Fitness is for everyone, you’re never too big, too out of shape…or too old. And even if you’ve never really exercised much in your life, it really is never too late to start!
We all know that exercise is good for us – research shows time and time again that being active is the key to preventing serious disease and disability, improving mental health and increasing your chances of living longer.
However, too many people believe that when they get older, there’s no point. They might be frightened that they could get hurt, particularly if they have a pre-existing health condition such as back pain or high blood pressure.
They maybe aren’t able to go outdoors because of the current lockdown. Or they just think that the time for getting fit has passed.
But it hasn’t. There are lots of other reasons for people in their 60’s, 70s and 80s to just start moving.
- Exercise helps strengthen your muscles and bones and stops the loss of bone density.
- It helps you control your weight. Adding pounds (or stones!) isn’t an inevitable part of ageing. Staying fit and adopting a healthy diet prevents obesity.
- It boosts mood and self-confidence. Exercise is a huge stress reliever and the endorphins produced can help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Feeling strong and active also makes you feel more self-confident.
- It reduces your risk of some cancers and heart diseases such as high cholesterol and coronary artery disease. It can also lower your blood pressure.
- It helps lower blood sugar levels, cutting down your risk for type 2 diabetes. If you already have type 2 diabetes, exercise can help you manage it.
- It reduces your risk of falls by improving your strength, balance and core stability.
- It keeps your mental acuity sharper so that you find learning and concentration easier.
- It improves your sleep so that you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
- It gives you more energy so that you get more out of your day.
- It improves your sexual health.
Quite simply, people who begin exercising as they age are often amazed at how much better they look and feel! Chronic pain is often alleviated and their mood is lifted. Lots of women are finding that they’re in better shape than they’ve ever been, because they are less focused on other peoples’ needs and can finally prioritise their own.
The NHS recommends that adults aged 65 and over should aim to be physically active every day, suggesting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week as well as pursuits that improve strength balance and flexibility on at least two days a week.
However to some adults, guidelines like these can seem overwhelming because they just don’t know where to start or don’t feel that they have the time…so they do nothing.
The trick is to do something every day, no matter how small…then do it the next day. Consistency is key. Start off gently, to avoid injury and build up slowly. Even 5 or 10 minutes counts. Remember that 3 ten minute stretches of exercise have exactly the same benefit as 1 continuous 30 minute session.
The other thing to remember is to include both aerobic and strength building activities into your day. Something a lot of people never consider doing is weight training. But some form of strength and resistance exercise is really important. Researchers at Birmingham University found that even people who were older and had never exercised, were able build muscle and enjoy better strength and mobility. This doesn’t mean you have to pump iron with heavy equipment – the NHS website says that even lifting shopping bags is good for you.
Some other exercise ideas you could try:
- If you can get out – just find a pair of comfortable shoes and go for a walk. If you’re under lockdown, walk briskly around the garden. If you manage 10 laps and feel good, up the amount the next day.
- Make yourself a private playlist of upbeat music and have a dance session in the kitchen.
- Walk up and down stairs a few times – do more the next day.
- Go online. On YouTube, for example, there are hundreds of exercise classes, many specifically developed for older adults. Aerobics classes, seated workouts, yoga, Pilates – there’s something for everyone. Find an activity that appeals to you and is right for your fitness level.
- Multitask. Whilst you’re watching TV or are on the phone, do some gentle stretching exercises or buy one of those mini pedal exercisers.
- Cleaning and heavy gardening is often workouts in themselves. Particularly if you are scrubbing floors or doing a lot of digging or manoeuvring a lawnmower.
If you do decide that you’re going to up your activity levels, don’t forget to consult your doctor if you have any concerns, especially if you have a pre-existing condition. Diabetics, for example may need to adjust the timing of medication and meal plans. Listen to your body – exercise should never hurt or make you feel dreadful. Stop exercising and call your doctor if you feel dizzy or short of breath, develop chest pain or pressure, break out in a cold sweat, or experience pain. If you regularly experience discomfort after exercising, try exercising for less time but more frequently throughout the day.
Fitness has never been all about running marathons or doing high intensity training. The vital thing is to find something you enjoy and have fun – maybe by incorporating exercise into what you like doing best.
Lockdown might seem very constricting but it’s probably an ideal time to start getting fit, because many of us have more free hours and fewer distractions from other people. So no excuses, the only thing that’s stopping you, is you!
If you have any questions or need any advice in the meantime please call Lymm Osteopathic Practice on 01925 752264.