Why 60 is the PERFECT age to get fit
NOW you are in your 60s you can set fitness free. You don’t need money, Lycra or fancy trainers, you just need to know you can do it, whoever you are and whatever has happened in your life to date and here’s why.
By Dr Claire Parker and Sir Muir Gray
Last year the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges was so bowled over by the weight of evidence for the benefit of just 30 minutes of sweaty, puffy exercise five times a week, it published a report about it.
Called “Exercise, the Miracle Cure”, it found regular exercise at the recommended level reduces the risk of breast cancer by as much as 25 per cent, bowel cancer by as much as 45 per cent and the risk of developing dementia by as much as 30 per cent.
It also reduces the risk of ever having a stroke by 30 per cent and the risk of developing heart disease by more than 40 per cent. Given how common these conditions are in people aged 65 and over, the benefits of exercise are staggeringly clear.
Getting fitter is about getting back in control of your health. We know that improving our physical well-being helps our mental resilience, too, so we are in a better position to manage illnesses or accidents if and when they happen.
What kind of activities will help?
The short answer is almost everything you can think of. Every little bit of activity counts. What works best is something you enjoy doing so that you keep on doing it. Something that stretches you a bit further than your comfort zone will maximise the energy you use and the resilience you build.
Try yoga, running around the block, walking briskly, Zumba, a stretch and fitness class or swimming.
What happens when you start being more active?
As you get fitter your pulse rate is likely to become a bit slower and you will be able to do more intense activity before you become breathless or tired.
Swimming will help maximise your energy and builds resilience
Eventually, your resting blood pressure will become lower too but during exercise your pulse, breathing rate and blood pressure will increase temporarily. By working your heart harder, to stretch its capacity, pumping power and efficiency, your cardiovascular fitness will increase.
Here are some of the benefits you should start seeing when you become more active:
This refers to your ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort. The more we discover how activity improves our physical stamina, the more we find that it helps both our mind and mood. The recommendation is for adults to do a minimum of 30 minutes of moderately intensive activity, where you are breathless but still able to talk, five times a week. However even a few minutes each week can help build stamina.
Walking at a leisurely pace is a great way to start exercising as it will stretch and activate your muscles, particularly in your trunk, hips, thighs and calves. However if you continue to walk at a leisurely pace you probably won’t build stamina or increase fitness much.
You can build it simply by increasing speed. You get more breathless the more you start to push your heart, circulation and leg muscles because you need lots more oxygen to do this.
Muscle strength is critical for preventing falls
One of the long-term benefits of increasing your stamina is that you will be able to do more demanding exercise for longer before you start to get uncomfortably breathless, rather than panting at the slightest exertion.
Strength is the force generated by your muscles working to overcome a resistance. It could be the weight of something you lift or the resistance of an elastic band that you stretch. You want to maintain strength so you can look after yourself as you get older and be able to get out of a chair unassisted.
If you lay the groundwork in your 60s, then you will be stronger in your 70s and beyond. Over time, exercising against resistance makes you stronger and improves your energy, metabolism, well-being, resilience and joie de vivre.
Muscle strength is critical for preventing falls (reducing the risk of fractures, which is particularly important for women after the menopause) as powerful muscles can more rapidly correct a wobble before you hit the floor. Stronger muscles stabilise joints, making them more efficient, and can help you sustain cardiovascular exercise for longer.
Suppleness is the ease with which a joint moves through its full range of motion. Stiffness is the opposite of suppleness and is one of the most common complaints of ageing.
As we get older we get stiffer more quickly with inactivity but this can affect us well before our 60s if we are used to sitting still for a long time. It is particularly troublesome for women as the structure of connective tissue changes after the menopause, making it less elastic. If you are sitting at work or reading, set an alarm to remind yourself to get up and stretch for a few minutes. It will help.
The whole point of balance and coordination is to keep you upright, mobile and safe from falling. So the first thing you need is to be awake and alert. Your brain uses all the information it can get to keep you in the upright position.
Vision, hearing, personal gyroscopes (the balance organs deep in your ears), sensations from our muscles and joints and even the skin of our feet all help to keep you upright and in control of your position in space.
When any of these sources of information is unavailable or impaired, the brain will be at a disadvantage and you will need to compensate for the loss, if you can. We often forget that a long time ago we had to learn to pull ourselves upright and walk.
Most of the time your brain controls learned movements without you realising what is happening. However if you don’t keep yourself active you start to lose the connections between the nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord – it really is a case of use it or lose it.
Do nothing and the special nerve networks controlling fine adjustments to your movement do not work as efficiently so you become less able to regain your balance if you move quickly, turn or stumble.