Here’s a pretty bold statement: exercise is medicine for the over 50s.
As doctors we feel confident in saying this, not just because we’ve seen the beneficial effects of exercise on people time and time again, but we’ve now got the evidence to back it up too.
From brain health to bone, muscle and heart strength – regular physical exercise has been proven to keep us healthy, fit and independent for longer.
If the word exercise makes you think of neon Lycra clad individuals that take themselves too seriously (nothing wrong with that by the way!), this article will hopefully demystify what counts as regular exercise.
The goal is to find something you love, feel comfortable doing and that doesn’t feel like a chore. Because once you’ve done it for a couple of weeks, you will see the benefits and then never look back.
Evidence around the benefits of exercise
Regular physical activity has been proven time and again to improve risk factors that frequently lead to poor health, such as:
• High blood pressure
• High blood glucose (sugar)
• Low muscle mass
• Psychological and mental health problems (I.e. mood, cognitive ability)
Recommended levels of activity
Exercise doesn’t have to be structured, like cycling or swimming. In fact, any form of physical activity that gets your heart pumping and arms and legs moving can be beneficial.
The World Health Organisation have realised how crucial physical activity is to promoting good health and they’ve put together some rather descriptive guidelines on how many minutes per week we should aim to be physically active.
If you would like to see these in their entirety, have a look at the Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults page for more information.
But, in brief, their recommendations include doing both aerobic activity throughout the week AND strength building exercises on at least 2 days a week.
Aerobic activity refers to exercise that gets your heart pumping (i.e. cycling, brisk walk, tennis). Strength exercises include activities that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, chest, shoulders, arms and abdomen).
Is it safe to exercise?
When it comes to aerobic activity, it is of course important to consider any current health conditions that might impact on this type of activity.
If you have heart disease or breathing difficulties, it is a good idea to run any changes to your levels of exercise past a healthcare professional.
Having a diagnosis of heart or lung disease is not a contraindication to all forms of physical activity. There are still options out there to keep you from being inactive.
Likewise, some joint or muscle problems can make it difficult or painful to do certain exercises, but there are ways around this, and we know for sure that keeping moving is immensely beneficial for bone, joint and muscle health.
Aerobic exercise options include:
- Riding a bike
- Pushing a lawn mower
- Ballroom dancing
- Water aerobics
- Home exercise videos
Muscle strengthening exercise includes things such as:
- Carrying shopping
- Heavy gardening
- Lifting weights
- The NHS strength and flex exercise plan
- Sitting exercises
Beneficial physical activities can vary from day to day errands, individual or team sports, home workouts and even exercises that can be done sitting on a chair. The main goal is to keep moving, stay strong and enjoy life!
1) Taylor D Physical activity is medicine for older adults Postgraduate Medical Journal 2014;90:26-32.
Please note: The materials in this post are in no way intended to replace the professional medical care, advice, diagnosis or treatment of a doctor. The article does not have answers to all problems. Answers to specific problems may not apply to everyone. If you notice medical symptoms or have questions on the topics raised in this article, please consult your doctor.