CDC: Adults Aged 50 and Older Need More Physical Activity

poster showing an older man working out with the text "Adults Fifty Plus Need More Activity"

More than 1 in 4 Americans ages 50 and older get no physical activity beyond their normal daily routine, according to a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s about 31 million people.

According to the CDC, regular physical activity is vital for healthy aging. It can reduce the risk of early death and help prevent, delay, or manage many chronic diseases faced by adults ages 50 and older. These include stroke, heart disease, arthritis, some types of cancer, diabetes, lung disease (COPD), and depression. In 2014, the CDC says 2 in 3 adults ages 50 and older had at least one chronic disease.

The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (like brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week, preferably spread throughout the week. Vigorous activities are performed at a higher intensity and cause an increased heart rate, sweating, and a faster breathing rate.

However, getting any amount of physical activity still offers some health benefits. Even a little bit is better than none. For people who are inactive, starting slowly and gradually adding more activity can be an important step toward better health. The CDC recommends setting a goal to do 10 more minutes of activity this week than you did last week.

Activity levels vary among populations

The report, "Physical Inactivity Among Adults 50 Years and Older – United States, 2014," was published September 16, 2016 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In it, the CDC looked at surveys from almost 277,000 people ages 50 and older living in all 50 states and Washington, DC. The surveys asked people about their level of activity and whether they’ve been diagnosed with a chronic disease. Overall, 27.5% of people in the study said they were inactive, meaning they did no physical activity outside of work.

In addition, people were more likely to be inactive as they got older:

  • 25.4% of those ages 50 – 64 years were inactive.
  • 26.9% of those ages 65-74 years were inactive.
  • 35.3% of those 75 years and older were inactive.

Rates also varied among gender, ethnicity, education level, geographic location, and health status:

  • 29.4% of women were inactive compared with 25.5% of men.
  • 32.7% of Hispanics were inactive compared with 33.1% of non-Hispanic blacks, 26.2% of non-Hispanic whites, and 27.1% of those of other ethnicities.
  • The less education people had, the more likely they were to be inactive.
  • The more overweight people were, the more likely they were to be inactive.
  • Inactivity was highest in the South (30.1%) and lowest in the West (23.1%).
  • Those who had ever been diagnosed with a chronic disease were 30% more likely to be inactive than those who had not.

Community action needed

The CDC is urging communities to break down barriers that may prevent some older Americans from being physically active by providing safe places for them to do so. At the local government level, officials can design communities that make it safe and easy for people of all ages and abilities to be active and make public spaces available to them. Transportation engineers and planning professionals can make communities more walkable and support public transit systems. Community organizations can offer and promote programs that encourage physical activity.

What you can do

  • Be physically active with friends, family, and work colleagues on a regular basis.
  • Make walking to the store, the office, or the bus part of your daily routine.
  • Try a recreational program designed for your age group or mobility level.
  • Participate in local planning efforts that support safe and convenient places to be active.
  • Continue to be physically active even if you have a chronic disease or disability, by engaging in activities appropriate for your ability.
  • Talk to your doctor about the type and level of activity that is safe for you.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Physical Inactivity Among Adults 50 Years and Older – United States, 2014. Published September 16, 2016 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. First author Kathleen B. Watson, PhD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga.

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