INTRODUCTION: Most exercise studies for older adults have been university- or hospital-based. Little is known about the benefits and factors influencing long-term participation in community-based exercise programmes, especially in New Zealand. AIM: To quantify the objective benefits, participant perceptions and retention rates of a New Zealand community-based exercise programme for adults (60 years or older). METHODS: Study 1 involved assessing the benefits of 12 weeks' training on a convenience sample of 62 older adults commencing the never2old Active Ageing programme. Study 2 assessed the perceptions of 150 current participants on a variety of programme components that could act as barriers or facilitators to continued engagement. Study 3 assessed the retention rates of 264 participants in the programme over a two-year period. RESULTS: Significant improvements in many physical functional scores were observed in Study 1 (5-30 percentile points; p<0.05). Questionnaire responses from participants in Study 2 indicated many perceived benefits (positive responses from 67-95% on various questions) and that core components of the programme were rated very highly (64-99% on various components). Retention rates were high, with Study 3 finding 57% of participants still engaging in the programme at the end of the two-year period. DISCUSSION: A community-based exercise programme for older adults can improve many objective and subjective measures of physical fitness and functional performance and have good retention rates. General practitioners and other allied health professionals in New Zealand should consider promoting programmes, such as the never2old Active Ageing programme, to their older patients.