In the UK we now have more people of pensionable age than we do children. And this ageing population statistic is being mirrored around the world.

With this fact comes numerous concerns and considerations – not the least of which are all about health, fitness and wellbeing.

Many reports and studies show that the overriding concern for people as they get older is not necessarily about money or even impending death, it is about the loss of physical abilities and the increasing lack of independence as a result.

The good news is that we can do something to allay this fear!

Of course ageing does result in a diminishing of faculties. Pretending we can be as fit, vital and vibrant at 78 as we were at 23 would be ludicrous – however we can ensure that the distance and diminishment between those 55 years is as narrow as possible.

That is the goal we should all have and it is fully attainable! 

Those people who have maintained an active lifestyle throughout their lifetimes are of course in the best position to maintain it and reap the benefits as they move into and through old age. However that doesn’t mean others who have been more sedentary are too late or beyond help. Far from it!

Never too late!

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Studies in the USA have shown that octogenarians (those in their 80’s) can enjoy strength and flexibility increases of up to 100% after a controlled six-month programme. And this of course as a profound impact on quality of life and capabilities at that age.

So it is never too late, but of course the sooner the better when it comes to banking fitness, strength and mobility for later life.

Of course you must engage in pre-exercise screening, particularly if you are older and crucially if you are embarking on exercise in a concerted manner for the first time. If you are working with a good trainer they will go through this with you in necessary depth, or you can see your doctor – which is not a bad idea anyway.

Get screened before exercising

Considerations include risk factors for heart disease such: as cigarette smoking, family history, a BMI over 30, high cholesterol, blood pressure issues.

Proper screening will identify if you are in a low, moderate or high-risk bracket for any cardiac situation potentially associated with exercise. Once this is ascertained, a programme of the right intensity can be created.

Aerobic Training

Older adults who are aerobically trained enjoy significantly higher fitness levels and quality of life and live longer than those who are unfit and inactive. And as previously mentioned, it is never too late to start. People in their 80’s and 90’s can reap considerable benefits of aerobic activity.

Improved aerobic fitness can act as a guard against heart disease, strokes, diabetes, osteoporosis and hypertension.

Frequency The general feeling is that 30 minutes of physical activity a day will bring genuine benefits. This doesn’t mean going for a long run or being down at the gym, it includes walking the dog, doing housework, gardening and suchlike.

This will maintain normal weight, help keep muscle tone and strength and blood pressure and cholesterol in check.

* However it should be noted that for frailer adults it is recommended that strength and balance training should be undertaken before aerobic exercising is introduced. This means that body strength and stability are in place before aerobic workouts begin. I will get to these in Part 2.

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Intensity Light to moderate is generally recommended to improve health and guard against ‘overdoing’ it and risking heart issues. Moderate to High intensity can obviously bring greater results, but should only be undertaken if the proper medical screening has taken place.

A simple way of adding intensity from Low to High, is to go for walks of 30 minutes or more, walk at a reasonable pace and get a good arm swing going too. When you feel up to it, start to add and increase gradients and steps/stairs.

Heart rate monitoring is really not of interest when it comes to older exercisers – it really is a matter of getting out there and doing it within your means and adding intensity as you are able.

Interval TrainingThis is a hugely effective method of training for all and it’s no different for older exercisers. Short bursts of exercise followed by rest periods and then another burst of exercise actually mimics much of what happens in life. As the exerciser gets fitter the periods of rest between exercises can be exchanged for ‘active rest’ such as walking on the spot for 45-60seconds.

Aerobic Activities

For the older exerciser it is more sensible to partake – initially at least – in exercises that your body is familiar with, even if from distant past years.

Therefore walking is the most logical activity, but swimming and cycling fit the bill too and have wonderful benefits.

Remember to always warm up. Even just a few minutes of arm swinging and stretching, knee lifts and gentle squats. Just let the body get used to movement and activity before you embark fully on your exercise.

In Part 2 I will look at strength and balance training for the ageing population.

Connect here with WatchFit expert Kate Staples

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