Exercise and Ageing
What happens to our bodies as we age? Craig Wise offers some advice on staying active in middle age and in our senior years.
We tend to slow down as we get older for a number of reasons including ill health, weight, balance issues or chronic pain.
If we are lucky, becoming a senior means more focus on lifestyle and enjoying the finer things in life rather than coping with the stresses of a 9-5 work day and/or bringing up young children. So I reckon it’s important to ensure we have the ability to get the most out of it – after all life is for living.
There have been a number of studies, many in Scandinavia, that show physical activity to be the number 1 contributor to a long life – even if you don’t start to become physically active until the later years.
Physical activity will not only add years to your life – it can also add life to your years. It is more fun to be playing with children and grandchildren than just sitting and watching them play. Plus the memories it creates for them are priceless. It also sets a good example, especially as our lives become more sedentary.
As you age the decision to become physically active can be one of the best and most important healthy choices you can make but it’s important to do it safely.
The same activity guidelines apply for older adults as they do for anyone – 150 minutes a week of moderate activity is recommended. Moderate activity means increased breathing but still being able to hold a conversation. But guidelines are guidelines, and anything is better than nothing.
A lady in her 80s regularly passes one of my 50-year-old clients when he is out walking. She told him she only took up walking after her husband passed away at the age of 63. She walks just over 7km every day and feels as strong as an ox!
ACTIVITY AT 40
This is the time when the major physiological changes happen in our bodies – gravity catches up with us, our metabolism slows, lean muscle decreases and fat increases. For women, there are also the added hormonal changes to factor in.
This is the age that resistance training becomes crucial. Previously cardiovascular activity may have been enough but now it’s no longer the case, while still important it is now about slowing down the loss of muscle mass and strength – weakening muscles in your 40s can spell disaster in the future.
Resistance (weight) training three times a week is the ideal, covering the whole body. Physical activity at this age sets a good platform for the future, because by now those aches and pains have begun to appear.
When being active, especially with the resistance training, concentrate on the quality not the quantity. Learning to do it right now will pay off in the future.
ACTIVITY AT 50
In our 50s any loss of muscle mass and toning begins to really show. Often, early signs are a change in your posture. It is at this age that we see the classic signs of shoulder slump from years of driving a desk.
Incorporating yoga, tai chi or dance into your physical activity each week is great for balance, and as we age the stability these disciplines give us becomes increasingly important. Dancing is also a good cardio activity – two birds with one stone, as my Nan used to say.
It also important to concentrate on functional exercise, exercises that mimic tasks we perform on a regular basis. For example, doing squats will help you stand up and sit down in later life and deadlifts (lifting a weight from the ground to your waist) are a movement that mimics picking up children/grandchildren or bags of shopping.
ACTIVITY AT 60+
In our 60s we tend to find those mid-life niggles have fully developed into diagnosable issues, such as arthritis or joint issues. But these aches and pains shouldn’t be seen as a viable reason to stop exercising – or even a reason not to start. As long as they are well managed, you can still exercise and you may find doing more activity will relieve some symptoms.
Maintaining flexibility into our senior years, coupled with strong bones and muscles, is seen as a key to injury prevention. By the time that we are into the 60+ age group a significant amount of bone density reduction has occurred and, especially in women, we see a lot of osteoporosis. And don’t forget men get osteoposis too.
Even if you aren’t active in your 60s or 70s, it’s never too late to make inroads towards prevention. Resistance training increases bone density and, coupled with a good stretching routine, can help to overcome such issues, even for those well into their 70s.
You are never too old to start exercising. I regularly line up against 70 and 80 year olds at the start of half-marathons and local fun runs. Running might not be your goal but it can be your inspiration.
Stop and have a look at yourself and your current situation and consider any health concerns before you start on a new fitness activity. People with diabetes may need to adjust timing of medications or meals. It may be necessary to adjust your medication. A chat with your health professional is always a good place to get advice.
When you do start, begin slowly and build up, especially if you haven’t been physically active for a while, or if you are beginning an activity that you haven’t done before.
EXERCISE WITH A FRIEND:
Many people find that getting support by being active with family or friends means they get more out of their active time because they can motivate and encourage each other.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY:
Physical activity should never make you feel pain or cause dizziness. If you find that you are regularly experiencing pain or discomfort after physical activity (especially in the joints or chest) you may need to reconsider your activity choice or seek advice from a medical or fitness professional.
As with starting all physical activities, especially if you have a chronic issue such as diabetes or hypertension, it is a good idea to chat with your health professional about what is right for you.