Objectives: Older immigrants from non-industrialised countries are a growing group, they have comparatively many health problems and are often hard to reach through health promotion and other preventive services. The aim of this study was to assess the effect of a short health education and physical exercise programme on the health and the physical activity of Turkish first generation elderly immigrants. Design: Randomised controlled trial. Setting: Welfare services in six Dutch cities. Participants: 126 people born in Turkey and aged 45 years and over, of whom 92 completed the trial. Intervention: Eight, two hour sessions consisting of health education and exercises. Topics in health education focused on means to maintain a good health. Education was adapted to the culture and knowledge of older Turks and offered by a Turkish peer educator, in Turkish. Main outcome measures: Physical and mental wellbeing, and mental health based on the SF-12/36; knowledge on health and disease; physical activity. Results: Participants were highly disadvantaged; 52% had not completed primary school and 49% had considerable problems in speaking Dutch. Participants in the intervention group showed an improvement in mental health (effect size: 0.38 SD (95% confidence intervals 0.03 to 0.73), p=0.03); the oldest subgroup also in mental wellbeing (effect size 0.75 SD (0.22 to 1.28), p=0.01). No improvements were seen in physical wellbeing and activity, nor in knowledge. Conclusions: Health education and physical exercise improve the mental state of deprived immigrants. Painstaking cultural adaptations to contents and method of delivery are essential to reach this effect.