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People Know Exercise's Benefits, Less about How Much They Need

Benefits of Physical Activity and Exercise: A Survey on Healthy Living Among Adults Ages 50 and Older

Despite widespread understanding that exercise is beneficial to many aspects of good health, many adults 50-plus aren't nearly physically active enough, falling short of the 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends, an AARP survey finds. Moreover, many people are not even aware of that straightforward recommendation.

spinner image Stop action photo of a woman dressed in athletic gear preparing to hit a pickleball on a pickleball court.

But while concrete recommendations haven't reached many adults, most do understand the benefits of exercise. Among those AARP surveyed, 95% said regular exercise would improve their general health, 94% their physical fitness, and 90% their overall appearance. In addition, 93% said it would help them live longer and healthier lives.

However, few adults 50 or older follow the CDC’s guidance on exercise. Only one-third of those surveyed are aware of the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise, and even fewer are achieving that threshold. Typically, people who do exercise 150 minutes a week do so across a period of between five and seven days.

Those who get the recommended amount of exercise gain a range of benefits. In addition to being more physically fit, they have higher than average mental well-being scores. The survey found that those exercising at least 150 minutes per week rated specific dimensions of their health higher than survey participants exercising less than 30 minutes:

  • Brain health/mental sharpness 90% vs. 80%
  • Emotional/spiritual well-being 92% vs. 81%
  • Mental health 91% vs. 78%
  • Overall health 88% vs. 69%
  • Physical health 86% vs. 56%

Moreover, regular exercise seems to translate to both multiple spin-off benefits and other healthy-lifestyle choices. Among those who exercise 150 minutes, 61% find they better manage stress, 50% socialize more, 46% are well-rested, and 54% eat more nutritious meals. 

And with exercise comes satisfaction. Adults who log the most exercise are significantly more satisfied with their emotional/spiritual well-being (94%), mental health (92%), overall health (91%), ability to handle stress (90%), physical appearance (81%), current eating habits (80%), and amount of sleep they get per night (75%).


AARP conducted the online and telephone survey (in English and Spanish) of 1,948 U.S. adults 50 and older from May 22 to June 6, 2023 using NORC's Foresight 50+ Panel. Survey data were weighted by gender, race, age, Hispanic ethnicity, marital status, Census division, and income to benchmarks from the Current Population Survey.

For more information, please contact Laura Mehegan at For media inquiries, contact External Relations at