There’s no question that exercise – at any age – is the backbone to good health. Past the age of 50, our bodies go through biological changes – from hormonal fluctuations and a reduced metabolic rate to an increased risk of high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes – that can affect wellbeing and physical ability.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are countless ways you can safeguard your health and fitness with a nutritious diet and active lifestyle. So, whether you want to embrace your fitness for the first time in years, or you’re already a health-conscious hero, here’s how to maintain your health and fitness as you get older.
1. Exercises is the best medicine
There are loads of reasons – almost too many to mention – why you should be cranking up the workout hours and getting that heart rate up. Here are just a select few…
It prevents risk of mortality: A recent study from the Queensland University of Technology even found that women, over the age of 50, would benefit beingprescribed moderate to intense exercise for both their physical and mental health, and to reduce risk of death.
It cuts stroke risk: Warding off the risk of a stroke might be as easy as taking part in moderate to intense exercise – think brisk walking or a game of tennis! The findings, from the American Heart Association, also suggest that exercise helps to offset some of the increased stroke risk in women taking post-menopausal hormone therapy.
It keeps you young: Put down those lotions and potions. Scientists at King’s College London, recently recruited 120 men and women who regularly cycle, to do a number of physical and cognitive tests. The researchers pitted these results against each other and ‘normal’ benchmarks of ageing. Unsurprisingly, on almost ALL measures, the cyclists scored younger than their actual age on balance, reflexes, metabolic health and memory.
It keeps you balanced: Purposeful and repetitive physical activity as you get older reduces your fear of falling, by improving your strength, gait, balance and mood says a study in the US National Library of Medicine.
It makes you happy: Although this applies to pretty much all ages, specific studies highlight the importance of working out for emotionalwellbeing as you get older. Research from the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity suggests it’s a significant mood booster!
2. How To Start Working Out
It’s never too late to start reaping the benefits of regular exercise.
‘Age should not be a limiting factor,’ says personal trainer and fitness expert Ed Lane. ‘Regular physical exercise has many beneficial health benefits. It will help protect muscle mass, prevent potential muscle loss and will defend the mind against depression and even dementia.’
Think aerobics: ‘Aerobic activity such as walking, jogging, swimming and cycling are perfect. The given activity should last for 10 minutes up to three times a week to achieve the greatest benefits,’ says Lane. ‘Include resistance-based training into your training week. For at least two days a week, incorporate multi-joint exercises – think push-ups, squats and lunges – these exercises should consist of three sets of ten repetitions. Resistance-based training will help improve overall balance and co-ordination and help prevent loss of bone and muscle tissue.’
Stretch it out: While aerobic and resistance training should make up the majority of the your exercise week, stretching is a great way to help prolong the gains made from exercise, help prevent soreness and aid recovery, adds Lane. ‘Focus areas should be ankles, hips and thoracic mobility,’ he says. ‘Spend up to five minutes on each area.’
Stay safe: ‘Taking precaution is essential,’ says Lane. ‘Don’t push beyond your limits and capabilities, as you put yourself at risk of injury. Doing high-intensity aerobic and resistance-based training when you’ve taken time out from exercise is a poor decision. Your activity plan should be suitable for you, so consult a practitioner if you are suffering from any chronic conditions. Your overall activity level and intensity should progress slowly over time but stay patient with slower progress because safety is the most important aspect! Take extra care with – or maybe avoid – exercises such as explosive jumping, skipping, heavy weight lifting and sprinting,’ he says.
Keep swimming: We know that a loss of balance often comes with old age but anything you can do to keep falls bay is surely a good thing. Research from Australia discovered that regular swimming means you’re 33 per cent less likely to fall. Just maybe keep those dive bombs to a minimum…
Step it up: One in eight women die of heart disease every year in the UK, according to the Heart Research Institute UK. But don’t fret, brisk walking has recently been found to be key for a healthier heart. You can lower your risk of heart disease by eight per cent by taking just an extra 2000 steps each day, reports the Lancet journal.
Active benefits: As well as swimming and walking, many other activities have benefits for an older body.
3. Diet Dos and Don’ts
Avoid deficiencies: Older women can have lower levels of vitamin D, calcium, B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and zinc. So upping your intake of foods containing these nutrients, or taking supplements, is a good idea. ‘As you get older, you need to up your intake of calcium to support bones, eat more oily fish for vitamin D and joints, and possibly consider soy products to help over come menopausal problems,’ explains nutritionist Mike Donelly. ‘Up your fruit and vegetable intake to maintain high intakes of B vitamins, which will help provide energy and, remember, as we get older the amount of food we eat calorie-wise tends to decrease, but we still need to maintain the same level of important nutrients as ever. It’s important to eat meat as well, as most meats are rich in vitamin B12 which we tend to become deficient in as we age.’
Your daily diet: Stick to wholesome balanced meals using fresh, unprocessed ingredients. ‘For breakfast try a low GI start to the day with porridge; have a light lunch of salad greens with Mediterranean vegetables dressed with olive oil, smoked mackerel and couscous, and a dinner of a healthy serving of green vegetables, with carrots, steamed potatoes and chicken,’ suggests Donelly. ‘Although you might not feel like drinking fluids as you get older, it’s very important to stay hydrated,’ he adds. Also consider vegetable smoothies with superfood ingredients, for an easy way to get added nutrients.
Avoid: Processed foods and foods containing high-GI carbs and sugar, such as cakes, biscuits and sugary drinks.