Benefits Of Keeping Fit In Later Life

Later life does not mean the end of physical fitness. In fact, regular exercise can offer significant benefits to older adults. This includes both physical health gains and mental wellbeing improvements. 

This article will provide information on the importance of regular physical activity, the types of activity that are suitable for older adults and lifestyle changes that can be implemented.

Table of Contents

Benefits of Keeping Fit in Later Life

Here are some of the benefits of keeping fit in later life:

1. Maintains strength and mobility

– Exercise builds and preserves muscle mass needed for daily activities like climbing stairs and carrying groceries.

– It can also keep joints supple and improve balance, coordination and flexibility.

2. Reduces risk of falls

– Strength training and balance exercises help prevent falls, a common cause of hospitalisation in the elderly.

3. Manages chronic conditions

– Being active can help manage diseases like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis and obesity. It reduces pain, slows progression and can even decrease the need for medication.

4. Boosts mood and energy

– Physical activity has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in older adults, along with other mental health issues.

– Exercising improves sleep quality and gives more energy throughout the day, which in turn alleviates the symptoms of mental health disorders to an extent.

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5. Supports brain health

– Fit seniors have been seen to have better cognitive function, reaction time, attention span and memory.

– Exercise may even help to delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

6. Improves heart health 

– Aerobic activity strengthens the heart muscle, lowers blood pressure and helps manage cholesterol.

– This reduces risk of heart attacks and strokes in a high risk group. 

7. Assists healthy ageing 

– Staying active allows seniors to maintain independence and quality of life.

– Exercise can make it easier to engage in daily self-care, hobbies and social activities.

8. Strengthens bones

– Weight-bearing and resistance exercises help prevent bone density loss.

9. Controls weight

– Physical activity helps counteract the drop in metabolism that can lead to fat accumulation and obesity in older age.

10. Reduces pain

– Low-impact cardio and strength training can reduce various types of chronic pain, including arthritis and neuropathy.

– Exercise releases endorphins that relieve discomfort and boost happiness.

11. Boosts immunity 

– Moderate exercise is also linked to enhanced immune response. 

-This protects older adults who are already at higher risk of illness, building up an extra barrier to infection and flu.

12. Improves digestion

– Physical activity stimulates the digestive tract, so it may help to relieve constipation.

13. Increases social engagement

– Group fitness classes and activities provide social interaction and combat isolation, providing a sense of community and an opportunity to build friendships.

Improves self-esteem

14. Improves self-esteem

– Achieving fitness goals at any age promotes self-confidence and pride. 

15. Provides enjoyment

– Seniors can discover new passions like cycling, swimming or yoga. 

– Enjoying the physical activity they are undertaking also ensures that they stick to their plans and continue to feel motivated. 

Physical fitness is also about maintaining independence. Exercise improves strength and flexibility, meaning that everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, or carrying groceries become less strenuous. 

For an older person, keeping fit is also about maintaining balance and reducing the risk of falls. Strength training, flexibility exercises, and balance training are all crucial in ensuring this.

Regular exercise in later life can also contribute to improved sleep patterns and increased energy levels. This not only enhances quality of life, but also enables older adults to stay active and engaged.

"Physical activity has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in older adults, along with other mental health issues."

Disadvantages of Keeping Fit in Later Life

As previously discussed, there are many benefits involved in exercising in later life. There are also potential drawbacks, however. These may include:

1) Risk of Injury

– There is an increased risk of injury for older adults, particularly if the activity is too vigorous or the individual has pre-existing health conditions.

– It’s crucial to choose suitable exercises and to use proper form to minimise this risk, and to seek advice from medical professionals.

2) Physical Limitations

– Some older adults may have physical limitations that restrict the type and amount of exercise they can do. Chronic conditions like heart disease, arthritis, or respiratory issues can make exercise more difficult. Limited mobility may also render them unable to perform many activities.

Disadvantages of Keeping Fit in Later Life

3) Cost and Access

– Gym memberships, exercise classes, and equipment can be expensive, making it more difficult for those on a limited income to stay active.

– Access can also be an issue, particularly for those living in rural areas or for those with limited transportation options. There are many at-home options to consider, though. 

4) Time Commitment

– It can sometimes be difficult to find the time for exercise, particularly for those caring for a spouse or grandchild, or those still in employment.

– Even short bouts of activity can add up and contribute to health benefits, though.

5) Lack of Motivation

– Lack of motivation can be a significant barrier to exercise for many older adults, which is particularly true for those who are new to exercise or who have been inactive for a long time.

– This can be easily overcome, however. Setting realistic goals, finding activities you enjoy, and seeking support from friends, family, or health professionals can all boost motivation.

Mental Wellbeing and Fitness in Older Age

The benefits of regular exercise aren’t just physical. There are significant mental health benefits too. 

Regular physical activity can help manage and reduce the risk of depression and anxiety, as it promotes the release of chemicals in your brain that make you feel happier and more relaxed.

Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, can also improve brain function, boosting memory and thinking skills and slowing cognitive decline. 

Staying active is also linked to better sleep, which is essential for optimal brain function and overall mental health.

Whether it’s an exercise class or a walking group, staying active can provide opportunities to meet new people and maintain a social life, which can also contribute to improved mood and overall mental wellbeing.

Practical Tips for Staying Active in Later Life

Staying active in later life doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some practical tips to maintain fitness:

– Find activities you enjoy, as you’re more likely to stick with an exercise routine if you enjoy what you’re doing. This could be anything from brisk walking, cycling, swimming, to gentle yoga or pilates.

-The physical activity guidelines recommend older adults to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week, which can be broken down into smaller sessions throughout the week and the day.

-Strength training is also important, so try to include it for at least two days a week. This could include using resistance bands, lifting weights, or doing bodyweight exercises like squats or push-ups.

-If you’re new to exercise, it’s important to start slow and gradually build up your activity levels. Always listen to your body and adjust your activities as needed. It’s always a good idea to speak to your healthcare professionals for advice and support.

The Link Between Physical Activity and Chronic Disease Management

Physical exercise, particularly moderate intensity activity, can help manage blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol, all critical factors in conditions like heart disease and diabetes. It can also help manage weight, reducing the risk of complications associated with obesity. 

For those with arthritis or other chronic conditions, exercise can help manage symptoms, improving joint health, reducing pain and stiffness, and improving mobility. 

Physical therapy can also be beneficial, with a qualified therapist able to provide tailored exercise programs that take into account any limitations or special needs.

More generally, physical activity can help reduce the overall burden of chronic disease. By improving physical health and managing symptoms, it can reduce the need for medical services, potentially lowering healthcare costs.

The Importance of Everyday Activity for Older Adults

Everyday activity is equally important for older adults as structured exercise programs. 

Everyday activities can include things like walking to the shops, gardening, housework, or even playing with grandchildren. They may not seem like much, but they add up. Even the light exercise they provide can contribute to overall activity levels and provide health benefits.

Moderate intensity activity, such as brisk walking or cycling, can also be incorporated into daily routines. 

Not only will this increase physical activity levels, but it can also provide mental health benefits, with time spent outdoors linked to improved mood and wellbeing. It can also be beneficial for the environment, which is a growing concern for many. 

Regular movement throughout the day can also help burn calories and maintain a healthy body weight, which is particularly important for older adults, as maintaining a healthy weight can help manage chronic diseases and improve overall health.

A Case Study on the Transformational Journey of an Older Adult Achieving Fitness in Later Life

John, a 68-year-old retiree living in Leeds, spent most of his adult life in a sedentary job, leading to physical inactivity and gradual weight gain. After retiring, he decided to make a significant lifestyle change, as a routine health check revealed that he was at risk for cardiovascular disease.

John’s GP recommended he start a regular exercise program, focusing on moderate exercise to help manage his health condition and reduce his weight. With the help of human services, John found a local gym offering a variety of classes suitable for older adults.

He started with a mix of aerobic activities and resistance exercise, and attended a brisk walking group twice a week, providing not only a cardiovascular workout but also social interaction. He also joined a resistance exercise class, focusing on muscle-strengthening activities. 

As John’s fitness improved, he was able to incorporate more vigorous activities into his routine. He joined a swimming club, for example, which provided a full-body workout. 

John also made changes to his daily routine to increase his overall activity levels. He started using the stairs instead of the lift and walked to the local shops instead of taking the bus. 

After six months, John noticed significant improvements, including weight loss, better managed blood pressure, and an overall boost in energy and happiness. 

His GP was pleased with his progress and confirmed he had significantly reduced his risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

John’s story highlights the importance of regular physical activity, the role it can play in managing chronic conditions, and the positive impact it can have on overall wellbeing. 

Key Takeaways and Learnings 

In this article, we’ve delved into the numerous benefits of keeping fit in later life. Here are the key points to consider:

– Regular physical activity is crucial for older adults, offering numerous physical health benefits including improved heart health, muscle strength, and weight control.

– Physical fitness is not just about disease control; it also promotes independence. 

– Regular exercise can significantly enhance mental health, improve cognitive function, and provide social benefits.

– Everyday activities contribute to overall activity levels. A variety of activities, including aerobic, resistance, and balance exercises, should be included in an older adult’s fitness routine. This not only maximises the potential health benefits, but also helps to keep the routine engaging and interesting.

– Modifications and guidance from health professionals can help ensure the activity is safe and suitable for those with chronic conditions and/or physical limitations.

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