Keeping healthy is an essential part of extending not just our lifespan but also our health span. There are plenty of DIY options available to build strength and flexibility other than joining a gym which let’s face it, doesn’t appeal to everyone.
A high-intensity burst of cardio is undoubtedly beneficial for the heart, lungs and circulation, but as we age, gentle muscle strengthening and increasing flexibility should be our number one priority. After the age of 50, muscle mass begins to reduce, leading to loss of core stability along with grip and upper body and leg strength.
Resistance isn’t futile
Resistant exercises are the secret to gradually increasing strength. Lifting light hand weights and gentle stretching using resistance bands are ideal. Alternatively, you can use your own body weight to provide resistance if weights aren’t available.
For those completely new to exercise, many stretches can be adapted to work from a seated position. All you need to do is make that decision to start.
If you’re not ready to join a class, there are lots of great videos on YouTube or similar, to help you get started in the privacy of your own home. Build up over a number of weeks as it’s important not to rush things – take your time and you’ll gradually start to see the benefits. I get to the point of wanting to join a group then check out the Age UK site. Just input your address to find a class near you.
Getting out and about
A brisk stroll in the fresh air always comes with well-being benefits, both physical and mental. Again start off at a comfortable pace and gradually increase to the point where you get slightly breathless. Then you know the hard work is starting to pay off. A Stiltz tip: Nordic walking poles are gaining popularity because they not only aid stability but offer gentle and controlled toning for arms and upper body while walking.
Making a splash
Swimming. It really is the all-around star of exercise routines as it’s all-over flexibility and cardio workout while keeping pressure off any aching or painful joints. In addition to actual swimming, try walking around in the pool or using a float to target specific areas of the body. This will give you a great resistance workout without overdoing it. Check your local pool for low-impact watercise classes; no nose clips or butterfly strokes are needed.
But why is exercise so important? Aren’t we all meant to be relaxing and taking it easy especially once we retire? Here comes the science bit! With even the simplest exercise a substance called Myokines is released into the body. This ‘adds value’ to even the gentlest workouts and appears to play a big role in preventing age-related diseases of all types. It’s a win-win.
Deciding to install a Stiltz Homelift is like later-life exercising, you’re taking a small, controlled step to make a big gain. “We change lives for the better,” said Mike Lord, CEO of Stiltz. “Our home lifts allow easy movement between floors. The lift is there to take the strain on days you would rather not use the stairs, so you can live life the way you want to at home.”
New Year’s resolutions might be long forgotten, but there’s never been a better time to take control, boost confidence and get yourself fit for the future.
What the NHS says
The NHS recommends that older adults are active every day and take part in activities to “improve strength, balance and flexibility at least twice a week”. When looking at occupations to meet the NHS guidelines, we can break down daily living tasks into mild, moderate and substantial such as:
- Making a cup of tea
- Walking around the house
- Washing and dressing
- Making the bed
- Doing some ironing
- Mowing the lawn
- Vacuuming the whole house
- Walking up and down hills
When we consider more intense ways to improve strength, balance and flexibility, we should first look at what we can do simply and easily at home. The more accessible the activity, the more likely we are to do it.
“Workouts” can be as simple as carrying shopping bags which builds strength and endurance. Other suggestions include trying basic Yoga and Pilates moves whilst waiting for the kettle to boil or carrying the washing around the house. Always be mindful of your capabilities so if walking up the stairs is too much, use an adaptation such as a home lift to remain safe. This means your confidence is not compromised and you have the energy to complete more worthwhile strengthening exercises without the risk of a fall.
Start slow and over short periods of time build up the intensity by no more than 10% each day to ensure progressive, not excessive, overload of muscles. If you do too much too soon you might become stiff afterwards which is not the outcome anyone needs. If you feel comfortable with progressing from mild to moderate activities, body weight exercises like press-ups, planks and lunges can be considered for enhanced strength building.
However, we must recognise that everyone is different and some daily activities, like mowing the lawn in one go, might result in overexertion. Thus in this scenario, start with mowing a small bit of the lawn and finish it off a day or two later.
So when doing any daily activity or exercise routine always consider how you feel and how you feel the next day. If you are fine, then carry on and maybe push yourself a little further next time, or if you have discomfort, do less next time. It’s all about listening to your body and keeping focused on appropriate exercise that produces a positive improvement in mobility and well-being.
Stuart Barrow is an occupational therapist.