In Australia, more and more people are living full and productive lives well into their 80's and 90's.
Research shows that if you start living a healthy lifestyle earlier in life, you have better chances of staying healthy as you get older.
Staying physically active, eating well, socialising and improving your health can help you live a healthy, happy and active life as you get older.
Staying Involved and Socialising with Others
Learning a new skill keeps your brain working and may protect you against dementia. Being able to adapt to change is important at any age but can be particularly important as you get older. Seeing friends and joining in with others can energise your life and create opportunities for new experiences.
You might want to try something you have always wanted to do but never had the time earlier in your life. This might be volunteering, playing a musical instrument, learning a new language, developing your computer skills or doing a creative activity like painting. If you are in a caring role, it is especially important to maintain social connections and continue activities that you enjoy.
Being Physically Active
Regular physical activity has lots of benefits. It can help you sleep better, stimulate your appetite and may reduce your risk of heart disease, dementia and falls. It also helps improve and maintain your fitness, strength and balance.
It is important to remember that everyone’s fitness levels and physical abilities are different.
If you have not been active for a while or if you have health problems or have been unwell, you may find you are not as fit as you used to be. So start slowly and build up gradually. Doing some activity is better than doing none.
How Much Physical Activity is Enough
Australian Physical Activity Guidelines encourage older people to do 30 minutes of medium intensity exercise each day. This means increasing your heart rate to a level where you can talk but not sing. You don’t have to do 30 minutes all at once, it can be done as three lots of ten minutes each day if you prefer.
Each week, try to do a range of activities to improve:
fitness - water exercises, swimming, dancing, fast walking and cycling keep your heart and lungs fit and healthy
strength - lifting and carrying weights, climbing stairs, doing squats and raising your legs to the side all help maintain your muscle tone and bone density
balance - reaching to the front and to the side, balancing on one foot or your toes with a chair nearby for support, or tai chi all help you stay stable
flexibility - yoga and stretching exercises can keep you flexible.
For some people, exercising alone can be challenging. It might be more fun for you to get involved in community, team or group activities. You could try lawn bowls, golf, walking groups or exercise classes.
Building Core Strength
Not only is muscle strength important for balance and bone health, it enables you to be strong enough to undertake daily activities, such as walking up and down stairs, carrying the groceries to and from the car, completing household chores and getting out and about in the community.
As you get older, you may feel that your body no longer responds the way it used to at a younger age, but there is a simple way to regain control – through improving your strength. Regular muscle strengthening has also been shown to help you manage blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels, as well as prevent and control heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
From 30 years of age we lose 3-5 per cent of the muscle mass we carry naturally, however, for most healthy adults this reduction should not affect how we manage day to day. What can negatively affect the ease with which we live, is the muscle loss associated with a sedentary lifestyle. The really good news is — it’s never too late to get started, even if you’ve never picked up a weight in your life.
What Does this Mean for You?
According to Physical Activity Australia, about half of the physical decline associated with ageing may be due to a lack of physical activity. With regular exercise, adults can experience a range of health and well-being improvements, including:
Remaining confident to live in your own home
Remaining independent to make your own decisions
Having the ability to manage your own needs and lifestyle choices
Increase in muscle mass
Increase in bone health and strength
Improvement of cardiovascular system – heart and lungs
Increased joint mobility and flexibility
Decrease in body fat
Where Should I Start?
This depends entirely on your health and fitness goals. If you’re training correctly, getting strong is quite simple. By incorporating some light exercise into your lifestyle, you can continue to feel independent, maintain good balance, get out and about in the community and use public transport with ease, as well as visit your friends and family.
You don’t have to stop at light exercise. An exercise physiologist or physiotherapist can work with you to tailor an exercise routine to your specific needs, including working around heart, lung, joint or any other health condition. Even with conditions like osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, emphysema and cardiovascular disease, you can still increase your daily exercise levels above basic light loads – in fact, it’s the best thing you could do when supported by a trained health professional.