Movement is the key to a longer life

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Why keep active and fit?

The older you get, the more you need to keep active to counteract age-related loss of muscle mass, which happens more commonly in women than men. Did you know that strength exercises can increase muscle mass in later life and improve strength by 25 to 100%?

If you stay physically active in your later years, you also keep your independence longer because you won’t depend on others for help with daily tasks like shopping or walking up stairs. In the long term, this enables you to live at home longer, something most of us want.

Physically active people aged 65+ also gain, on average, three years of improved quality of life compared to those with an inactive lifestyle. But regardless of age, your body always benefits from the many therapeutic effects of exercise and physical activity. By increasing muscle strength, for example, exercise reduces the risk of falls and fractures.

Exercise also lifts mood, reduces the risk of lifestyle diseases and improves memory and other cognitive functions. Movement also helps us to experience more and stay socially active longer.

Being active outdoors, and spending time in nature or at the gym, allows us to meet new people. Social activities like bingo or bowling also stimulate the brain and are a great way to learn new skills. As all physical activities engage both the body and brain, exercise is a good way to keep the brain stimulated.

If you’ve been physically active all your life, it won’t be an issue for you to carry on being active into old age. However, if you haven’t done any exercise for a long time, or you haven’t exercised much in your life, it can be difficult to know where to start. You may also find it hard to get motivated if you are ill or have other limitations in everyday life. But the good news is it’s never too late to start.

Finding the type of exercise that suits you

Adults are advised to do muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week, as well as aerobic exercise, say top UK doctors. They recommend doing moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, at least 150 minutes a week or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise such as running.

If you have poor balance or find it difficult to walk, do balance exercises three or more days a week. This will improve body stability and reduce the risk of falls. If you are in poor health or have impaired function, stay as active as your health situation allows.

There are a myriad types of exercise you can do, the only limitation being your imagination. Why not start with something you enjoy and will maintain for the rest of your life? Excellent exercise includes walking, skiing, cycling, dancing or strength training. Gardening, chopping wood, and other outdoor and indoor daily activities are also suitable.

Important muscle groups that need strengthening include those of the legs, hips, abdomen, back, chest, shoulders, and arms. Most gyms provide personal assistance for training programs and show you how to perform various exercises. They also advise on how often you should exercise based on your bodily capabilities.

It’s particularly important to focus on strengthening the muscles in and around legs and hip joints. These are known as the muscles of independence since they allow you, among other things, to get in and out of a chair unaided. There are many ways to exercise these muscles, but one that stands out is strength training.

You don’t have to go to a gym to do strength training. Doing these exercises at home can be as effective, at least initially, when you start building up the muscles. Start with bodyweight training, i.e. exercises with which you use your own bodyweight, such as push-ups, squats and jumps. You can do these without extra equipment at first and then add weights, such as water bottles and bags with books, or rubber resistance bands.

If you want to start really easy, begin by carrying the shopping bags home, not using your arms when getting up from a chair, or improving your balance by standing on one leg for ten seconds while watching TV.

Whatever type of movement you choose, you’ll be adding years to your life, making it more enjoyable at the same time, and reversing the aging process.