As we get older, we understandably become more mindful of our health and mobility. But unless you’re already fit and active, or a regular gym bunny, it can be hard to know where to start.
According to the NHS website, adults aged 65 and over should do two types of physical activity each week to stay healthy or improve their health. The two types are aerobic exercise – which improves your breathing and cardiovascular fitness – and strength exercises, to build muscle and tone.
How does your body change after 65?
65 is a very general age, but a good rule of thumb for everyone, although some people’s bodies will age faster than others. The most common issue in ageing bodies is around the cardiovascular system.
Hardening arteries mean that the heart has to work harder to pump blood around the system, leading to an increased risk of higher blood pressure, and related heart and health issues. Maintaining some regular exercise along with a healthy diet, quitting smoking and reducing stress can help to combat this.
Bones, joints and muscles will also be affected, as bones shrink and become more brittle. Without strength exercises, muscles weaken, leaving your body vulnerable to breaks.
If we say digestion, bladder, memory, hearing, pelvic floor, teeth, and sex – you can fill in the blanks
There’s a whole other list of things that happen to you, but we figure you know most of these anyway. If we say digestion, bladder, memory, hearing, pelvic floor, teeth, and sex – you can fill in the blanks! It’s true to say though, that daily physical activity will help a few of these too. Pelvic floor is a whole article in itself.
So what kind of exercise should you be doing? You don’t want to break anything
For adults aged 65 and above who are generally fit and without health conditions that limit their mobility, the aim really is to be moderately active daily. Recommended guidelines outline that you should be aiming to do around 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling, walking or jogging each week. And this is paired with strength exercises twice a week or more, that will work all of the major muscle groups; legs, hips, back, chest and upper body.
And yes, whilst strength exercises in the gym tend to be weights, lifts and curls, it’s completely possible to build some of this into your home life too. Lifting things, gardening (particularly digging!), carrying shopping, push-ups and sit-ups are all good. And if you don’t have weights, you can raid the cupboard for cans of beans! Each can is around half a kilo.
But for adults who are not as mobile as they’d like to be, you’re safer kicking off with some exercises that can help to improve balance and co-ordination such as yoga or dancing – and aim to try and do them a couple of times a week. These types of exercises are also great for socialising which can significantly improve your mental health.
As a general rule of thumb, experts say that one minute of vigorous activity can provide the same benefits to your overall health benefits as two minutes of moderate activity, so dependent on your ability, you might find that you can spend less time exercising if you choose to opt for vigorous exercises opposed to moderate.
Sedentary behaviour is now considered an independent risk factor itself
Although it’s hard, if your mobility is restricted, keeping moving with some light activity, even if this is a leisurely stroll or some simple stretches whilst sitting, will make a difference to your heart rate and your metabolism. Sedentary behaviour is now considered an independent risk factor itself, when it comes to ill health, so it’s always good to try and do some form of exercise as long as you are able to.
As with all exercises at any age, you know your body best. It’s important that you listen to it and avoid pushing yourself too far to avoid injury and health complications. It is imperative to find a type of exercise or exercises that suit you and your abilities.
Maybe you’ve never considered traditional exercise before
The first step is to have an understanding of the different types of activities so you can set goals around how often you should be exercising to benefit your health. Let’s start with aerobic…
Exercises that are categorised as ‘moderate aerobic activity’ include:
- Water aerobics
- Slow paced dancing such as ballroom and line dancing
- Riding a bike on level ground
- Doubles tennis
- Gardening activities
If you are doing these types of aerobic activities, you should aim for 150 mins of this kind of exercise weekly. Ideally, splitting sessions to avoid overexerting yourself.
Exercises that are categorised as ‘vigorous aerobic activity’ include:
- Jogging or running
- Swimming – front crawl and backstroke
- Riding a bike at a significant speed or up hills
- Singles tennis
- Energetic dancing such as Latin or samba
- Hiking or brisk walking uphill
These types of exercises get your blood pumping and can provide the same amount of health benefits of moderate aerobic activities, but in half the time. So if you are planning on these types of exercises, you should aim for around 75 minutes each week, split into manageable sessions.
As well as aerobic activities, it is important to work on strengthening your muscles. This is necessary to improve daily movement, maintain strong bones, watch that waistline, and regulate your blood sugar and blood pressure, all of which become more important as you get older.
Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:
- Carrying or moving heavy loads such as groceries
- Activities that involved stepping and jumping such as light aerobic classes or dancing
- Heavy gardening that requires you to dig or shovel
- Exercises that use your body weight, resistance bands or small weights
To experience the health benefits from strength exercise, the advice is to repeat the sets to a point where you find it hard to finish! But don’t go crazy! It’s important to listen to your body, as with all exercise.
Visit the NHS website to see strength workout videos that you can try in the comfort of your own home.