The benefits of staying active in later life.

As we grow older our concern for aspects of our life that we may have previously taken for granted, such as our health and wellbeing, increase. We want to live as long, healthily and pain-free as we possibly can. Yet ageing is inevitable. So, how can we confront the realities of ageing – while maintaining a high-quality, active life?

Inactivity in later life can cause simple life pleasures – playing with grandchildren, walking to the shops and meeting friends – to become difficult. You may feel like you no longer have the energy to go out, you may experience aches and pains, or may be you worried about falling. All of this can will affect your levels of independence or ability to live in your own home as you age.

“As people get older and their bodies decline in function, physical activity helps to slow that decline,” says Dr Nick Cavill, a health-promotion consultant. “It’s important they remain active or even increase their activity as they get older.”

Staying active in later life can come with its difficulties, but the value of this to your later health is undeniable. Exercise can contribute to a reduced risk of developing a variety of health conditions such as heart disease and dementia. Physical activity can also help to reduce the risk of falls, as it improves muscle strength, balance and coordination – as well as maintains bone health and preserves physical fitness. Introducing physical activity into your day can be as simple as stretching, taking a walk through a park or swimming. According to the NHS, these types of low-level exercise can all help to manage or lower your risk of developing ‘disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression and dementia’. The UK’s physical activity guidelines recommend that older adults participate in at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity. This equates to approximately 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

Not only is exercise important for your physical health and mobility, but also for your mental health. Exercise is proven to increase your mood, self-esteem and self-confidence; help to relieve stress and feel more relaxed, and provides you with a sense of achievement. According to an expert working group paper from the University of Bristol: “Physical activity has been identified as one of the key factors in promoting and enhancing overall and health-related quality of life for older people”

Staying active can also provide you with increased social opportunities – an important part of improving overall wellbeing. Attending a Pilates class, a walking group or gardening club can help you to stay socially connected and enable you to be active while meeting people and having fun. 

“The biggest benefits come to those who start from scratch,” adds Dr Cavill. “It’s moving from a sedentary lifestyle to a moderately active one that makes the biggest difference to your health. The more you do, the greater the health benefits.

Irrespective of age and or health condition, it is never too late to start being more active, and to feel the positive effects this can have on your health. Start small with exercises that you enjoy, such as gardening or swimming, choose to take the stairs instead of the lift or take up a class as a chance to meet people, have fun and stay socially connected.

Professor Malcom Johnson


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