As we age, it’s only natural to experience a certain amount of slowing down. There are various reasons for this, from health-related factors like chronic illness to lifestyle issues, like years spent in a sedentary job.
However, this doesn’t need to keep you from being active. Massive rewards can be gained from even a small amount of fitness and exercise.
Obviously, there are the benefits to your physical health, but keeping active can also be massively beneficial to mental health, as well as being a great way to maintain an active social life.
As with many things though, getting started can be the most daunting part of getting fitter. Often in older people, this can be a source of anxiety and trepidation. Not least of all, many older people are afraid of falls or injuries. As such, safety must always be a top priority.
Additionally, there may be mental barriers to increasing your activity levels. It’s not uncommon to think ‘I’m too old for this’ or ‘I’ll look silly’. These can quickly be dispensed with. Everyone feels self-conscious sometimes, no matter their age.
So, let’s take a look at our 5 top tips for keeping fit as an older person.
1. Start Slow
One of the most common reasons people give up a new fitness regimen is because of taking on too much too fast. Unfortunately, this is a particularly big problem for older people. Maybe in your past, you exercised regularly and you still hold yourself to the ability to maintain those same standards, but it’s important to recognise that your body might not be able to do those things any more.
You’re unlikely to expect to roll out of bed and run a marathon, but it’s easy to overstretch yourself. It’s best to take things as slowly as possible to begin with, so don’t push yourself when you are exercising. Similarly, stopping before you’re worn out, to begin with, will make it easier to safely figure out what your limits are. It is also always best to check with your GP before embarking on a new exercise routine.
2. Find your Rhythm
It is a good idea to set time aside at a specific time every day to ensure that you create a routine. While the exact nature of your routine depends on personal factors, there are a couple of rules you should follow. For example, many people find that exercising too late in the evening makes it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
Of course, certain times of day aren’t always free. Especially when you take into account things like family commitments. The key is to think about when you have time in your schedule to get moving, and then make the best use of this time. Doing a little bit of exercise every day is a good option. It’s certainly preferable to large efforts a couple of times per week. Try doing about 30 minutes of gentle exercise a day, five times a week.
You should also keep in mind that some days you just won’t be up to getting up and moving. When your body tells you to rest, you have to listen.
3. Best Exercises for Older People
As you design your exercise routine, you should consider which types of exercise are best for older people.
You might have seen videos of people in their 90s bench-pressing massive weights or running ultramarathons. Commendable as this is, it’s not exactly representative.
Most older people prefer low-intensity exercises like walking or swimming for their cardiovascular health. Remember, the goal is to keep moving for your health, not to create new personal bests. You should also look for exercises that improve your flexibility and maintain muscle strength. This might include using small weights. Regularly doing a high number of repetitions with weights, as light as one or two pounds, on each of your key muscle groups is a good start, but check with a doctor or occupational therapist first and be very careful if you are using weights.
For flexibility, one of the most popular forms of exercise for older people is water aerobics. This allows you to stretch out your muscles, without putting too much strain on your body. Other good examples of this are yoga and Tai Chi.
Whatever exercise you decide to undertake, be sure to stretch thoroughly before and after to minimise the risk of injury.
In addition to exercising your body, it’s important to keep your mind active. Conditions like dementia are an all too common issue for older people. Memory exercises, sudoku and crosswords are a good way to keep your brain active.
4. Find a Group
Many find they get a lot more enjoyment out of exercising if they do it with other people. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, it’s just more fun if you can talk to other people while you work on your fitness. In turn, this often helps with motivation.
Then there is the accountability factor. When you have a group to exercise with, there’s a sense that you’re all in it together. This can make it a little bit easier to stick to your exercise plan. If you ever feel discouraged, you’ll have friends to keep you going too.
Most leisure centers have a variety of groups aimed specifically at older people. These have the extra benefit of being led by professional instructors, who can help you to learn new exercises so you don’t get stuck in a rut or injure yourself.
5. Keep a Log
When exercising, many people find it helpful to keep a clear record of what they’ve done that day. This is particularly helpful for people who aren’t used to exercising, as it will allow you to see your progress. Seeing that you can walk a little bit further as time goes on is a great boost.
This can also help you look for patterns if you ever find yourself having problems. Maybe you’ll find that you feel a bit more sluggish the day after doing certain exercises. Spotting these types of effects will help you know when you need to rest a little bit more or take it back a notch.
If you like, you can also include what you eat and drink throughout the day in your fitness log. This will give you the added benefit of seeing which foods have the best effect on your energy levels. Being conscious of your diet is particularly important for older people, as from the likelihood of lifestyle-related conditions such as heart disease or diabetes could be higher.
6. Wrapping Up
Even a small amount of exercise can be life-changing for older people. We all know by now that staying active can help ward off countless diseases and health conditions. Even day to day, it has huge benefits on your quality of life.
A more active lifestyle can also improve your quality time with your loved ones, especially grandchildren and younger relatives. As your energy levels increase, you might find yourself able to enjoy this time even more, enabling you to maintain an active lifestyle for longer, for more information on staying active and independent at home, see our page on Staying independent at home.
As well as health benefits, doing more exercise in later life can prevent one of the biggest challenges facing older people today: loneliness. Joining a class or fitness group can be an excellent way to make new friends and meet new people in similar circumstances to yourself.