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Being physically active offers many health benefits throughout life. Even in older age, increasing activity levels can improve life expectancy and increase the number of years spent disease and disability free.
Being physically active can:
- Increase life expectancy
- help protect against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some cancers, depression and dementia
- help you to maintain a good appetite
- help you to keep mobile
- help with joint stiffness and pain associated with arthritis
- reduce bone loss and strengthen muscle – reducing your risk of falling and fracturing bones
- improve your mood and sense of well-being.
The recommendation for older people is the same as for younger adults – at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week in bouts of 10 minutes or more. One way to achieve this is to do 30 minutes of activity 5 days a week.
For those already doing physical activity, similar benefits can be gained from doing 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity.
People have different capabilities when it comes to being physically active, so it is important to consider what is right for you. Many older adults are already quite active, whereas others may have mobility issues or health conditions that limit the types of activities they can do.
Physical activity doesn't need to be strenuous to bring health benefits - what's important is to include it as part of your regular routine. Even small changes each day will help – for example you could take the stairs instead of the lift, walk to the shops instead of driving, or go for short walks. In general, the more physically active you are, the greater the benefits. However, if you have not been particularly active in the past you should start gradually and build up the amount you do to minimise the risk of injury.
You might feel like it is a challenge, but we can all benefit from some regular physical activity, however small.
The benefits of different types of activity
Cardiovascular activities (i.e. those that get you at least slightly out of breath) will help to keep your heart, lungs and blood vessels healthy. These include:
- Brisk walking (e.g. walking the dog)
- Golf (no cart!)
- Aerobics, including water aerobics
- Washing the car
Muscle-strengthening exercises help to limit the losses in muscle and bone mass that happen as we age, reducing the risk of falling and improve ability to perform daily tasks. Try to do these types of activity twice a week. Incorporating all these types of activity into your routine can help you keep your independence as you get older.
- Climbing stairs
- Walking uphill
- Digging the garden
- Resistance exercises or using weights
- Carrying, for example shopping, gardening tools or even grandchildren!
Older adults at risk of falls should incorporate physical activity to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week.
Balancing activities include:
- Tai Chi
- Bowls (indoor and outdoor)
- Stretching exercises.
All adults could benefit from spending less time in sedentary activity, so it is a good idea to reduce the amount of time spent watching the TV, take regular short walks around the garden or street and break up long bus or car journeys by walking part of the way.
Here are some examples of how some people got started.
It’s all about confidence….
John suffered a mild heart attack at the age of 71 and was told by his doctor he needed to be more physically active. At first he was worried that doing anything strenuous might bring on another heart attack but his GP reassured him that if he started slowly and built up gradually he’d feel better. John was referred to the local community sports centre where he met an instructor who developed a programme specially for him. He started attending twice a week and his programme included walking and stationary cycling on an exercise bike, as well as some exercises to build his strength and flexibility. He was shown how to monitor his heart rate to make sure he was doing the right level of activity and was reassured, by meeting other people with similar heart problems, that his health would benefit from the effort he put in.
After a couple of months, John was enjoying being more active and felt fitter and less out of breath when he was doing simple tasks around the house or walking. He’d developed confidence in his programme and started to swim and walk regularly as well. He was delighted to find that he had lost a bit of weight and he made some great new friends who he looked forward to seeing at the community centre.
You are never too old….
Margaret used to love swimming but thought she’d grown too old for it. She had stopped visiting her local pool over 10 years ago as she had become increasingly self-conscious about her age and her body shape. At the age of 68 she was diagnosed with mild arthritis and her GP suggested that swimming would be beneficial. She contacted her local pool and discovered that it offered special free sessions for the over 60’s, as well as women only sessions. She now attends regularly (at least twice a week) and really enjoys it. It’s helped ease the symptoms of her arthritis, she’s lost some weight and made new friends.