Exercise for seniors: how to live longer and stronger
Living an active life as we age is incredibly important for our mental and physical wellbeing. Find out the best ways to stay fit and well during your senior years.
Health Agenda magazine
Australians are living longer – we enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world of 82.5 years overall, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). That ranks Australia fifth among 35 developed countries.
Our life expectancy has been increasing steadily. A boy born in 2014–16 can expect to live to the age of 80.4 years and a girl to 84.6 years compared to 47.2 and 50.8 years, respectively, in 1881–90.
It’s estimated there will be 12,000 centenarians in Australia by 2020 and 50,000 by 2050. The number of centenarians worldwide is estimated to increase 15-fold to 2.2 million by 2050.
Exercise is one of the most important ways to ensure you live a longer, healthier life. And not just for the physiological benefits. Exercise can help you have a better quality of life and maintain social connections.
Keeping healthy and active
For seniors, exercise can have a positive impact on your future health, reducing your risk of chronic disease, mental health problems and falls. It can even extend your life expectancy.
Australian guidelines recommend adults aged over 65 aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity like walking or swimming on most days.
As you get older, bone density and muscle mass start to decline, as does your metabolism. So you might find you have to put in extra effort, or exercise in a different way, to get the same benefits you did in your younger days.
Darrell Murphey, 85, is a fit and trim retired farmer, but being active wasn’t always on his radar. In 2012 he decided: “I’ve got to get up and about”.
He started with short regular walks, only reaching around 100m before he had to stop. He gradually increased the distance until he was walking 4km. By the end of the year he decided to sign up for some strength training at the local gym and he hasn’t looked back.
“You need to be organised and get a professional program,” he explains. “It’s no good just walking or doing weights. You need to make sure you’re moving forward, and if you’re not organised you can hurt yourself.”
Murphey has recently been through serious health issues, but he credits his fitness regimen to helping him recover from 2 major surgeries. He says his success comes down to having a routine to stick to.
Studies show the benefits of group fitness include better motivation, increased effort and maintaining social connections. For some people, the idea of joining a gym can feel daunting, but doing it with friends might help with motivation and has social as well as physical benefits. If gyms aren’t your thing, try group activities, professional programs, or go for a bushwalk.
Many councils have a host of activities for seniors. In any given week, seniors are getting involved in, as well as being transported to and from, a range of activities, such as outdoor walking groups, chair yoga, meditation and singing groups. You’ll also find brain-training sessions and ‘exergaming’, which is a mix of low-impact exercise and games using an Xbox.
To find out what’s on offer in your area, jump online, phone or visit your local council or pick up a brochure from your local library.
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