What are the physical activity guidelines for older adults?
For many people, it undoubtedly becomes more difficult to keep active in older age due to health conditions.
However, there are lots of benefits to be gained from staying mobile. Regular activity can, for example, lessen aches and pains, improve mood, boost memory and reduce the risk of heart disease, strokes and dementia.
To help you be more active and reap these benefits, here are my top tips when doing physical activity as you age:
- Keep it simple
- Exercise within your capabilities
- Practice strength activities
- Exercise with other people.
Let's look at these ideas in a little more detail and find out how they can improve mobility.
1. Keep it simple
The good news is that doing any amount of exercise is good, so long as it is more than you did previously! So, even if you increase your daily amount by 10 minutes, you're on your way to better health.
Exercise also doesn't have to involve a formal class or activity, nor is it even about working up a sweat. Simply standing more, doing gentle stretches or walking - be it to the shops or just between the rooms in your house - will be beneficial. Everyday activities such as gardening and cleaning add in extra active minutes.
If you spend a lot of time sitting, try to get up every hour or so, or move your limbs around for a few minutes.
For anyone looking to do a little more than this, remember that no specific form of exercise is best for older adults. So, choose an activity you have an interest in or something you have practiced before. Most movements in an exercise class can be adapted to suit individual abilities, so this could be worth trying.
Other, low impact options include swimming, cycling and dancing.
3 easy stretches to try at home
1. Sitting on a stool, let your back and shoulders droop forwards. If you can, lower your head towards your knees as far as possible. Slowly bring your head up, followed by your back and shoulders, until you are sitting up straight.
2. Sitting on a chair, lift your left leg off the ground as high as it will go. Hold for 5 seconds, lower to the ground and then repeat with your right leg.
3. When standing, put your arms out in front with your palms facing downwards. Move your hands in a circular motion. Next, move your arms until they are above your head and repeat the circular movements with your hands. Slowly lower your hands until they are by your sides. Rest, and then repeat the exercise.
2. Exercise within your capabilities
If suffering from a health problem, it is important that you are only as physically active as your abilities and conditions allow.
Some low impact options include walking football and chair-based exercise classes. These are held over the UK – simply check out Age UK's website to find one in your area.
If you have diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease or even just aches and pains, it is advisable to speak to your doctor before embarking on an exercise plan.
3. Practice strength activities
Muscle mass, strength and function can decline with age, thus increasing the likelihood of falls and fractures. According to Age UK, we lose around 1% of our muscle mass every year from the age of 55.1
This means it is important to practice regular strength activities to keep your muscles functioning well. This includes:
- Carrying shopping bags
- Exercises such as squats and lunges
- Yoga and Pilates
- Lifting weights
- Using resistance bands.
The World Health Organisation also recommends that adults with poor mobility regularly practice balance activities to enhance mobility and prevent falls.2 This includes simple things like:
- Walking sideways
- Walking heel-to-toe
- Standing on one leg (with the support of a wall nearby just in case!)
- Step-ups – you can do this on the first step of your hall stairs.
4. Exercise with other people
Loneliness is an increasing problem in the UK, particularly amongst older adults. According to Age UK, more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone.3
Exercising with others provides one way of combatting this problem, as well as bringing other benefits to mood, balance and memory.
There are various ways you can make exercise social, including dance classes, tai chi lessons and walking clubs.
Age UK offers these classes at a gentle pace so that you can build up strength and fitness at a rate that suits you. Again, take a look at their website for more information.
For more on the importance of exercising as you get older, check out my blog on the topic!