Regular exercise is a non-negotiable as we age. If you’re retired, it’s your new job. If you’re still working, it’s your second job! If you don’t want to end up old and frail, then read on….
Five years ago I was strong and fit, a regular gym goer, had a personal trainer once a week and was very careful with my diet.
Then I got lazy. Well, not really lazy, but I married my beloved husband and didn’t take care of myself as well as I had because we were just having too much fun travelling the world and enjoying life together.
And now, five years later, with not doing regular exercise (I was doing some, but I hadn’t made it a daily part of my life) I can really notice the difference between my body then, and my body now.
So I decided that I really needed to change things so I didn’t grow old and frail. I’m at the gym 5-6 times a week. I’ve changed my diet. I am educating myself about aging healthily. And it’s working – my weight is coming off, I sleep well, my skin is glowing. I look healthier than I did when I turned 50!
This is what I’ve found through my research.
Exercise at least five days a week. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. Just do it at a time that will suit your daily schedule. It’s good if you can do it first thing in the day, as you use stored energy (read fat) instead of what you’ve put in your body, but if you can’t do it until later in the day don’t use that as an excuse not to do it at all!
You don’t have to join a gym like I did, there are lots of exercises you can do that can be done in the privacy and comfort of your home.
Regular exercise has no end of benefits, and I’ve listed these benefits below with some suggested exercises. But the end result really is that you might live to 90, whether you like it or not, so if you do, don’t you want to be able to get around like you do now, meeting with friends, going to events, having a rich and full social life. These are some great exercises for the 45+ who wants to grow older, not frailer.
Walking. You don’t need any fancy stuff to walk. It is simple exercise, yet very powerful, so don’t underestimate it. Walking can help you stay trim, improve cholesterol levels, strengthen bones, keep blood pressure in check, lift your mood and lower your risk for a number of diseases (diabetes and heart disease for example).There are studies that show walking can even improve memory. Make sure you get fitted for a proper pair of walking shoes, as it’s important for your body to be well supported. If you struggle with walking because of bad knees, or too much weight, just start gently, try 10 minutes around the block and gradually increase the time and speed. There are many books and audios around that can help you plan your walking for health.
Benefits of walking include:
– heart health – walking is good for your cardiovascular system
– wards off the lifestyle diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes
– helps keep your weight in check, important for lifestyle diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, stroke
– it can help prevent dementia by warding off brain shrinkage and memory loss
– because it’s a weight bearing activity, it can help ward off osteoporosis
– keeps you toned
– helps raise energy levels
– improves your mood just by being outside in the weather
– can help guard against depression. Even better, walk barefoot on grass, sand, anywhere organic. Known as ‘earthing’, it’s a valuable way to be grounded.
Swimming. It is a brilliant workout. There is no pressure on any of your joints as you are protected by the buoyancy of the water, and so is perfect for people suffering joint pain. Dr I-Min Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School says swimming is good for individuals with arthritis because it’s less weight bearing.And if you don’t fancy slogging it up and down the pool, do aquarobics, which will help you tone, use energy (burn calories) and give you social connections as well.If you don’t know how to swim, haven’t done it for years, or are unsure about whether you have the right stroke, you can attend an adult swim class. These have become more popular over the last few years as people understand more and more the benefits of swimming. You don’t have to be Susie Maroney (Australian marathon swimmer), swimming can be done at any age to any level.Benefits of swimming include:
– improved endurance
– breath/lung management
– improved oxygen levels in your system
– building heart strength – meaning the amount of blood pumped with each heart beat – and general cardiovascular fitness
– helping to build muscle mass (see strength building below for why this is important)
– is a social activity – you can swim with friends, or join a swimming group which helps with creating and maintaining social connections (very important, as we age, we lose friends and family. Maintaining social connections is vital to staying young at heart.)
– burning kilojoules (calories)
– can be continued for a lifetime – there is no age in which you need to stop swimming
– providing an all over body workout
– it is a relaxing form of exercise
– helping to alleviate stress
– helping to improve co-ordination and balance
– helping to improve flexibility – very important as we age because we tend to get stiffer
Strength building. As we age, our muscles lose their strength. In fact, it starts about age 30, by 70 years old you’ve lost about 25% of your muscle and by age 90, another 25%. Lack of use plays a huge role in muscle loss – it’s called sarcopenia. Look at any frail older person and you’ll see that they move awkwardly, sometimes relying on canes and walkers to stay mobile. Some need chairs and beds that lift them so they get a headstart on standing up.”The old adage if you don’t use it, you lose it is quite apt. If you don’t keep your muscle tone you won’t be able to walk and get about and enjoy life. In extreme circumstances, you could be stuck in a wheelchair. No-one wants that”, says Patrick Wilson, Managing Director of Active and Ageless PT (Brisbane, Australia. For more information about strength building from Patrick, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)You don’t need to be Mr or Ms Universe, just keep using all your muscle groups to maintain muscle and keep your strength.Strong muscle is also helpful for weight management, because the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.
It would be best to do two things before you start a strength building routine:
1. check with your doctor (particularly if you or your family has a history of heart disease or stroke),
2. engage a personal trainer or exercise physiologist to make sure you are doing the right exercises for your body. If you are attending a gym, they can help you understand how to use the equipment properly. If you don’t want to go to a gym, don’t worry, many personal trainers have a range of equipment that you can use outside the gym. Being a gym member isn’t essential. Maintaining muscle strength is.
Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that is based on both movement and relaxation, so it’s good for your mind, and your body. It’s often referred to as a moving meditation. But really, anything that focuses your mind in the moment can be called that, including swimming.
Tai chi is contains a series of movements, with one transitioning smoothly into the next. There are many different levels of Tai Chi, from beginners to advanced, which makes it accessible to everyone. Even if you are hampered by arthritis, are stuck in a wheelchair or recovering from surgery, you can do Tai Chi, so there’s no excuse not to give it a go. Dr Lee says Tai Chi is particularly good for older people because balance is an important component of fitness, and balance is something we lose as we get older. Tai Chi is often run at community centers, senior citizens centres, or community colleges.
Benefits of tai chi include:
– improves muscle strength
– improves flexibility
– improves balance. When we are young, we don’t think about our balance, but to avoid breaking hips, or worse, we need to keep working on our balance to make sure we don’t fall and injure ourselves.
– can assist with sleeping.
Yoga. You would have to have been living in a cave not to have heard about yoga. But did you know there are at least 14 types of yoga, so there is bound to be one that suits you. And there’s no need to worry about there being a spiritual element – yoga is really just stretching.
Why is yoga good for you? Frankly, there are so many reasons, so include the reasons listed above for all the other types of exercise and then add these for yoga to give you a idea of the breadth of the benefits:
– helps improve posture, important for skeletal strength, breathing and heart health
– help keep joint and cartilage strong
– promotes spine health by keeping vertebrae and disks flexible
– strengthens bones through weight bearing exercise
– increases circulation, particularly to extremities
– drains lymph glands which helps your immune system fight infection
– regulates adrenal glands which can help support your immune system
– lowers blood sugar – which helps, amongst other things, to keep type 2 diabetes away
– improves co-ordination, reaction time and memory through mindful practice and focus on postures
– helps fight against IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), constipation, ulcers etc.. through stress management
– can help ease pain
“The power of yoga is that it can create the flexibility, strength, balance and that mind/body connection that is so vital for health, longevity, glowing skin, healthy joints, a clear mind and lean body. It’s known also as ‘ mindful movement’ as opposed to ‘mindless movement’ because it makes it possible for our brain to make a deeper connection to what’s going on with the body. In my opinion, along with walking, yoga is an all round beneficial exercise for any age,” says Anne Noonan, Yoga, Food, Nutrition and Meditation Coach. For more information, or to contact Anne, www.annenoonan.com.au or www.thesisterhoodconnexion.ntpages.com.au.
Of course there are many other exercises you can incorporate into your life. Keeping moving is the important thing. You might like ballroom dancing, zumba, bike riding , gardening, kayaking, rock climbing, bushwalking or tennis. It doesn’t matter what it is that keeps you moving – just keep moving!
It doesn’t matter if you’re new to exercise, have done it in the past and have slowed down, are recovering from surgery, have weight management issues. Just Start! At least 30 minutes a day, five days a week minimum, and you can consider yourself an active person, know that you are warding off disease, keeping yourself young, and being your own best friend.