Exercise for Healthy Aging: Before Beginning an Exercise Program

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Before beginning an exercise program

A few precautions worth taking

The Public Health Agency of Canada has developed a questionnaire to help you evaluate your abilities in terms of physical activity.

If you suffer from osteoporosis, avoid exercise that requires jumps and twists.

Protect your back by always bending from the knee, tightening your abdominals and avoiding back twists.

General recommendations

It's best to start slowly and choose exercises from three main categories: endurance (aerobic exercise), muscle development (strength), and flexibility (stretching and balance).

Choose a physical activity…

  • that's convenient for you
  • that you can do in the long term
  • that you enjoy!

Listen to your body. If you feel pain while exercising, something is wrong. Never ignore your body's warnings—talk about them to your trainer, your physiotherapist or a healthcare professional.

Don't hold your breath, and remember to always exhale when you're making an effort.

Generally speaking, it is recommended to do at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, 5 days a week.

Here's a chart from the Canadian Health Network to help you target the level of activity to reach so that you make the most of your physical activity:

Activity Levels for Good Health

  • no warmer than when I am resting
  • normal breathing
  • I am a bit warmer
  • my breath is coming more quickly
  • I am warmer
  • my breath is faster
  • I am pretty hot
  • I am somewhat out of breath
  • I am very hot/I am sweating heavily
  • I am completely out of breath

activity levels for good health

Not sufficient

Efficiency level

Too strenuous


I suffer from heart failure. Can I exercise?

Check with your doctor first. Normally, it is recommended that cardiac patients exercise, especially walking. You can walk on a walking path, or you can join a group that walks through shopping malls. You can try Nordic walking with poles. If you have a cardiac condition, avoid exercising both arms at the same time. Many cardiac rehabilitation programs are available. Ask your doctor if you should be exercising under supervision.

I'm afraid of falling while I'm exercising, since I'm not very surefooted.

You should start slowly with balance and stretching exercises that allow you to lean against a chair or a wall. Move up from there: hold on with two hands, then one, then with your fingertips, then with a single finger, and finally stop holding on at all. The stronger your muscles become, the more solid you will feel on your feet. When you feel solid enough, you can progress to other types of exercise. At the beginning, ask someone to watch you in case you lose your balance. People with osteoporosis or arthritis benefit from Tai Chi as this is a slow moving exercise that gradually improves your balance.

Some medications can also affect your balance. Talk with your healthcare professional.

At 79, I am much too old to start an exercise program.

It's never too late or too early to exercise and get in shape! Research has proven that exercise is the best way to keep up your health and maintain functional autonomy. Even at age 90, people can increase their muscle mass. You will feel the benefits almost immediately. Talk about it with your healthcare professional.

My joints hurt too much for me to exercise. I'm frightened of making my condition worse.

When you age, osteopenia and sarcopenia reduce your joints' mobility by depriving your bones of minerals and weakening your muscles. You can prevent the effects of osteopenia and sarcopenia by exercising. Physical activity helps reduce joint pain and stiffness. Talk with a healthcare professional about the benefits you may get from an exercise program.

I suffer from diabetes. Can I still exercise?

Diabetes is a chronic illness that frequently affects older people, and is characterized by a surplus of sugar in the blood. Exercise can help reduce blood sugar levels. If your diabetes has led to other health problems, it is preferable to consult your doctor or a healthcare professional before beginning an exercise program.

Next: A Tailored Exercise Program


We are pleased to house this series of FAQs supervised by Cara Tannenbaum, from the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal.

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