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By James Staring, Lead Trainer, Fit to Last

There’s all manner of evidence to support exercising as you get older. According to Feldman et al. in a 2015 study, “People with higher activity levels and physiological fitness have a lower mortality risk”.

But what if you’ve not really done much exercise before? Is it worth starting later in life or have you missed out on all the benefits? According to Berk et al. in 2006 and Hamer et al. in 2014 “Even for those who were relatively sedentary through middle age, it is never too late because beginning a new exercise regimen in old age leads to significant improvements to health”. In short, turning 60 doesn’t mean it’s too late to start exercising.

To help you start and maintain a healthy exercise routine, here are a few steps to help you start exercising at 60 and above, and some of the benefits when making this life-changing decision. By exercise, we’re referring to movement that uses your entire body like walking, swimming, cycling or resistance training.

GETTING STARTED

Do something you enjoy

I’ve often heard people tell me ‘I need to start running’. When I ask them if they enjoy running, the reply is often, ‘no, actually I can’t stand it’.

When you are starting to exercise, don’t fall into the trap of starting something solely because you’ve heard you should do it. Start with activities you like doing the most.

You’ll always gravitate to what you enjoy most. Think about physical activities you like doing. If walking is an activity you enjoy, start with that. If you’re a fan of beach holidays, perhaps swimming is a good option.

By starting with the beaten path of things you already like, you’re on your way to a habit you can maintain.

Commit to a plan you can stick to

When you start exercising, look at your diary and confirm times and durations that you can commit to week in, week out.

When you’re first starting out, the best way to develop this healthy habit is to build on small wins. If you can only exercise for 20 minutes, twice per week, fabulous. Block those dates and time slots in your calendar and make them appointments you don’t miss.

By committing to times that you can attend consistently, you’ll build a healthy, sustainable habit.

Log your progress and reward your successes

A common error people make is to compare themselves with more advanced exercisers when they’ve only just started.

You’ve just made a life-changing decision to start exercising – reward yourself for sticking to it.

As you mark off the sessions you’ve completed on your calendar, set yourself small benchmarks and reward yourself when those goals are achieved.

Jerry Seinfeld was once asked what his process is for writing jokes. He has a large desk calendar in his kitchen, and each day he writes jokes he marks a large red ‘X’ on the date in the calendar. The key is to not break the chain of x’s.

To add to this strategy, decide at the start what you’ll do for every month you complete your exercise sessions. Mark that event in the same calendar you commit to your exercise. This way you can see the progress you’re making. You can also see an incentive for those days when your motivation is waning.

BENEFITS OF STARTING EXERCISE AT 60 +

You’ve made the decision to exercise at 60 – nice work! Before you change your mind, here are five benefits to making this life-changing decision.

  1. Reduced risk/discomfort of chronic diseases

By starting exercise at 60 or above, you can reduce the risk of chronic diseases as well as reduce the impact of these conditions.

Reduced arthritis pain. While exercise can’t eliminate arthritic pain, it can help alleviate the pressure on your joints. Regular exercise can help reduce arthritis pain by building muscle tissue around the joints. This helps to improve the joint’s overall support system, thereby taking pressure off the joint itself.

Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as reduced deterioration of cognitive function and memory. According to an ongoing University of Wisconsin study comparing groups under and over 60, those over 60 showed increased risk of Alzheimer’s as well as increased risk of decline in cognitive function and memory. However, these risks were greatly decreased among those over 60 who reported moderate exercise for 30 minutes, five times per week.

  1. Decreased fall risk

As you get older, one of the unfortunate side effects is skeletal muscle loss (sarcopenia).

According to Jeremy Walston in Current Opinion of Rheumatology, Sarcopenia can start in your 40s, and can progress in a linear fashion to the point where you’ve lost 60% of your skeletal muscle in your 80s.

You need to preserve skeletal muscle for a variety of reasons including weight management. But skeletal muscle is also vitally important for helping you stay stable on your feet as you get older. If skeletal muscle loss isn’t addressed, as you age, you’ll run a greater risk of falling, which can lead to catastrophic consequences.

When you exercise using your full body in activities like walking, swimming, and full-body resistance training, you cause your body to adapt by physically challenging it. This adaptation leads to a more stable physical foundation, as the muscles used to complete these activities must become stronger.

Think of regular exercise as ‘future-proofing’ your body. By starting now you’ll help your body become more stable, so as you age you will be confident and stronger on your feet.

  1. More energy

When you exercise regularly, your body will adapt to the new challenges you’re asking it to respond to.

Increased activity will cause you to breathe a little bit deeper and a little bit heavier. While initially this may feel uncomfortable, by challenging your body this way it will adapt, and you’ll breathe more effectively as a result.

When you breathe more effectively, you will become better at sending oxygen out to the rest of your body. This will help you feel more energetic as you go about your day.

  1. Better daily movement

You always get better at what you practice, and movement is no different.

As you get older, unfortunately the natural inclination is to move less. When you move less, your muscles will shorten, and you lose the dexterity and flexibility you had when you were younger.

By encouraging your body to move more regularly, you’ll be stretching out muscles that would normally shorten if you weren’t moving around as much. By consistently adding exercise into your weekly routine, you’ll notice an immediate improvement in completing daily activities – for example, getting out of a chair. This is because the muscles required to complete these tasks will be more flexible and thus more capable.

  1. Greater Independence

The decision to start exercising now, regardless of age, will help you build a secure foundation to enable you to live the way you want for longer.

Regular exercise will give you the ability to stave off the inevitability of ageing. This means you can maintain your own independence and live the way you want for longer.

Maintaining fitness through regular activity enables you to perform activities of daily living. Whether it’s cleaning, shopping, even laundry, by maintaining your health through regular physical activity you’ll have the strength and stability to continue doing these things to remain independent.

Conclusion

It is never too late to start exercising, and every little bit you do will help. The key is to exercise regularly and consistently. Choose activities you enjoy and start with what you can manage today, set yourself achievable goals, and celebrate your progress.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Staring is the founder and lead fitness coach at Fit to Last Personal Trainers, which offers a high-end, all-inclusive fitness solution for those who’ve tried everything in the past; crash diets, exercise fads, regular gyms etc., all with little to no success or results. Fit to Last works in partnership with you to create a personalised programme of exercise, nutrition (no calorie counting or weighing) and small, simple lifestyle changes, to keep you on track to your goals, injury free and bursting with energy.  See: www.fittolast.co.uk

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References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4889622/#CR40

Berk DR, Hubert HB, Fries JF. Associations of changes in exercise level with subsequent disability among seniors: a 16-year longitudinal study. J Gerontol Ser A. 2006;61:97–102. doi: 10.1093/gerona/61.1.97.

Feldman DI, Al-Mallah MH, Keteyian SJ, Brawner CA, Feldman T, Blumenthal RS, Blaha MJ. No evidence of an upper threshold for mortality benefit at high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;65:629–630. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2014.11.030.

Hamer M, Lavoie KL, Bacon SL. Taking up physical activity in later life and healthy ageing: the English longitudinal study of ageing. Br J Sports Med. 2014;48:239–243. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092993.

https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2019/08/exercise-decline-alzheimers

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