Making exercise a part of your day: why and how
Exercise is great for your body and mind at any age and just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy regular exercise that works for your lifestyle and ability. Unfortunately, many individuals aged 65 and over lead increasingly sedentary lifestyles, spending over 10 hours a day sitting or lying down.
When exercise becomes a part of your routine, you can look forward to physical health benefits, as well as improved mental health and cognition. And let’s not forget the social aspect of some types of exercise that help you feel more connected to society.
What are the physical health benefits of exercise?
Regular exercise can improve your muscle and bone strength, which in turn, improves your balance and decreases your risk of trips and falls. It also reduces your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, and improves joint swelling that occurs with arthritis.
What are the mental health benefits of exercise?
Exercise releases endorphins, colloquially known as happy hormones, which help boost your mood. This reduces the risk of depression and anxiety. Regular exercise can also improve your cognitive function and therefore protect against or slow down the onset of dementia.
What happens if you don’t exercise regularly?
Leading a sedentary lifestyle brings a host of risk factors at any age, including an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and early death.
As you get older, a sedentary lifestyle can also affect your confidence and subsequently your self-esteem, leaving you less able to take care of yourself, do the things you love, and maintain your independence.
After prolonged stretches of time without exercise, you will start to notice new-found aches, and worsening joint pain as your joints become stiffer, and your muscles become weaker. This makes falls and fractures more likely.
How to exercise the easy way
Exercise is not a one-size-fits-all situation. You don’t need to suddenly start exercising intensively. In fact, that is actually a bad idea. If you haven’t exercised in a while, it is important to ease your body back into it by gradually increasing the duration and frequency of your exercise.
UK Government guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, but you don’t need to achieve this next week. Start with 5 or 10 minutes every day, perhaps doing something as simple as going for a walk, and gradually work your way up. And remember to always listen to your body — take a break when you need to.
Simple exercises you can start with include sitting exercises, such as the upper-body twist to improve your posture and develop flexibility in your back, ankle stretches to reduce your risk of harmful blood clots, and arm raises to build your shoulder strength.
Helpful balance exercises include walking sideways, heel-to-toe walking and one-leg stands (make sure you are near a chair or wall in case you feel unsteady).
Exercise and socialising
If you like the idea of exercise but don’t like the idea of going it alone, try joining a walking club. Walking is an easy way to build muscle strength and stamina. But make sure you wear a supportive pair of walking shoes or trainers, bring along a bottle of water and a snack, and a waterproof jacket (British weather can easily catch you out).
If you’re feeling more adventurous with your exercise, there are lots of different fitness classes you can join, from Zumba and ballroom dancing to pilates, yoga and tai chi.
Be kind to yourself
Getting back into exercise can feel daunting. So take it in small steps and if you are taken ill and find your fitness level drops (as it does for everyone at any age), don’t be hard on yourself and don’t give up. Simply, start again, and your body will adapt and improve.