Exercise and Ageing - Part 1
How old are you? I realise that’s quite a personal question to open with, but bear with me. Because your age will probably dictate what you take from this blog. Or whether you read it at all!
When we hear the word “ageing”, it resonates differently depending on how old we are. If you were to ask the question “what does the word “ageing” mean to you?” you could probably group the respondents by age, even if the answers were anonymous…
- It’s not something that I really think about (20s/30s?)
- It’s something I’m trying to control with as many beauty cheats as I can get my mitts on! (40s/50s?)
- It’s something I have to accept as inevitable and there’s not much I can do about it (60s +)
Admittedly I’m employing some artistic “sweeping generalisation” here, but you get my point.
The same can be said about the word “exercise”. Our attitude and approach to exercise is, to an extent, governed by our age.
Perhaps the word “exercise” is part of the problem. It’s something we should do, not necessarily want to do. It’s sweaty gyms, it’s (ughh) jogging; it’s time-consuming and painful! So what if we replace “exercise” with “activity”? Does that change how we think about it? The World Health Organisation defines physical activity as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure”. That’s a bit clinical, but it basically means any movement can be defined as activity. Getting out of bed, getting dressed, climbing the stairs, going to work. We may not all exercise, but we’re all engaging in activity, even if it’s not on purpose!
Of course, nobody could claim that tying our shoes in the morning is an adequate level of physical activity! But it also doesn’t have to mean a huge time commitment or drawers full of the latest hi-tech workout gear!
We know by getting and staying active we improve our physical and mental wellbeing, so let’s agree we need to start somewhere. It’s not about being a triathlete or a gym bunny. Now this may sound strange coming from a Personal Trainer but the reason I became a PT was because I couldn’t face joining a gym! I was in my late 40s, I knew I needed to do something about my declining health and poor mental state, having quit my busy corporate job as a result of stress! So I retrained as a fitness coach and set up my own fitness studio!!
It’s good to get out
So if we’re not pumping iron or running the Couch-2-5K, then what? The UK Govt suggests: “Adults in England should aim to take part in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week.” But what does 150 minutes look like – and if we don’t hit that consistently, does that mean what we DO achieve isn’t worth the bother? “I can’t commit to that every week so I might as well not even try”. It can be demotivating, so we end up doing nothing.
Well, anything is better than nothing, so why not start with a 10-minute walk? Which is actually way more than “better than nothing”. The NHS “Live Well” site tells us that a 10-minute brisk walk is good for the health of your heart and improves stamina. Public Health England tell us that “Taking at least 1 brisk 10-minute walk a day has been shown to reduce the risk of early death by 15%”. AND it contributes to our recommended 150 minutes of activity a week. So that’s all good!
How do we find the right balance?
As we get older our busier lives, families, long work hours and less leisure time result in less motivation to engage in purposeful activity. We know a lack of exercise negatively affects our health – including a greater risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It can affect our mental wellbeing too. As we age (and ageing happens to us all!), our slowing metabolism can lead to weight gain (middle-age spread IS a thing!). Loss of muscle mass and bone density reduce our body’s natural strength, our joints show signs of wear and tear. We breathe harder going upstairs. We have the reflexes of a garden snail. All those aches and pains (don’t mention the strange vocal accompaniments every time we stand up) remind us we’re not 25 anymore, and the desire to move more is far less.
The bottom line is this – for many of us on the wrong side of 40, activity is pretty low on the “to do” list, when it should be right up at the top! But rather than heading for the nearest dark room for a lie down, let’s take a look at what we can all do right now.
How do I go from here?
Looking at exercise and ageing, we’ve established that any additional activity is a good place to start, so how does that look in reality? My best advice when it comes to starting a new activity routine is keep it simple. Remember the old joke…how do you eat an elephant? The answer…one bite at a time. It’s the same approach to activity. It’s what I tell my clients who are starting from scratch. Start with something manageable and sustainable. Like a 10-minute brisk walk once or twice a day. Who knows where it might take you?
Let me leave you with a few simple suggestions to get you going:
- Do you take public transport? Get off a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way
- If you normally drive to the local shops, walk instead (if you already walk, next time why not pick up the pace if you’re able)
- Short trip to do the school run? Why not walk with the kids once or twice a week instead (OK they’ll probably hate you for it so you may want to employ a little bribery!)
- Inner city living? GREAT! Let’s start with a trundl round your local park!!
In Exercise and Ageing Part 2…
We’ll look in more depth at the benefits of getting outdoors, into nature. And if you’ve already decided it’s not for you because you don’t live within spitting distance of a National Park, fear not. Check out your local area on Google Earth – I bet there’s a green space not far away. And remember…it’s good to get out!
Debbie Barber is a Personal Trainer based in stunning Weardale who retrained as a Fitness Coach in her late 40s after quitting a stressful corporate job. Being unable to find a PT who understood the challenges of being a menopausal woman nearing her 50s, and dreading the thought of joining a gym, she realised that other women around her local area probably felt the same. Her client base is predominantly women in their 40s to 70s who simply want to feel healthier by being more active