There are some common myths relating to older adults and exercise, which include:
- Decline in old age is inevitable – I should expect to become frail
- If I exercise I might fall and break a hip, and
- I’ve never exercised, and it’s too late to make any difference.
However, Professor Daniel Lieberman, from Harvard, believes that this is a “pernicious myth” and that maintaining motor function and increasing bone mass can drastically boost our “healthspan” (those years in our life in which we are generally in good health).
In the UK one in four people do fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity per week, whilst 1 in 6 deaths is caused by inactivity (https://www.sportengland.org/research-and-data/research/inactive-people).
What does history tell us?
Professor Lieberman, in looking back at our evolutionary biology, noticed that hunter-gatherers stayed fit into their old age because of how they lived. To survive they needed to walk, bend, lift and carry – all these daily activities ensured that they maintained their muscular physique and strength.
In our modern world technology now underpins every aspect of our daily life – whether that’s using washing machines, tumble dryers or iRobot vacuums. Prior to these amazing developments, we needed to move and use our muscles to get basic jobs done in the home and garden.
What should we do to maintain our health as we age?
Firstly, do not cut back on exercise – maintain what you do or consider increasing it.
Secondly, continue with cardiovascular work – it is important, whether that be walking, dancing, rowing or cycling – or whatever you like to do.
Thirdly, begin strength training if you don’t do this already – this helps to maintain motor function and bone mass. It is possible for older people to increase their muscle mass and bone density. It is recommended that adults over 60 should lift weights two to four times per week.
What are the benefits of movement and exercise as we age?
It can save time and money, whether that’s visits to the doctor or hospital, paying for medications, or needing to pay for care as we get older.
As a human race we were born to move to survive, and that applies to us whether we are 6, 26, 66 or 86.
What’s your next move to increase your “healthspan”?