Why is prevention better than cure?
When it comes to our health, prevention is better than cure
Staying in shape and losing weight at 50, 60, 70 and beyond isn’t something we do just to feel great – exercising as we get older plays a huge role in our health, too.
Regular activity can help reduce the risk of health issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, heart disease and some cancers as we age. It can also help with weight management, boost concentration and reduce stress and anxiety. That’s a lot of return for a relatively little investment of 30 minutes a day!
“Staying active provides older adults with myriad health benefits,” shares Heath Jones, over-50s fitness expert and director at Active & Ageless.
“The importance of staying active for the purpose of maintaining and even improving strength and mobility can mean the difference between remaining independent and living in your own home, really enjoying the fruits of life, or completely losing your independence and being reliant on other people for all your daily activities – things like lifting heavy bags of shopping, tying your shoelaces, doing the gardening or picking up a small child.”
Staying physically active can have a range of other lifestyle benefits, too, Heath adds, such as lower rates of depression, better management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and high cholesterol, better sleep, fewer falls, greater independence, less reliance on medical interventions and being able to remain in the workforce.
Older adults are advised to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most (preferably all) days – though it’s important to note that some activity is better than none and even a little light activity every day can be beneficial. So do whatever you can do!
There are a few key areas to focus on activity-wise as we get older – cardio, strength, flexibility and balance. It’s about training smarter, not harder, according to Heath, and there’s a huge range of outdoor and indoor activities for seniors that adhere to this rule.
“I find that a lot of people, as they move into their more mature years, concentrate solely on activities that predominantly focus on cardiovascular fitness, such as walking, tennis, swimming and bike riding.”
Cardiovascular activities, which may also include things like playing golf (without a cart), doing aerobics or water aerobics, dancing, light jogging, working in the garden, mopping or vacuuming, are good for your heart, lungs and blood vessels.
While cardiovascular activities are great ways to keep fit and have fun, “we also need to focus on strength and mobility, as these areas of fitness are absolutely paramount if a person wants to lead a good quality of life well into their later years,” Heath says.
When older people commence an exercise program and start to get stronger without gaining mobility and flexibility, “they can suffer an unwanted injury that comes from not being able to move correctly,” he adds, saying that older people should include two weekly muscle-strengthening sessions into their routine.
And, no, that doesn’t have to mean lifting heavy weights at the gym – though it can, if that’s your preferred way to move (or you’re specifically looking for indoor activities for seniors). Calisthenics, yoga and tai chi are all excellent for building strength outside the gym, while activities that use stepping and jumping (such as dancing) or heavy gardening (digging, shovelling) can also help strengthen muscles.
Bonus: yoga and tai chi can help improve flexibility, too, which Heath says is important.
“Do not fob off flexibility,” he advises. “As we age, our muscles can shorten causing poor mobility” – so it’s extra important to stay limber.
Along with strength and flexibility, balance exercises for elderly people are an essential part of a physical activity routine, to help prevent falls and injuries. Balance activities can include exercises like sideways walking, heel-to-toe walking, side leg raises, half squats and heel raises, to name a few. You can learn more about each exercise by visiting the Department of Health website.
However you get movement into your day, a mix of cardio, strength, balance and flexibility can help you reap the physical and mental benefits of regular exercise and keep you active well into older age.
Whether you’re juggling full-time work, enjoying an early retirement or looking after your grandchildren, this is a time in your life where it’s never been more important to look after your most important asset – your health. That’s why we’ve put together a list of things you can do to keep you feeling well from the inside out. Check out our article 8 ways to keep healthy after 50 for more.
Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.
Heath Jones is a personal trainer and registered nurse with more than 20 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. As the founder of Active & Ageless – a health club specifically for over 50s in Hurstville, Sydney – Heath is passionate about helping Australians stay physically fit into their later years and lead a better quality of life. He is at his happiest when surrounded by the ocean, be it surfing, skin diving or simply staring into the blue abyss of the sea.