Exercise for older people

Our attitudes and expectations of ageing have changed significantly over time – and now we know that exercise is beneficial to every area of health, along with providing amazing anti-ageing benefits! 

It would have been considered ludicrous for an 80, 70 or even 60 year old to run a marathon before. Now, it’s considered very achievable – and I am living testament to that fact. Last year, at the tender age of 61, I trained and ran my first half marathon.

When I was nursing back in the 70s, it was believed that the brain had very little capacity to change once we reached adulthood. We were told that as we age, our brains became less and less able to adapt to interactions with our environments.

We now know that the brain has an incredible capacity for change over a person’s lifetime, and this is called neuroplasticity.

The fact that the brain is able to grow and regenerate means our cognitive and physical capacities can expand and thrive, even in our later years. 

Several neurological health studies have also demonstrated dramatic physical and mental gains in older adults who commit to a progressive activity schedule.

With these exciting discoveries, you can challenge any restricting assumptions that might be keeping you from being physically and mentally active.

One really positive and motivating way to think about exercise is that it produces many physiological adaptations that are the opposite to the effects of ageing on our bodies. Even up to the 9th decade of life.

The Australian Health Department specifies that 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, is required each week for good health and well-being. The guidelines also recommend that adults aged 18-64+ years do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days per week.

Exercise has many benefits for your health and well-being – especially as you get older.

Australia’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines says:

“Move more, sit less everyday.” I even heard a doctor say recently: “Sitting is the new smoking.”

So, what are the health benefits of regular exercise?

Aerobic exercise (Cardio):

  • improves your aerobic fitness and endurance
  • reduces your risk of, and helps manage cardiovascular disease (CVD)
  • reduces your risk of, and helps manage type 2 diabetes
  • maintains &/or improves your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar -levels
  • reduces your risk of, and assists with rehabilitation from some cancers
  • helps prevent unhealthy weight gain and assists with weight loss
  • builds muscle strength and endurance, and bone mineral density
  • improves joint health
  • promotes psychological well-being (reduces anxiety and depression)
  • increases endorphins, which significantly lift mood
  • enhances connections between brain cells (neurons)
  • creates opportunities for socialising and meeting new people
  • helps you develop and maintain overall physical and mental well-being
  • experience more energy and less tiredness

Resistance training
(weight training with bodyweight, weights &/or machines):

  • builds muscle strength and endurance and bone mineral density
  • assists with unhealthy weight gain
  • improves white matter in the brain, which leads to better cognitive abilities, including attention
  • improves the health of arteries throughout the body
  • reduces levels of atherosclerosis, which can impede the flow of blood with its essential nutrients and oxygen
  • changes blood chemistry, so as to limit the inflammatory process (chronic inflammation can occur with high blood glucose, persistent stress, and other unhealthy lifestyle choices, resulting in tissue damage. The body actually attacks itself with chronic inflammation). 

Flexibility and Balance training:

  • improves posture, mobility and balance
  • reduces the risk of falls and injury
  • helps maintain your ability to perform everyday tasks.

The goal is to find activities that keep you moving, challenge your brain, and make you happier in the process.

However, with all these amazing benefits, there are still many people who don’t exercise.

A recent Australian Bureau of Statistics national health survey revealed that only 44.4% of 18-64 years olds exercised sufficiently, that is, 150 minutes or more in the last week. 36% were classed as insufficiently active, and 20% inactive.

In addition, only 15.0% of the sufficiently active 18-65 participants met both the physical activity, resistance training and muscle toning recommendations.

69.6% of 18-64 year olds did not conduct any muscle strength or toning activities.

For most of us, levels of physical activity decline as we get older. Adults aged 65 years and over are recommended to participate in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, preferably all days.

Whilst three quarters of adults aged 65 years and over engaged in some type of exercise in the last week, only 26% of older adults met the above recommendations for older adults. 

We all have our particular excuses why we don’t engage in healthy lifestyle choices. 

The most common excuses for not exercising are:

  • a lack of time
  • expense of gym memberships or dislike of gyms
  • lack of motivation to exercise
  • getting bored easily 
  • being unfit, too old, too fat, uncoordinated or embarrassed to exercise
  • not being able to stick to a program 
  • discomfort when sweating too much

A lot has changed in the exercise area over the last 15 years – and that is why the MaKE my health program delivers a premium exercise package that draws on current exercise research findings.

Traditionally, it was thought that we had to spend hours exercising in the gym or running for long distances. Advanced recent understanding has led to exercise programs that combine strength training and cardio in significantly less time. 

These range from programs involving short bursts of high intensity exercise with limited rests, called HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) to less intense ones. These last around 30-45 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise with longer rests, for instance, circuit training, Tabata (cycles of 20 seconds moderate exercise/10 seconds rest), and boot camp.

While HIIT has been shown to deliver impressive results in a reduction of body fat, aerobic fitness, strength, as well as significant improvements in brain and cardiovascular health, even with older individuals, it’s not for everyone. Physical injuries may preclude some people from this form of exercise. Also, some report that the intense bursts of effort feel uncomfortable and even unpleasant, thereby affecting ongoing motivation. 

This is where the less intense exercise programs like circuit training or Tabata are beneficial. They encompass the latest scientific findings that the best form of exercise, especially as we age, combines sets that challenge the body in different ways. Including- aerobically, strength, balance, agility, flexibility and range of motion, without the inherent demotivating experiences of pushing the body to its absolute limits.

One thing that strikes me as really important is that we now have many options for how we choose to exercise. I feel we need to find the one that we like and that works for us; whether it’s going for a jog, a brisk walk with the dog then resistance training at the gym, doing HIIT classes or circuit training, or maybe a Body Attack class. 

Because the only effective exercise program is the one we do consistently. 

Furthermore, the effects of exercise are cumulative, so every time you move in a ways that elevate your heart rate and works your muscles, you are working towards changing your overall health and well-being.

Whether you are 40 or 70+ the MaKE my health program is perfect if you:

  • struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • have an exercise routine of sorts but can’t seem to establish a mindfulness practice
  • feel your mind-heart connection is grounded, but exercising your body isn’t happening
  • have tried to meditate, but found it difficult
  • wish you were not so hard on yourself
  • think you are too unfit, too old, uncoordinated or lack the motivation to change your health

Access the amazing health benefits of exercise and fight the misconception that you have to slow down and accept limitations in your physical fitness and abilities. With a regular, scientifically-created exercise program, you can make the changes needed to live your life to the fullest now and every year for the rest of your life.

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