreness or stiffness is to be expected at first, but pain is a warning sign to stop
  • If you have been inactive for years, start with about 5 to 10 minutes of activity at a time, and increase gradually as you get more comfortable
  • Choose activities you enjoy and try to mix your activities.

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Caution signs
Stop exercising if you develop any of the following:

  • Chest or upper abdominal pain that may spread to the neck, jaw, upper back, shoulder, and arms (call for help if this should occur as chest pain can be a signal of a heart attack)
  • Panting or extreme shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Persistent pain, joint discomfort, or muscle cramps.

Go for Life
“Go for Life” is the national programme for sport and physical activity for older people. This programme aims to empower and enable older people by reaching out to active retirement associations, senior citizens groups, day care and community centres around the country to ensure that older people are more active, more often.

For more information log on to

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Other sources of information

Click here for HSE Health Centres

Click here for HSE Local Health Offices


HSE National Information Line
Monday to Saturday, 8am-8pm
Call Save: 1850 24 1850


Senior Helpline
LoCall: 1850 440 444

The Senior Helpline provides opportunities for older people to talk to someone of their own age group for the price of a local call from anywhere in Ireland. Callers can talk to one of the older volunteers and all calls are taken in the strictest of confidence.

Active Retirement Ireland
124 The Capel Building
Mary’s Abbey
Dublin 7


Active Retirement Ireland is the largest national network of local and community based voluntary groups involving older people in Ireland. We believe that getting older is not a barrier to continuing to enjoy life, maintaining dignity and independence, making new friendships, acquiring new skills, sharing experiences and contributing to the community. Joining your local active retirement association is one of the best ways of achieving these aims.


Citizen’s Information Centres
LoCall: 1890 777 121
Monday to Friday, 9am-9pm

Citizens Information provides comprehensive information on all aspects of Public Services and entitlements for citizens in Ireland and is based on a personal approach to the presentation and delivery of information on public services and the social and civil rights of everyone in Ireland. Citizens Information is also available by calling in person to a Citizens Information Centre near you. This is a free and confidential service.

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