The importance of physical exercise for older people
Staying physically active is a very important part of keeping healthy and happy in older age.
Exercise can help you maintain your health at any age, providing physical benefits as well as having a positive effect on your sense of wellbeing. In older age, remaining active is even more important, though the recommended level of physical exercise depends on the individual and their circumstances.
It can be difficult to know how to approach exercise if you have health problems or mobility problems. The good news is there are many options you can explore.
‘Keeping physically active’ doesn’t mean you need to do strenuous exercise every day – even moderate activity can have a positive effect. It can be as simple as going for a daily walk or a weekly swim. Any sustained activity that keeps the body moving will help you stay fit and healthy.
Key benefits associated with staying physically active include:
- managing stress
- elevating mood and reducing the risk of depression
- reducing the impact of some mobility problem
- lowering high blood pressure
- easing symptoms of arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.
There are a range of gentle home exercises that are suitable for older people and those who are less active. Due to the coronavirus crisis, people have been told to not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary. During this period, you may find indoor exercises particularly useful.
These home exercises focus on flexibility, strength and balance, and some can be carried out from a sitting position. You can find a complete guide to sitting exercises, including diagrams and advice, on the NHS website. There are also videos for simple indoor workouts on the NHS One You website. Sports England has compiled a list of resources that may help during this time too.
It’s also important to continue doing other pastimes and hobbies you enjoy. Anything that keeps you moving around the home can have a positive impact. Everyday activities that you may not associate with exercise, such as gardening or baking, can be beneficial.
All of the small things that people do as part of a normal routine (such as hanging out the washing, making tea or feeding the birds) can contribute to improved health and wellbeing.
Exercise outside the home
There are so many exercise groups available that it’s possible to find one that suits almost anyone, for example classes that are tailored to the needs of people with dementia.
Everything from pilates and yoga to dancing classes is available, with many local groups providing sessions for older people. Taking part in this kind of group session can also help you to continue to meet people, feel a part of the community and reduce the risk of loneliness.
There are also many options for people who would prefer to exercise individually or in smaller groups, such as swimming or walking groups, some of which might be organised by your local GP surgery. In addition, keeping going with daily activities like taking the dog for a walk can have a positive impact.
It’s important to think creatively around your pastimes and interests to ensure that you continue to enjoy life and maintain your health.
Recommended levels of exercise
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the chief medical officers for the UK recommend 30 minutes of physical activity a day, at least five days a week. The time can be broken down into 10- or 15-minute periods, depending on your needs and preference.
Before you start a new exercise regime, it’s important to bear in mind that some activities will suit you better than others. Most low-impact exercises and physical activities can be tailored to suit your needs.
Your current physical health will determine which exercises are most appropriate and how many rest periods you need during physical activity. If you’re finding it hard to start with, remember that if you persist with regular exercise, you’re likely to find your tolerance for physical activity improves over time. At this point, you could consider changing your routine accordingly.
It’s important to speak to your GP before starting any exercise routine. It may also be beneficial to have your eyesight and hearing checked beforehand.
If you’re recovering from a fall or illness, you may have lost confidence in your physical abilities or feel concerned about the risk of further injuries. Take the time to talk through your concerns with a friend or family member. It’s a good idea to get further reassurance from a health professional to help improve your confidence.
It’s best to start small and build up slowly – try not to put pressure on yourself to do too much too soon. Gentle activities, such as walking around the garden or neighbourhood, can be a great place to start, allowing you to build your confidence in a comfortable setting.
Cognitive exercise can help us maintain our mental health as we age. It can also help people with dementia.
Read about ways to increase the quality or quantity of contact with other people and tackle feelings of loneliness.
Find out how to continue gardening in older age, even with a physical disability or dementia.