Getting back into exercise: The first month planner for retirees

For many retirees, maintaining or improving physical health is important, however, diving back into an exercise routine after a period of inactivity can feel daunting. That being said, the benefits of staying active are undeniable, offering not just physical vitality but also mental clarity and emotional well-being. Whether you're looking to regain strength, flexibility, or simply enhance your overall quality of life, this planner aims to empower you on your journey to improving your health.

Written by

Sheila Frampton

Why do older people need to be physically active?

Regular physical activity can prevent many of the health problems associated with ageing.

These can include:

  • Reducing blood pressure.
  • Lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers, depression and dementia.
  • Strengthening muscles which help with day-to-day ‘functional’ activities which help retain independence.
  • Improve the brain’s cognitive function – assisting with memory, problem solving and decision making.
  • Weight loss/improving muscle tone.
  • Improving posture.
  • Reducing aches and pains.
  • Improving balance and reducing the risk of falls.
  • Improving mood and reducing depression.
  • Boosting energy levels and improving self-confidence.
  • Improving sleep patterns.
A couple walking through a forest in autumn
Two people stretching to warm up in a gym
Someone running through a park

How much exercise should people over the age of 65 be doing each week?

Adults over the age of 50 should aim to be physically active each day.

If you are an adult in your 60s, 70s, 80s or beyond, the same applies even if exercise is just light activity. The activities should be designed to improve strength, balance and flexibility on two days a week and complete at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity if already active – or a combination of both.

That means, ideally, you should aim for 30 minutes of exercise five days a week.

Long periods of sitting still or lying down should be interspersed with movement/activity.   Mature adults should be exercising at least two days a week.

What is moderate intensity activity?

Moderate activity raises your heart rate, makes you feel warmer and breathe faster.

If you are working at moderate intensity, you could be able to talk but not sing. Examples include:

  • Walking briskly 
  • Aqua aerobics
  • Cycling 
  • Dance-fitness
  • Doubles tennis 
  • Hiking 


Are people over 65 meeting the guidelines?

The Health Survey for England in 2021 revealed that 60% of adults aged between 65 and 74 are meeting the exercise guidelines with only 38% of adults aged 75 and overachieving the recommended levels.

In my experience as a fitness instructor, the over 65s who exercise engage in a whole range of activities – with a high proportion exercising most days.  In contrast, a significant proportion of over 65s do very little exercise each week.


What are the most common barriers to exercising in our later years?

Pain and discomfort: being active can actually help you manage your pain as well as improving your strength and physical ability. If you suffer from pain or discomfort, it’s important to focus on low impact exercises that are easy on the joints, to warm up before exercise and perform gentle stretches at the end of your session.   Exercising in water may be beneficial for those suffering from joint pain.

Limited mobility: today, we are witnessing a massive rise in the number of fitness classes designed for those who are less mobile, including seated exercise classes. Do look for an instructor with Level 3 qualifications and above in providing sessions for older adults (we are classified as a ‘special population.’).

Fear of falls/injury: research reveals that older adults who exercise regularly are actually less likely to experience falls and injuries. Regular exercise helps improve balance and co-ordination which reduces the risk of falls.

Lack of support: if you aren’t a regular exerciser, do speak to your doctor before taking part in a regular exercise program – he will give you some guidelines. If you join a class, you’ll have plenty of support from your instructor and, hopefully, from other members of the class.

Financial concerns: exercise needn’t be expensive – walk, swim, go to off-peak exercise classes, there will be something out there without paying expensive gym memberships.

A woman at a dance exercise class
A group of people exercising at a class

You’ve decided to get fitter – what’s the first step?

  1. Before undertaking any exercise programme, do visit your doctor or health professional first, even if it takes a while to get an appointment. This is really important if you have never exercised, have not exercised for years or have various health issues.

  2. Research the types of exercise that are on offer locally – walking groups, fitness classes, yoga, swimming, bowls, walking football. Our blogs include plenty of ideas – there are plenty of classes designed for the less mobile, the older adult and those starting fitness. In exercise terms, older adults are classified as the over 50s! Personally, I go for classes that advertise lower impact rather than age limited but it is a very personal choice.

  3. Choose something that you will find really interesting. You are more likely to stick to an exercise programme if you look forward to your sessions.

  4. If you decide to ‘do your own thing’ and start your fitness journey at home, make sure you have a safe space, free of obstacles, the correct equipment and a clear idea of how to exercise safely. There are lots of videos providing exercises suitable for those who are less fit or starting fitness.

How to create an exercise plan

Once you have spoken to your doctor, seek advice from a qualified and insured fitness professional (such as one with Level 3 Exercise for Older Adults qualifications) who will advise you on the exercises that will bring most benefit.

 If you prefer to start exercising at home, however, the following offer guidelines for the type of exercises that you’ll need to include in your first month. Do remember that these are designed to get you started on your fitness journey – to bring benefits, an exercise programme needs to be maintained.

It is important to set yourself a goal – your ultimate goal would be 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week but do start gently and build up to your goal. Start with two or three sessions a week and aim to exercise for about 20-30 minutes a session.

A man exercising at home with weights

Exercise routines at home

There are so many videos designed to provide people over 50 with exercise programmes at home – including one by Joe Wicks.

Take a look at some of the best on the Women's Health Magazine website. The Fabulous 50s website also has a number of videos.  There are some simple to follow videos on the Age UK website

If you plan to design your own, your exercise regime should include:

  • A mobility/warm up
  • Low impact exercises
  • Strength training
  • Balance
  • Gentle stretches to finish your session


Mobility/Warm Up Exercises

All exercise sessions, whether walking or going to the gym, should include mobility/warm up exercises – these prepare your body for exercise, generate heat, warm up the joints including the shoulders, spine and hips.

These exercises should be performed slowly and with gentle rhythmic movements. Start with large muscle groups – shoulders, trunk, hips before the smaller muscle groups such as ankles. Your warmup should be 5 to 10 minutes long. If you want some guidance, you’ll find some warm up/mobility demonstrations here.

  • Shoulder rolls: standing up straight or sitting down with your arms by your sides, lift your shoulders and roll them backwards all the way round in a circle. Keep your body as still as possible. Start off with between 5 and 10 each session and add a few more each time until you reach 20 circles.
  • Shoulder squeezes: Stand up straight or sit down with a straight spine, arms by your side, pull your elbows and arms back, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Do this slowly. Start off with one set of 10 repetitions and every time you perform the exercise add a few more squeezes until you achieve 2 sets of 10 reps.
  • Trunk twists: Standing straight or sitting and keeping the lower half still (keep knees soft if you are standing, turn your body – imagine you are looking over your shoulder on each side. Don’t overturn. Alternate right and left – start off with 10 and build up to 20.
  • Side slides: Standing with slightly bent knees or seated, with arms by your sides, allow one arm to slide down the leg (right arm, right leg) and then slowly return to standing. Do this on alternate sides – start with 10 and over the month build up to 20 side slides.
  • Hip rolls: Standing only – keeping knees bent, circle your hips slowly to the right and then to the left. Aim for 5 in each direction to start with – and then in the opposite direction.
  • Ankle rolls: These are best done seated, keeping one foot on the ground, extending the other leg and rotating your ankle in one direction and then the other. Five slow rotations in each direction are a good start.
  • Wrist rolls: Extend your arms in front of you and circle your wrists in one direction (start with 5 rotations) and then in the other (5 rotations)


Low impact cardio exercises at home

“Why should I do low impact cardio exercises if I already do yoga (or something similar)?” is a common question.

The answer is that cardio exercises benefit your heart and your blood pressure and if they are low impact, they put little or no strain on your joints.  These are often more fun if performed to music with a strong beat...  Aim to do some of the following for 30 seconds and aim to do at least 5 minutes to start with and build up over the weeks – aiming for about 10 minutes.

The elements you could include:

  • Marching whilst doing breaststroke arms. 
  • Alternate heel taps whilst punching forward (same arm same leg) for 30 seconds.
  • Alternate heel taps whilst punching upwards.
  • Side taps punching forward with the opposite arm.
  • Marching vigorously on the spot.
  • Gentle jogging.
  • Hamstring curls – side sways raising one heel towards the buttocks.
  • High knees.
  • High knees – opposite elbow to knee.
  • Stepping side to side - swaying (as if dancing).
A women stretching with an expert
A man with a personal trainer
A woman running through a forest.

Strength training for older people

Strength training can help improve your muscle mass, bone density, balance and co-ordination. Perform strength training exercises at least two days a week, working the major muscle groups. Start off with 10 repetitions each set and aim for 15 per set over the first month. For some guidance look at the Keeping Strong website. 

There are many different ways to strengthen your muscles and all you need is some form of external resistance or load – handheld weights, a couple of plastic bottles full or water or sand, two large cans of baked beans or similar or stretchy resistance bands. There are some exercises you can do, using your own body weight.

  • Press ups against the wall. Put both palms flat against the wall at about shoulder height. Walk your feet back, keeping your body in a straight line. Press into the wall, hold your shoulder blades down and lower yourself towards the wall, keeping your boy in a straight line. You can push your elbow out slightly but not as far as 90 degrees. Push yourself back by pressing against the wall.
  • Chair squats:  Rise from sitting to standing from a chair. Using a chair that allows your knees and hips to be bent at 90 degrees. Start by using your hands to help push you up but gradually learn to do this without using your hands.
  • Seated knee extension. Sitting on a chair with bent legs, slowly straighten on leg, contracting your quadricep muscles until your leg is fully extended. Hold this for a short while and then lower slowly.
  • Lunges. Stand with one foot in front of the other, both feet facing forwards, slowly bend both knees so your trunk goes straight down – and ensure your knee stays over your ankle. The heel of your back foot will lift further off the floor. As you progress, aim to go lower. To begin with, hold the back of a chair and only bend the knee a little way.
  • Hip Abduction.  Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Hold onto the back of a chair for the first few sessions if you need to. Slowly lift one leg straight out to the side, squeezing your gluteus maximus. Keep the knee straight on the lifted leg and the other leg ‘soft’ rather than bent. Lower the lifted leg back down to the starting position. Repeat about 5 times on each leg.


Balance exercises for seniors

Balance exercises improve stability and co-ordination, helping with activities such as walking, biking, climbing stairs or dancing.  

Good balance helps prevent falls and injuries and research has shown that balance exercises play an important role in our quality of life as we age.  The following are just a few ideas of balance exercises.  You can practise some of the following at home:

  • Standing on one leg – if you need support, use something that will not slip or move – such as a kitchen worktop or the wall.
  • Walking heel-to-toe as if trying to balance on an invisible line. 
  • Side leg raises (see Hip Abduction above).
  • Heel-toe raises – rock from heel to toe rising up as you rock forward.


Stretching exercises for older adults 

Regardless of age, fitness levels or activities, stretching at the end of an exercise session is essential.  

As we age, our bodies undergo various changes that lead to stiffness in the joints and muscles.  The result of such changes include difficulty carrying out simple tasks such as getting out of bed or climbing stairs. Stretching can overcome the natural loss of flexibility and improve your quality of life in your 60s, 70s and beyond.  


  • Improves flexibility 
  • Improves blood flow
  • Reduces the risk of injury 
  • Decreases muscle tension 
  • Improves posture 
  • Helps prevent post workout stiffness or soreness
  • Helps your body recover in readiness for the next exercise session 

It is a good idea to get into the habit of warming up and stretching for five or ten minutes every morning. Try not to stretch cold muscles as this can lead to injury.  I would advise static stretching – that is getting into a stretch and remaining still – rather than a dynamic stretch when you continue to move.  As you develop your stretching technique, hold your stretch for 15 to 30  seconds without bouncing, pushing or pulling.  

One of the  most effective way to increase your flexibility is to hold the stretch and then ease yourself a bit further into the stretch and hold for another 10 seconds..  Take a look at some of the best stretches for older people on the Bupa website and the NHS website.

The type of stretches you can do at home include the following but there are so many, we advise you to take a look at stretching websites or to speak to a fitness professional.

  • Neck rotations – looking slowly to one side and then moving the head back to centre, keeping the chin level and the shoulders down and back.
  • Sideways bends – standing straight and letting one hand slide down your leg – make sure you keep your knees soft and your hips facing forward.
  • Calf stretch – put one foot in front of the other – a reasonable distance apart.  The front knee is bent and the knee is directly above the ankle.  The foot at the rear should be flat on the floor.  Lean forwards a little keeping your back in a ‘neutral line’ – not curving either way.  You should feel tension in the calf muscle of the rear leg.   If you feel unstable, do this stretch with hands pressed against the wall.
  • Hamstring stretch – One foot in front of the other.  The back leg is bent and the heel of the front leg is on the floor.  The toe of the front foot should be lifted and you should feel a stretch along the hamstring.


“I want to take part in some low impact sports/exercise classes, what would you recommend?” 

  • Aqua Aerobics
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Tai Chi
  • Walking 
  • Swimming 
  • Cycling 
  • Ballet for Seniors 
  • Weight training with a  professional Personal Trainer or specialised group
  • Bowls 
  • Walking Football
  • Low impact fitness classes or seated exercises classes
  • Ballroom dancing or ballroom inspired classes
A man stretching before a run
A couple exercising at home
A woman at an exercise class

4-week mixed exercise fitness plan

This four-week plan also includes at least two days of moderate exercise activity which is up to you to select – it should include either 30 minutes of cycling, swimming, bowls, doubles tennis, horse riding, sailing, aqua aerobics, dance-fitness class or another type of group exercise class (such as Zumba), yoga, Pilates or your own workouts using appropriate videos.  Each workout (except yoga) should include a warm up, some strength exercise, balance and a post exercise stretch.


Guidance for walking sessions

This four-week exercise plan includes at least two walking sessions on several days.  You should also add a short warm up/mobility and a stretch session at the end.   The walking days should include a five-minute warm up, 10 minutes of brisk walking including 2 x 4-minute sessions of brisk walking with a 2-minute rest interval between them and finishing with a five-minute stretch. 

  • In week 1, as above
  • In week 2, reduce the rest interval between the walking sessions
  • In week 3 walk continuously for 10 minutes
  • In week 4 increase the walking to 12 minutes.

Your four week mixed exercise plan


  • Day 1: walking plan
  • Day 2: Rest
  • Day 3: Activity
  • Day 4: Rest
  • Day 5: Walking plan
  • Day 6: Rest
  • Day 7: Activity


  • Day 1: walking plan
  • Day 2: Activity
  • Day 3: Rest
  • Day 4: Walking Plan
  • Day 5: Activity
  • Day 6: Rest
  • Day 7: Walking Plan


  • Day 1: Activity
  • Day 2: Walking
  • Day 3: Activity
  • Day 4: Rest
  • Day 5: Walking Plan
  • Day 6: Activity
  • Day 7: Rest

Week 4:

On week 4 aim to do 30 minutes of exercise every day for five days and plan 2 rest days. 

On the exercise days, alternate between 30 minutes of brisk walking and 30 minutes of some kind of other exercise including at least two days of strength, balance and flexibility. 

Every exercise sessions include at least 5-10 minutes of warm up exercises and 5-10 minutes of cool down exercises.

4-week walking plan

If you want to start more slowly and more simply, try this four-week get fit walking plan.

  • Week 1: Walking on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday with rest days on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.   Each session should involve a 5-minute brisk walk, followed by a short rest and another 5 minutes of brisk walking.
  • Week 2: Walking on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday off. Again each session should start and finish with a five-minute brisk walk with either a short rest or a 3-minute session of slower walking.
  • Week 3: Walking on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday with rest days on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each session should involve an 8-minute brisk walk, followed by a short rest and another 8 minutes of brisk walking.
  • Week 4: Walking five days out of the seven and taking two days off. Again each session should start and finish with an eight-minute brisk walk with either a short rest or a 3-minute session of slower walking.

Looking for fitness activities to try in retirement? Find out more in our blogs. 

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