At the moment a lot of older adults are self-isolating or ‘shielding’ to protect them from coronavirus. A lot of you will be in contact with your clients and class participants trying to help them to stay healthy and connected. At some point in the future we will be back to a more ‘normal’ situation and be able to connect in person. Until then, it is important that we both support people as best we can and continue to educate ourselves so we can improve the services we offer once we resume.

In this blog, we will look at general ways to motivate the older adult population.

To start, here is a quick recap of why activity and exercise are important for this population group summarising the UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines published in September 2019.

  • Good physical and mental function
  • Control over their own health and well-being
  • Managing and coping with disease symptoms
  • Improving social functioning and reducing loneliness and social isolation
  • Maintaining independence and quality of life

We know that motivation is one of the main barriers to exercise and attending a structured exercise session once or twice a week is only a part of what is needed to meet the guidelines.

These structured sessions should include muscle strengthening, balance and flexibility activities and are important as supervision is necessary, and exercises can be demonstrated and monitored. The main focus should be to build up confidence and self-efficacy.

How do we motivate and monitor our older adults to maintain activity levels when this is so important to overall health?

  • Reinforce the benefit of lower intensity and general activity, and the danger of sedentary behaviour.
  • Use motivational interviewing techniques to encourage people to identify where they can fit exercise into their daily routine.
  • Support older adults in setting their own SMART goals which could link to assessments carried out in structured sessions.
  • Encourage a support network with other members of the group, family and friends.
  • Encourage clients to log exercise or use fitness monitors and pedometers. Activity log sheets can be provided with results of assessments and reassessments or apps such as myfitnesspal, MapMyWalk or Pocket Physio can be used.

This excerpt is from the CMO 2019 guidelines relating to older adults (65 years and over)

‘Evidence suggests that 30 minutes of daily MVPA (moderate to vigorous physical activity) accumulated in addition to habitual daily activities in healthy older adults is equivalent to taking approximately 7,000 to 10,000 steps per day. This evidence suggests 4500 to 5500 steps a day for improved health related quality of life, above 7000 steps a day for better immune function, and 8000 to 10000 steps a day for an effect on metabolic syndrome and maintenance of weight’

The full UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines are available here.

  • Use exercises and activities that motivate the individual as these will improve adherence. This extract from an article from ACE (American Council on Exercise) illustrates the use of innovative balance exercises to motivate older adults.

‘Continuously designing novel and creative balance exercises for clients is essential. Recent research has reported that utilizing interactive video games may be an effective strategy to employ with designing balance activities for older adults (Nitz et al., 2009). For example, the Wii Fit has various balance modules, including soccer, skiing and penguin, which can be performed at different skill levels, depending on the client’s functional capacity. Science has shown that progressively incorporating interactive video games into training can increase motivation and improve balance performance’ (Betker et al., 2006).

To find out more about designing balance exercise programs for older adults click here.

  • Give achievable home programmes for people to help with confidence and self-efficacy. These can be written or filmed.
  • Bring in guest teachers and activity leaders to showcase things like Tai Chi, ping pong, walking football and netball, fitness walking groups etc.
  • Give rewards and incentives for goals achieved if appropriate for your client group.

These strategies will improve engagements and long term participation in activity and exercise but of course one size does not fit all and you must get to know your clients so you can add the motivators to suit them.

During lockdown and with the restrictions that may continue, reflect back through some of these strategies and see which ones you could be encouraging them to complete in the safety of their own home.


UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines September 2019.

BMJ open

American council on exercise