Starting to exercise when you are older and after a sedentary life: 5 tips to get you started

There is a mountain of evidence on the benefits of regular physical exercise for physical and mental health: it has been proven that it helps prevent chronic non-communicable diseases (cardiovascular, diabetes and some types of cancer, among others), reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression and strengthens the immune system. In short: it helps to live longer and better .

As a counterpart, a sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity are associated with the strong advance of overweight and obesity in Argentina and the world, which favors the development and worse prognosis of the aforementioned pathologies, the loss of muscle mass, balance and resistance.

In older people, this combo increases the risk of frailty, which is why international physical activity guidelines recommend regular exercise at all stages of life , including the elderly.

 How much and what kind of exercise to do

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends in its guidelines the performance of at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week for all adults, including people living with chronic conditions or disabilities, and an average of 60 minutes per day for children and adolescents.

Meanwhile, she advises older adults (65 and older) to add activities that emphasize balance and coordination, as well as muscle strengthening, to help prevent falls and improve health.

 Tips to start

The problem is that many people face this recommendation at an advanced age, after having spent a lifetime sedentary or without a history of exercising or playing sports.

But not to worry, “it is always a good time to start and lead a healthy life in motion”, encourages Mariano Sassano, a graduate in Physical Education and Sports, a master’s degree in social gerontology and a professor at the Faculty of Human Mobility and Sports at the University Inter-American Open (UAI).

Sassano, who is also president of the Human Rights Social Network for Active and Healthy Aging (RSDHEAS 23 Provinces),  developed a series of tips that help people without a history of physical activity to get moving and maintain a life active.


“The important thing within the general recommendations, and for what I always advocate, is that the activities at this time of year are outdoors. Because even those who do not like to do physical activity, find a connection with the environment and the life in nature, which is a psychological and emotional enhancer to be active and sustain it over time”, he explained.

According to the specialist, the open air stimulates the practice of exercise and favors adherence to the activity.

“I suggest doing it at a time when the UV rays are not high. From early, until 11 in the morning can be a good time slot. In summer, the other time would be from 5 or 6 pm onwards”, specific.

 What fun

A key point for the person to maintain consistency is to find an activity in which they have fun and like .

“We cannot say that the entire population has the same interest in going to an aquatic activity or walking. As it is so diverse, I always aim for the person to choose the activity and not impose it on them. That is what will make it last in the time ,” Sassano stressed.

The importance of the group

According to the specialist in physical activity and gerontology, in general, for people who have never done physical activity and do not have this previous experience, it can help them not to start alone , but to be part of a group.

“It depends on each context, but groups of a maximum of 10 members are recommended. There, the person who has never done physical activity can catch the desire to participate in the activity from others,” he explained.

 Low (or no) impact

One of the main points that they have to consider, especially in the first weeks of activity, is that the chosen exercise is without impact or low impact (without running or jumping) .

“This has to do with the lack of musculoskeletal preparation to be able to carry out this physical practice in case it has an impact.”

High-impact activities can negatively influence “the muscular system, the joint with all its components, ligaments and even the insertion of sedentary muscles,” he said.

In addition, he explained that in the very short term “micro-injuries can be generated and, if a more severe injury is generated, unfortunately, the activity will have to be interrupted for a very long time,” the professor continued.

If the latter happens, the beginner “will have a bitter taste : once they get close to doing physical activity, they get injured. Then, those ghosts that some sedentary people have about physical activity begin, since they think it is not for them,” he said.

What activities to choose: from aerobic to strength

Taking into account the previous guidelines, it is time to choose what to do to get moving.

Sassano differentiates two stages. In the first, it is essential to gradually increase the resistance capacity .

“Any person, regardless of their age, if they do not have resistance, they will not be able to bear it, and as a result, they will feel displeasure and move away from the activity,” he explained.

In this first stage, he said, activities that are more cyclical are recommended, such as cycling, where there is permanent pedaling without impact.

“Obviously, we also add water activities and outdoor walking activities in squares, parks and neighborhood blocks, as ideal for this first adaptive organic/functional phase,” he stated.

If all this is done with some regularity, the specialist estimated that around four to six weeks later it can begin to be combined with musculoskeletal strengthening activities, with the addition of extra loads to the body’s own weight such as elastic bands, dumbbells, mechanical movements more demanding such as squats and lunges .

The latter are exercises more related to activities called counter-resistance, which are related to the second phase of body adaptation.