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Keeping healthy physically in your old age

As we age, doing everyday tasks gets harder. There is an ache here and there, and we start to stop looking after ourselves as we should. But it’s fine? We are getting old anyway, right?

Key points:

  • Physical decline in older people can be a result of lacking regular exercise

  • You are more likely to develop chronic health problems if you don't try and keep fit

  • If you have health problems, talk to your doctor or physiotherapist about modified sport or exercise

A physiotherapist is helping an older man exercise
Research has found that lack of physical activity when we are older is resulting in half of the physical decline linked to old age. [Source: iStock]

It’s actually a myth that old age automatically means poor health. While old age can make you more inclined to have health problems, it doesn’t mean you can’t put healthy preventative measures in place.

Many older adults can still enjoy healthy living, in some cases, maybe even better than when they were younger.

It is as simple as eating healthy, exercising regularly and managing stress, which can dramatically reduce your likelihood of developing a chronic disease or injuring yourself.

Recent research has found that lack of physical activity when we are older is resulting in half of the physical decline linked to old age.

Regular exercise has also been proven to provide cardiovascular benefits to people over the age of 50 and is a huge contributor to life longevity.

The phrase, “use it or lose it”, couldn’t be more true so it's worthwhile to keep yourself moving as best as you can, even if you're becoming less mobile as you age.

While it may be harder to get those skills back that you lost, it’s not impossible.

It is never too late to get fit and keeping healthy physically in our old age is instrumental in living longer.

What if I don’t exercise regularly?

Similar to not keeping active when you are younger, not exercising later in life can have very obvious side effects and lead to poor health.

Your metabolism will slow down naturally as you age. This can make weight gain easier and keeping off the kilos more challenging. There are huge health benefits that come from exercise.

Exercise can build your muscle mass and kickstart your metabolism, which, in turn, helps burn calories and keeps your weight in check.

Particularly for older people who don’t exercise, there can be increases in body fat levels, risk of developing diseases, like heart disease; blood pressure and susceptibility to mood disorders.

While in other areas there will be a reduction in your muscle mass, strength and physical endurance, coordination and balance, joint flexibility and mobility, immune system, bone strength, and cardiovascular and respiratory function.

All of these health issues can have huge effects on your physical abilities. It’s important to nurture your body and undertake some form of exercise.

Being healthy and fit also has been known to have positive impacts on your mental health.

Fear can be the worst battle

As you get older, concerns grow around falling or injuring yourself.

While it’s understandable to be fearful of taking a fall and getting hurt, deciding to stop taking risks, like going for your daily walk, can be detrimental to losing your mobility skills.

It’s important to know that taking basic everyday risks is healthy and can make you stronger after an incident.

Avoiding risks altogether could result in losing a skill that you have had all your life. And what a loss that would be.

Keep those knees up!

Exercise is really important to continue into older age. There is never a reason to give up being active, except if you have an injury that stops you from moving, but even then there are usually ways to get around it.

You don’t have to be doing full workouts or participating in sport, however, just continuing daily things, like going for walks instead of using a mobility scooter, or standing up to make dinner, can make the difference in keeping up your everyday motor skills.

If you love sport, there are modified sport options available, like walking football, which has become very popular in Australia recently.

Food, food, glorious food

Indulging every now and then won’t kill you, but every day might!

It’s important to fuel your body with lots of food as long as they're the right foods.

Healthy eating provides your body with the nutrients it needs to keep going. It aids your muscles, bones and soul.

While eating something unhealthy isn’t a no-no, try to supplement in more fibre-rich, low- fat, nutrient-dense and low cholesterol foods as much as possible.

It's important to get into a routine and implement a healthy diet, which will, overall, be important in the long term for good health later in life.

Healthy foods can also help with weight loss or maintaining a healthy body.

Getting into the healthy habit when eating food can stop you from binge eating unnecessarily.

Getting back onto the proverbial bike

Firstly, if you are overweight, have a chronic illness or disease, or live a sedentary life, it might be a good idea to see your doctor or a health professional for advice on getting into an exercise routine.

At the start, exercise will feel like a chore, so try to do something that you enjoy.

Encourage your friends to get involved. Ask some close friends if they want to start a walking group with you and see if you can work your way up to higher intensity exercise together.

Otherwise, choosing safer exercise options might be the way to go. 

Take a ride on your bike or have a walk around the local park. Swimming is also a great low-impact form of exercise.

If you want a more guided exercise program, join a local gym or hire a personal trainer. 

A personal trainer will not only be able to help you get fit, they will also sit down with you and organise goals you want to achieve and keep you on track to accomplish those goals.

Learning how to use weight training with the help of a Personal Trainer (PT) can be a great way to improve your muscle mass.

The main aim is to start off small and work your way up. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

While age can be a factor in physical health, being active and nurturing your physical abilities can stave off the effects of getting old for longer.

How do you keep active? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Modified sports that keep you active
Extreme sports for extreme seniors!
The importance of elderly nutrition

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