Aim The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the efficacy of two different exercise types, rhythmic exercise designed from local music and dance (RE) and walking exercise (WE), in terms of exercise participation and physical function changes in older adults over a period of 12 weeks. Methods Exercise participation was assessed through the attendance rate and retention rate, and physical function was evaluated through the Short Physical Performance Battery, static balance test and gait test. Results The RE group showed significantly higher attendance and retention rates; greater improvement in Short Physical Performance Battery scores; and greater improvement in static balance, as compared with the WE. No differences were found between the RE and WE groups in gait parameters. Conclusions The results suggest that RE was more effective than WE in retaining exercise participation and improving physical function in older adults. Geriatr Gerontol Int 2017; ••: ••–••.