Active ageing is not only about keeping mentally alert, engaged in the community and taking time to enjoy life, see the world and mentor others. There's also a physical component to it - fitness.
Being older may mean your joints creak a little and it's a lot harder to tie those shoelaces or lift heavy objects as you once did. But you don't need to give up exercise.
In fact, exercise becomes even more important as you age. It helps keep you limber, flexible and strong. Many of the problems associated with getting older - such as aches, pains and stiffness - may not be due to ageing at all but to inactivity. In some cases a sedentary lifestyle leads to lifestyle-related diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Certainly, you should speak to your doctor if you're only just starting out on a new fitness programme, or have an existing chronic illness. But there's no reason to remain sedentary.
All round fitness
One of the most important aspects of fitness in your senior years is to pace yourself. When choosing an exercise regime, think about something you enjoy, can do in the company of friends, does not incur too much added expense and can be taken at your own level of fitness.
You should opt for a variety of exercises and activities as this not only adds interest, but can give you all-round benefits.
- Heart-healthy exercise
A good cardiovascular workout is one that works out your heart and gets it pumping. This not only raises the oxygen levels in the blood but also builds stamina and releases stress-relieving hormones.
Aerobic activity reduces the risk of conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol problems.
Examples of aerobic activity: Brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling and dancing or racquet sport.
- Weight and resistance
Build strong bones and muscles with weight-bearing activity. Older women in particular can benefit from this type of exercise. During menopause, women tend to lose bone mass and the need to prevent bone loss becomes even more important. Age also has an effect on muscles as they lose their strength and elasticity. Incorporating resistance and strength building exercises can prevent bone and muscle loss and age-related weakness.
Examples of weight-bearing activity: walking, running, jogging
Examples of resistance activity: Using resistance bands, lifting small weights, yoga
- Stretch for strength
Even though muscles tend to lose their elasticity with age, they can be 'trained' to regain flexibility again. Slow, consistent stretches can keep you limber and help you in moving about.
Examples of stretching activity: simple stretches, yoga
- Find your balance
Because of the risk of falls and the severe consequences of hip and other fractures, exercises to develop balance are very important for seniors. Taichi in particular has been shown to be helpful in decreasing the risk of falls. In one study it was found that six months of tai chi three times a week improved postural stability and reduced the risk of falling.
Examples of balance-building activity: Yoga, pilates and tai chi
Benefits of senior fitness
Apart from linking you up with new social circles and adding to the variety in your life, exercise has been shown to:
- Improve physical appearance due to weight loss
- Extend the life of cells in the body
- Reduce the severity of chronic illness or prevent them from occurring
- Stave off Alzheimer's disease and dementia
- Reduce the rate of hip fractures due to falling
The following are some things you can do to make sure you are exercising safely:
- Always warm up and cool down
- Start slowly and increase the intensity as you get stronger and fitter
- Always breathe naturally and don't hold your breath. Ideally, exhale during muscle exertion; inhale during relaxation
- Use safety equipment, such as helmets, knee and elbow pads if you are doing an activity such as cycling or rollerblading
- Unless you have an existing medical condition that demands otherwise, drink plenty of plain water before, during and after exercise
- When bending forward, do so from the hips, not the waist. Keep your back straight and don't let your back arch. If squatting or lunging ensure you do not propel your knees forward part your toes.