This paper examines the risk factors that influence physical activity levels among a representative sample of older people in England and their awareness of the Chief Medical Officer's recommended level of physical activity. The paper analyses data from the cross-sectional, nationally-representative Health Surveys for England (HSfE) in 2006 and 2007. In HSfE2006, 1,550 adults aged 60–69 years responded to a physical activity participation questionnaire, and in HSfE2007, 561 adults aged 60–64 years were asked about their knowledge of the physical activity requirement and their attitudes to participation. Very few respondents knew the recommended physical activity target, but more than one-half thought they had enough physical activity in their daily life, and over three-quarters thought they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ physically active compared with age peers. The perceived barriers to physical activity included work commitments, lack of leisure time and poor health. It was found that obesity, not being in work and having a limiting long-term illness associated with a lower likelihood of physical activity. Participation in sports and exercise, walking, heavy housework and gardening were all lower in non-working than working adults. Older adults had unrealistic views of their activity levels, and of work and lack of time as barriers to physical activity. It is concluded that more attention needs to be paid to health promotion and education among the over-sixties, especially those not in paid work.