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Why exercise now and in later years?

Exercise at any age including senior years has health benefits

At any stage in our lives, we are encouraged to exercise. It’s good for the heart, the lungs, our bones – just about every part of us. And it’s argued that exercise can improve our mood and general sense of well-being.

What does tend to change is the advice on how much exercise, when, and what sort.

Take the latest recommendations from the UK chief medical officers. Previous guidelines had suggested that we need to be active for at least 10 minutes at any to achieve benefits. Now the leading doctors are saying any exercise is good for us, even if it’s a just a few minutes at a time. The important bit is to be sedentary as little as possible. All exercise can contribute to the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to brisk exercise recommended for every week. Adding up short bursts of effort make that goal much more attainable.

What about strength training? Strength training can deter natural muscle deterioration and help with balance – two of the causes of falls in later years that lead to visits to A&E. The new national guidelines suggest weight lifting twice a week or the use of resistance machines at least twice a week to develop and maintain strength in the major muscle groups. While heavy gardening and shopping are cited as examples of strength training, there are less strenuous activities suggested for the over 65s, such as Tai Chi, bowls and dancing.

The new UK advice has also been extended to disabled adults, recommending 150 minutes of moderate activity and two days of strength and balance exercise a week. Myths that exercise is inherently harmful for the disabled should be dispelled, say the guidelines.

It’s not just the chief medical office that’s been highlighting the benefits of exercise for a broad range of ages and levels of fitness.

It’s never too late to start exercising, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham. Their findings conclude that even older people who have never taken part in sustained exercise programmes have the same ability to build muscle mass as highly trained athletes of the same age. The argument is that strength training at any age can help to delay frailty and muscle weakness. The study looked at men in their 70s and 80s.

For mental health benefits, a US study has concluded that just a single bout of exercise can have positive cognitive and memory effects for some older adults (aged between 60 and 80 in the research). The findings suggest that people don’t need to feel like they have to train every day, but take their exercise on a day-by-day basis.

Guidelines from a European expert group emphasises the value of at least 150 minutes exercise a week for people with diabetes, and those at risk of Type 2 diabetes. The guidelines also recommend adopting a Mediterranean diet with olive oil and/or nuts.

What about yoga? While there’s insufficient evidence to claim that yoga can help prevent falls, medical professionals suggest yoga can be helpful in promoting physical function and mental well-being.

Find more information

  • The UK Chief Medical Officers’ full physical activity guidelines as a download, offering information for health professional, policymakers and others working to promote exercise of health benefits.
  • What is Tai Chi?
  • SilverFit is a charity run by older people for older people, mostly around London, addressing the dual challenges of fitness and social isolation.
  • Our article on how safe exercise in later life expands horizons
  • Why resistance training can support a long and healthy life
  • Downloadable pdfs for 21 types of senior exercises


Image by Antonika Chanel from Pixabay

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