Recommended Exercise by Age: Find the Right Fitness Routine

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Hadley Mendelsohn

Published 04/26/2024

Your body changes as you age and your exercise routine should change with it. Exercise recommendations do differ by age, but they always include a combination of cardio, strength training, and flexibility or balance training. When it comes to starting a new habit, a personalized exercise plan that meets you where you are — warts and all — can make all the difference.

After all, there’s nothing more discouraging than a workout that feels like torture (except maybe one that leaves you hobbling around for days on end!).

In addition to your age and gender, other factors that influence exercise recommendations include:

  • Your weight and any weight loss goals

  • Your current fitness level and your fitness goals

  • Any injuries or physical limitations

  • Any chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or osteoporosis

  • Whether you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or postpartum

Since age is such an important one, we’re putting it in the spotlight today. Keep reading to learn about the physical activity guidelines for every age group and all the associated health benefits. Then we’ll get you started on tailoring your ideal fitness plan.

Physical activity guidelines recommend that adults in their 20s and 30s get at least:

  • 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity activity per week

  • Or 75 minutes to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity activity per week

Though these general recommendations remain the same for adults between ages 18 and 64, there are some differences.

But before we jump into the specific workout recommendations for younger adults, let’s look at the health benefits to understand why it’s important to prioritize regular physical activity during this stage of your life.

Building healthy habits while you’re young sets you up for the future  — helping reduce your risk of gaining excess weight, developing obesity, and dealing with obesity-related health conditions. It’s also great for your mental health.

One study found a positive association between cardiovascular fitness in young people (ages 18 to 30) and long-term heart health. The findings suggest that those who were fitter in their youth had a lower risk for death and heart disease about 30 years later (when they were in their 50s and 60s).

The health benefits don’t stop there! Starting a regular exercise practice at a younger age could help protect bone health later in life.

Bone mass is an important health indicator. When your bones lose density you can develop osteoporosis, a disorder that makes bones more fragile and prone to breaking. Getting regular physical activity helps maintain bone density.

Best Workouts for People in their 20s and 30s

  • Cardio: Running, cycling, rowing, stair climbing, boxing, boot camp-style classes, or playing sports like soccer, basketball, or volleyball.

  • HIIT workouts: High-intensity interval training can help you combine cardio and strength training into one session. HIIT classes are a great way to get guidance on balancing periods of intense activity with rest periods.

  • Yoga and Pilates: If you want to keep your body flexible and strong for years to come, these targeted workouts should be right up your alley.

  • Strength training: Muscle-strengthening activities not only tone and tighten your body, it also support a healthy metabolism. Consider lifting heavy weights at the gym, using dumbbells or resistance bands at home, or finding a CrossFit gym near you.

  • Walking and moving. Daily movement is just as important as your more targeted exercise routine. Using a smartwatch or fitness tracker can help, especially if you work behind a desk all day and, like us, you need reminders to stand the f up every once and a while!

Staying Physically Active During Pregnancy

If you decide to get pregnant, whether you’re in your 20s, 30s, or 40s, you’ll need to make some changes to your exercise routine. It is both safe and encouraged for pregnant women without any health conditions to engage in regular physical activity.

It’s possible that exercise during pregnancy could reduce your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and postpartum depression. It may also help you lose weight after the baby is born.

Women who are physically active before pregnancy can maintain their current level of activity as long as their pregnancy is not high-risk. Aim for 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise every day — or most days — of the week.

If you have a high-risk pregnancy or were inactive before becoming pregnant, talk with your OBGYN before starting a new exercise routine.

Let’s begin with a reminder for anyone who needs to hear it: it’s literally never too late to start improving your fitness level. Honestly, tons of people don’t start working out until later in life.

Let’s face it, life in your forties and fifties is a little different — and we don’t just mean the bird watching (bet that one snuck up on you!). We’re talking about the realization that you’re not getting any younger.

That “aha” moment when you realize you want to keep playing, dancing, and thriving for at least the next three decades. Talk about a motivator!

In your forties and fifties, physical activity guidelines are generally the same as when you were younger:

  • 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week

  • Or 75 minutes to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity activity per week

You can partake in most, if not all, of the same physical activities you enjoyed in your 20s and 30s. But you might want to change things up a little. Younger adults tend to exercise because they want to look fit and toned. As we age, our goals change. So you might spend less time focusing on your abs and more time working on your core strength.

Full-body strength training can help you combat the natural slowing of your metabolism. And it can help you maintain bone strength and integrity. Aerobic activity, alongside a healthy diet, can help you maintain a steady weight (which we all know gets harder with age).

Your forties and fifties can be among the busiest years of your life. You may be at the peak of your career. You might spend half your day hauling kids back and forth (and back and forth) from their various activities. And you might have aging family members to support. So finding the time to work out can be a challenge.

But remember, any movement that you fit into your day is going to help! Moving your body also supports your mental health and helps reduce stress.

Best Workouts for People in Their 40s and 50s

  • Yoga or Pilates

  • Dancing

  • Jogging or running

  • Cycling

  • Brisk walking

  • Swimming

  • Weight training

  • HIIT classes

  • Rock climbing

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Okay, so you’re starting to slow down a little. Good for you! You deserve it! Exercising in your sixties, seventies, and eighties is all about helping you live life to the fullest. Whether that means a cycling trip around Europe, a dance class with your partner, or goofing around with your grandkids.

The key to exercising as an older adult is learning to adapt. For instance, maybe you love walking but your shins have seen enough pavement to last a lifetime. You might consider hiking a local trail instead. Or maybe you love cycling, but it’s getting harder to get on and off the bike. A recumbent bike may be the solution.

The recommended amount of exercise for older adults is lower than the recommendations for younger people.

The CDC recommends adults ages 65 and older get at least:

  • 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity activity per week

  • Two strength training sessions per week

  • Some activity that promotes balance and flexibility

Your strength training sessions don’t need to be Swartzinager-style. Instead, consider keeping some dumbbells or resistance bands nearby. You can even stay seated while working out your upper body.

As you age, you may experience issues that affect your mobility. The disks between your spinal bones may wear away and cause chronic back pain. Plus Osteoporosis can cause micro-fractures in the spine.

The cartilage around your major joints gets thinner, after years of friction and movement, so pain and injury can become more common. Strength-building exercises can help keep your muscles lean and nimble, which helps keep your body aligned and takes pressure off individual joints.

Regular physical activity may help lower your risk of developing health problems, such as

  • Heart disease

  • Obesity

  • High blood pressure

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Cognitive decline

  • Osteoporosis

Types of Physical Activity for Older Adults

Other suggested physical activities for older adults include:

  • Resistance band exercises

  • Water aerobics

  • Swimming

  • Balance exercises like yoga and Pilates can help, as the risk of falls is higher in older adults

  • Walking

  • Gardening

  • Stretching

  • Tai Chi

As always, it’s best to think about physical fitness in the context of general lifestyle and well-being habits, as staying healthy also requires plenty of sleep, a nutritious diet, and staying hydrated (and of course, things like sunshine and laughing!).


Though we may call it something other than working out, kids as young as three to five should get an hour or more of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise every day, according to the CDC. It’s also recommended that they spread the action out throughout the day, rather than getting it all at once.

High activity levels help young kids develop stronger, healthier bones, and may even lead to fewer heart, lung, and insulin-related health issues later in life, as one 2019 review points out. It’s also linked to healthier weight status, which can impact health and development, too.

Adolescents should begin incorporating aerobic activity and weight-training exercises to their routines. This age group also has more opportunities to take part in organized physical activities and team sports, as their motor skills begin to improve.

Physical activity guidelines for all age groups stress a combination of cardio, strength training, and flexibility/balance work. Most adults should aim for at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity activity a week.

As you enter your sixties and seventies, your exercise needs will drop a bit. Older adults should focus on adapting to what their bodies can achieve comfortably and without risk of injury. Always remember that any movement you can fit into your day is a win. So don’t stress too much about following the guidelines to the letter. Just find something you enjoy and stick with it.

10 Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?,” June 30, 2023. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/index.htm.
  2. Pate, R. R., Hillman, C., Janz, K., Katzmarzyk, P. T., Powell, K. E., Torres, A., Whitt-Glover, M. C., & Guidelines Advisory Committee, P. A. (2019). Physical Activity and Health in Children under 6 Years of Age: A Systematic Review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 51(6), 1282. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6527328/.
  3. World Health Organization. “RECOMMENDED POPULATION LEVELS OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY FOR HEALTH.” Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health - NCBI Bookshelf, 2010.Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK305058/.
  4. Keller, J., Kwasnicka, D., Klaiber, P., Sichert, L., Lally, P., & Fleig, L. (2021). Habit formation following routine-based versus time-based cue planning: A randomized controlled trial. British Journal of Health Psychology, 26(3), 807-824. Retrieved from: https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjhp.12504.
  5. Shah, Ravi, Venkatesh L. Murthy, Laura A. Colangelo, Jared P. Reis, Bharath Ambale‐Venkatesh, Ravi Sharma, Siddique Abbasi, et al. “Association of Fitness in Young Adulthood With Survival and Cardiovascular Risk.” JAMA Internal Medicine 176, no. 1 (January 1, 2016): 87. Retrieved from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2473630.
  6. Hinman, S. K., Smith, K. B., Quillen, D. M., & Smith, M. S. (2015). Exercise in Pregnancy: A Clinical Review. Sports Health, 7(6), 527-531. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4622376/.
  7. “Aging Changes in Body Shape: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia,” n.d. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003998.htm.
  8. Walston, J. D. (2012). Sarcopenia in older adults. Current Opinion in Rheumatology, 24(6), 623. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4066461/.
  9. Nguyen, T. M., Toan Do, T. T., Tran, T. N., & Kim, J. H. (2020). Exercise and Quality of Life in Women with Menopausal Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(19). Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7579592/.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Physical Activity for Healthy Aging,” July 6, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/older_adults/index.htm.
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