It is no big news that us Welsh people are an unhealthy lot. More than a quarter of all over 40’s are obese. We are also an ageing nation, with around 45 per cent of us being over 45 years old.
These figures, combined with the continued downward trend in activity levels, makes Wales a ticking time bomb when it comes to health.
We are getting older and sicker as a nation.
As we get older, our bodies begin to change fast.
Our muscles and bones become weaker, we get grey hair and wrinkles, and we get stiffer.
Many of these changes to our muscles, bones and joints are related to inactivity.
So there is some light at the end of the tunnel for those who wish to take personal responsibility and become a little more active.
These unwanted changes can be slowed down and even reversed through correct exercise (and nutrition).
For those of you who may be thinking: “I’m too old for all this exercise lark”, you may need to think again.
They say it is better to do something late than never, and it seems it is definitely the case with becoming more active.
A growing body of research suggests it is never too late to start getting fitter and enjoying the benefits of being more active.
An eight-year long British study has found that those who exercised at least once a week were between three and seven times more likely to be classed as “healthy agers”.
The researchers, led by Dr Mark Hamer at University College London, wrote: “Sustained physical activity was associated with improved healthy ageing – absence of disease, freedom from disability, high cognitive and physical functioning and good mental health.
“Significant health benefits were even seen among participants who became active relatively late in life.
“The results support public health initiatives designed to engage older adults in physical activity.”
No matter when you start there are many benefits to be had.
Exercising or living an active lifestyle can protect you from some terrible age-related diseases. Exercise has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and depression.
As people age sometimes there are concerns about their ability to do everyday tasks.
Life starts to become more challenging and things that used to be easy are no longer so.
The good news is people who took up exercise were also less likely to struggle with day-to-day tasks such as washing, dressing and climbing stairs.
As far as I am concerned this is the most important benefit that you get from being more active – having choice, the choice to do what you want because you do not have any major physical limitations.
As well as protecting you from many age related illnesses, exercise has other benefits.
If you exercise regularly you can expect:
· To be stronger and find activities of daily living a lot easier
· To be better going up and down hills and stairs
· To have better balance
· To be more confident
Government guidelines recommend adults take aerobic exercise five times a week for 30 minutes or more for maximum health benefits.
However, speaking from personal experience working with 1000s of over 50s you can get many of the benefits from doing as little as two 30-minute sessions a week.
Try to spare at least one hour a week to protect you from lots of the pain and heartache, which is related to ill health.
Generally the level of effort should be enough to raise the heart rate to about 120 beats a minute or more – which basically equates to a brisk walk or swimming. (These figures change if you’re on medication for your heart).
Once you reach your 50s there are more benefits to doing weight-bearing exercise than ever before.
Exercises such as walking and weight training are the best type of exercise for increasing bone mass and muscle tissue.
Yoga is very effective for keeping yourself supple and having mobile joints.
Regular strength training with weights will encourage muscles to pull on bones, which will make the bones stronger.
Weight-bearing exercises also slow down the progression of osteoporosis as it slows down the rate at which bone mineral density is reduced.
It is important to make sure you have a balanced weight training routine to ensure you do not develop any problems with joints. Generally your body is able to do movements such as push, pull, lift and bend. The weights routine should do the same.
High impact exercise should not be discounted for over 50s but beginners should not do it either.
As with lots of things in life you will need to start gently and build up to more dynamic and higher impact exercises over a period of time. With a steady increase you should avoid any negative effects and your muscles and joints will become stronger and more mobile.
After exercise you may feel some light aches for a day or so, but any more and you have over done it. You are not meant to be sore for a week after a session.
So, as long are you are sensible, there is no reason why you cannot work your way up to high impact activity as you get older.
If you are starting to exercise again after a long time off (since school for some of us) be sure to speak to a health professional to get a programme designed for you.
Most local authorities now run “exercise on referral” schemes at local leisure centers. It is all run by trained professionals and is often subsidised and very good value for money. Ask your GP if you qualify for a referral.
If you want to slow down the effects of ageing the sooner you start exercising the better but remember it is never too late to start.
The take home message for over 50s is a bit cliché but you must – use it or lose it.
You will lose the ability to use the muscles and joints if you don’t remain active.
Exercise really is the key to a happy and healthy old age.
5 Tips for getting started with exercise in your 50’s:
1. Start slowly and build the effort and intensity up over time.
2. Find the right activity for you and do something you enjoy.
3. Stick to a regular routine.
4. Don’t exercise two days in a row.
5. Make sure it’s a balanced routine. Try to do something for strength like weights, something cardiovascular like walking for the heart and lungs and something for mobility like yoga.