Staying active as you get older is vital to good health and it also helps you feel better. Finding an exercise regime which works well for you and doing it regularly can help reduce the risk of or delay the onset of diabetes and heart trouble. Exercise also helps to reduce arthritis pain but it’s also good for your psychological wellness and can help with anxiety and depression.

When you age your muscles tend to get weaker, you develop more aches and pains and can become more susceptible to falls and injuries. This can often make you feel less motivated to exercise but it’s important to stay active and keep healthy.

Why should I exercise?

Many studies have shown that staying physically active can slow down some aspects of the ageing process, such as finding it more difficult to get around. Starting an exercise regime is a great way to make new friends and improve the overall quality of life. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and back pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Some cancers, such as bowel cancer

Exercise can also improve your overall balance, muscle strength and tone meaning that you’re less likely to lose your balance and fall or have an accident. It can also improve:

  • Flexibility
  • Mobility, speed and stamina
  • Cognitive abilities, such as memory and reasoning skills
  • Sense of wellbeing
  • Quality of life

Making a start

Fitness levels can vary from person to person - some people take part in regular exercise whereas some may find it difficult to get out of a chair without assistance. If you haven’t exercised in a while then the thought of it can be a bit daunting. Make a start with something you enjoy, you can include everyday activities or structured exercise and sport. You can also adapt your routine to suit your personal circumstances; some ways of doing this are outlined below:

  • Walk or cycle to work/social activities etc.
  • Take all small opportunities to be active – use the stairs, do manual tasks
  • Play a sport, go to the gym or go swimming two to three times a week
  • Walk instead of driving short distances, or get off the bus one or two stops earlier than usual
  • Organise an exercise or walking group with your friends or family
  • At the weekend go for a bike ride or do some DIY or gardening
  • Join a cycling or exercise club

If you haven’t exercised for a long time take it easy by exercising for a short period of time and gradually increase this by five minutes until you achieve your target. Don’t try to do too much too quickly because you may lose motivation and stop. Once you’re into a routine you will need to slowly increase the amount of activity to build up you fitness levels and strength. Some key exercises to complete on a regular basis are:

  • Stretching - consists of stretching and holding different joint and muscle groups for 10 to 30 seconds each to keep your body limber and improve flexibility. Daily stretching is the basis for any exercise programme. 
  • Strengthening - involves working the muscle against resistance. They can be done with or without weights. Resistance training strengthens the muscle and helps to build muscle tissue and reduce age-related muscle loss.
  • Balance – performing balance exercises can help you maintain your stability and reduce the chances of a fall. Key exercises include: standing on one foot, heel raises and weight shifts. Tai Chi has also been linked to preventing falls. Download balance exercises from Livestrong
  • Conditioning (aerobic exercise)- improves cardiovascular fitness. It makes your heart and blood vessels healthier, prevents disability, and improves your mood and well-being. Low impact conditioning exercises include walking,swimming, cycling or using an elliptical machine. You should aim to do 20-30 minutes at least 3 times per week

If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or achy joints then doing regular exercise can reduce pain and keep your bones strong (thinning of the bones can be a problem with rheumatoid arthritis). There are 3 types of exercise which are best for people with rheumatoid arthritis – stretching, strengthening and conditioning. You should avoid doing any jogging and heavy weight-lifting because they can put a lot of stress on joints.

Sources:

BUPA (http://www.bupa.co.uk)

NHS Choices (http://www.nhs.uk)

© CABA 2011

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