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30 November 2017
As we grow older, it can become more difficult to get the amount of exercise that we need. In fact, a report from Bupa in 2011 revealed that only 20% of men between the ages of 65 and 74 undertake the recommended amount of physical activity, with the proportion even lower for women.
With a little effort and planning, however, even those with seriously restricted mobility have the opportunity to keep fit and active well into the third age, with all kinds of alternative exercise options now popular.
In this article, we will share with you our top tips for enjoying exercise as you grow older, kindly compiled with the help of some experts in the field.
Firstly, we spoke to Ann Wilbourn, manager of the Primetime programme at MyTime Active, a social enterprise which runs lifestyle preventative health services across the UK. Here’s what Ann had to say about why exercise in later life is so important and some details about what you can do to keep fit and able, regardless of any mobility difficulties you may be facing:
“Flexibility, strength and cardiovascular endurance all follow the same principle - use it or lose it.
“The human body was built to move and stay active. When we don’t stay active our health and fitness declines and our mood and outlook on life can be affected. We lose our strength, flexibility and cardiovascular capabilities. Weight gain will soon follow, putting further stress on joints and internal organs. Use your body regularly and improvements will follow.
“It’s never too late to start and make a small change. Intervention at any point will make a difference. Being active can help you maintain your mobility and independence so you can do the things that you want to do and live life to the full. One of my favourite motivational quotes is ‘Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending’.
“Even if your mobility is already compromised, exercising your hands and arms will improve your strength to hold things, lift things, dress yourself and can help you move from a chair to a frame to enable you to walk. Strength in your arms can help you get up if you fall, enable you to wave to your friend and enjoy a game of catch with the grandchildren.
“If you have the strength to rise from a chair and the balance to remain upright you can confidently go for a walk (shopping, to church, in the garden, to see friends) or use the toilet without help. You will not be so isolated or at risk of becoming lonely.
“Chair based exercise classes can improve leg strength, mobility and posture. Your posture can make a difference to your breathing, your confidence and your balance.
“Small movements can make a big difference. Something as simple as clapping your hands will help bone cells to renew. Your wrists are a common fracture site - lifting small weights or using a resistance band can help improve your strength and bone density, reducing the risk of injury and fracture from the slightest impact.
“Standing up and sitting down will improve your leg strength, stretch you out and help your circulation.
“Simple mobility exercises such as circling your shoulders reduces tension and improves posture.
“Circling your arms and reaching up and out will help you put on a seatbelt, enable you to wash and brush your hair, and allow you to get your arms into your clothes and do up fasteners.
“As you get older and your body changes, sometimes through illness, injury or depression, it’s easy to become complacent and negative. Any movement is better than nothing – small, bite sized chunks of 5 or 10 minutes at a time will add up to help you achieve 30 minutes a day which is the recommended activity guidelines for older adults.
“Make the effort and make a change now, improve your life, maintain your independence and lift your spirits. Most of all, exercise those chuckle muscles, laugh and live life to the full. You will be a much nicer person to be around!
“Mytime Active run over 80 classes a week for older adults with something for everyone, no matter what their ability or disability is. Social events play an important part of our Primetime programme, helping people to meet together and therefore reducing isolation and loneliness.
“Our Primetime message is to start from what you can do and then build on it. Don’t focus on what you can’t do. We can offer the expertise for you, you need to offer the effort to take hold of these opportunities. There will be something similar near to you. Find out about it and grasp it with those strong hands which you have begun to exercise.”
We also spoke to Simon Roll, a Personal Trainer who for the last 10 years has run Alive & Active, an organisation dedicated to helping as many older people as possible to enjoy regular exercise, regardless of their current levels of fitness and mobility – indeed, participants don’t even need to get up from their armchairs.
Simon specialises in overseeing seated exercise classes in residential and retirement homes for people as young as 65 right up to the age of 105, and also has two DVDs available for purchase which offers viewers the chance to take part in his sessions without leaving the comfort of their homes.
We were grateful to Simon for putting together the below list of what he thinks are the most important tips for senior people when it comes to staying fit and healthy:
“1. Overload!!! This means pushing your boundaries and working that bit harder than you thought you could. If you merely work in your comfort zone, you’ll see little or no improvement as, quite simply, your body doesn’t need to! It’s coping fine at that level.
2. Exercise every day, little but often. Unused muscles get weaker and smaller, so everyday tasks get harder to do. Weakened muscles designed to support joints become lax which leads to pain and discomfort.
3. Work on your balance exercises every day. Strengthening your core muscles and improving posture will improve your balance.
4. Go for regular eye tests. Poor sight is a major factor in falls.
5. Re-evaluate your walking pattern. Due to bad habits, confidence and lack of strength our walking technique changes, increasing your chance of a trip or fall. A small correction can make a big difference.
6. Target your weak spot! It’s easy to ignore the thing we find the hardest but improving this can really change your quality of life for the better.
7. Finally, enjoy yourself! Make it fun, add music, invite a friend or include the grandchildren! Release those happy hormones and start living life to the max!”
One thing that both Ann and Simon are very clear about is that it really doesn’t matter what your level of mobility is – almost everyone in the country, even if they rely on the use of home stairlifts to get around the house, can take meaningful strides towards living a healthier life, whatever their age. There’s no time like the present, so why not start your new fitness journey today?
Image Credit: Maxwell GS, Jake Weirick, Elena Saharova, Slgckgc, Sonja Langford, Mathias Konrath, Martins Zemlickis