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From 20s to 70s: The ideal exercise for you at any age

Exercise is beneficial for your health no matter your age. Exercise can help ward off chronic disease and illness, boost our mood with endorphins, and keep us feeling strong, agile and independent.

But, as you get older and your body changes, your needs and abilities change as well. For example, the high-intensity exercises you choose to do in your 20s may not be suitable or safe for you to do 20-30 years down the track. Childbearing, injuries and other circumstances may also temporarily change your exercise goals as well. 

We’ve developed a basic guide for suitable exercises throughout each decade. However, we suggest you back this up with tailored advice from a health professional or personal trainer.  

In your 20s

For most, your 20s will be your prime years – physically speaking. You may still be participating in team sports that you started in school, which is a fun way to stay active and social. These may also be your first years as a gym member, and perhaps you’re experimenting with group high-intensity classes like RPM, GRIT or Body Attack. The great thing about group fitness classes is that many combine elements of anaerobic (strength/resistance training) with aerobic (cardio) training. Combining aerobic and anaerobic exercise (i.e. ‘cross training’) will help keep your body in peak physical shape, strengthening your muscles and improving your fitness (1). Other than group fitness classes, cycling or running with inclines, or plyometric exercises like burpees and jump squats, are great examples of cross training. Alternatively, a brisk walk or jog followed by some strength training using equipment or your own body weight.

In your 30s

In your mid to late 30s, a process called sarcopenia starts to occur, which is age related muscle loss (2). You might start to notice your muscle tone declining, and you may need more time to recover between workouts. It’s mild at first – maybe 3-8% per decade - but starts to pick up speed the older you get. So, it’s a good idea to start early with prevention and management. For this reason, regular strength and resistance training, at least twice per week, is recommended at this point in time. 

You still have youth on your side, and therefore, may be able to incorporate weights and other resistance equipment into your exercise. If this is your first time engaging in this type of training, getting a coach to guide you through appropriate exercises and techniques is a smart idea, especially for performing functional lifts like presses, pulls, squats and deadlifts. Make sure you balance your training with consistent stretching or yoga classes to aid in muscle recovery, and support balance, coordination and flexibility. 

Your 30s may also see you welcoming a baby or two (or more) into your life! For females, regular exercise is recommended for the prenatal and postnatal period, to support a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and recovery (3). However, you may need to modify your exercise during each stage, engaging in less high-intensity or contact sports, and more pelvic floor strengthening activities (i.e. Pilates, Kegels). If you develop any complications, such as abdominal diastasis (separation of your abdominal muscles), you may be advised to avoid certain exercises, such as abdominal crunches and planks. Speak to your obstetrician, women’s health physio, or personal trainer with experience in pre and postnatal exercise for guidance.

In your 40s

Typically, this decade of life may see you being run off your feet with raising a family, working, and running a household. Research has shown that, during midlife years, adults are less likely to engage in physical activity, which increases risk of accelerated aging and chronic disease (4). So - the best exercise for this decade is any type of movement that fits in with your lifestyle, and that you can be consistent with! Perhaps committing to a regular group exercise class, for example, a 9.30am spin class after school drop off? Or, trying to squeeze in a gym session or home workout before the household wakes up, or after they go to sleep. If your office is within walking distance of the gym, why not ‘hit it and quit it’ during your lunch hour, taking a colleague with you for accountability?  Any movement is good, you just want to make it a priority, consistently.

In your 50s

In your 50s, muscle and bone regeneration starts to slow down (5). So, if you haven’t engaged in resistance and weight-bearing exercise to date, it’s time to get started. Studies have linked this type of activity with improved bone density and muscle mass retention (5). 

Joint pain or instability may start to be a factor, so low-impact cardio options such as walking and Zumba, and static exercises using your body weight, resistance bands or light hand weights, like lunges, squats and bicep curls, will be on the cards. Body Pump is an excellent option, being a low-impact, whole-body resistance class that combines most of these elements, with an instructor to ensure correct technique. Why not schedule some social walks instead of meeting for a coffee?

In your 60s

For people in their 60s, experts recommend a 80-20 split between moderate aerobic activity and resistance exercise (6). Aerobic activities may include dance, brisk walking, golf, swimming, cycling, or a low-impact exercise class. You want to be moving at a pace where you can have broken conversation - not completely out of breath, nor able to converse easily.  It’s very important to maintain consistent movement, as once you stop, it can be very hard to get your rhythm back. Consistent aerobic activity also keeps you agile - ‘use it or lose it!’ - and can help prevent common diseases such as heart disease and diabetes by improving circulation, metabolism and insulin sensitivity.

In your 70s

In your 70s there is a larger shift towards resistance exercises that aid in strength and balance (7). This is still important in other years, just as aerobic activity is still important here, but resistance exercise can help protect against falls, which can be disabling for older adults.

Movement that can be done with your body weight or light weights are great. You could try squatting, push-ups on your needs, chest and leg presses, and balance exercises like holding one leg out in front for a few seconds at a time. 

At any age

All forms of exercise will offer benefits for both mind and body. You will find the most success with options that combine aerobic and anaerobic resistance elements. Mix up your routine regularly to continue challenging your body and adapting to its needs. And, of course, choose something you enjoy, that you look forward to doing!