18,3% of the Hungarian population is 65 or older. This article deals with the healthy lifestyle and physical exercise of this age group. It’s well known that elderly people’s motivation for exercise is generally lower compared to their younger selves. But this shouldn’t and can’t stay like this! A bit of attentiveness – moderate persistence, thorough warmup and stretching, gradual and gentle load – can make many forms of exercise suitable in this age, and even a little training is definitely beneficial for the preservation of good health. This article is aimed at those who are already inclined to exercise, as well as those who need the last push. Written by Ildikó Szántó.
The saying goes, “you’re only as old as you feel like”. And there’s great truth in this, as our physical, psychological, and mental state does not necessarily match our chronological age, our well-being is influenced by many factors. It matters a lot what we’ve inherited and what kind of environmental effect we’ve been exposed to, but the most important thing is the lifestyle we lead.
A healthy lifestyle involves regular exercise. With it we can improve our quality of life at any age. This is because doing sports regularly reduces the chances of certain diseases (e.g. hypertension and type 2 diabetes), it contributes to the elimination or alleviation of various problems (e.g. asthma), and furthermore, it has great impact on appearance, self-confidence, and it basically makes us feel more fit and more agile.
During childhood, the need for exercise is still natural, which unfortunately decreases with age. It’s everyone’s own responsibility how far one allows this process to propagate. In case of younger children, parents can do a lot by setting an example and encouraging their children to do sports. Later, however, we must take responsibility for ourselves. It’s never too late to start! Only the type, intensity, duration, and frequency of the training is to be considered, as not everything is recommended at every age and in all health conditions. So it’s also worth to start exercising later in life, even if we’ve not done it before, because exercise is the key to a quality life, and it greatly influences our everyday experiences.
It’s not only the number of years we live that matters, but also the quality of living these years, which we can control to a high degree. The WHO (World Health Organisation) has also stated that the goal is to achieve “active ageing”. This means that the older generation remains part of society and the labor market, and live healthy and active until the end of their lives. This requires regular exercise.
It’s a good idea to start exercising as soon as possible, since the longer you delay it, the harder it gets. Not only due to the lack of motivation, but due to the increasing appearance of hindering factors as well. In Hungary, 6-8% of elderly people, and only 3,8% of people over 65 do sports regularly (WHO). Unfortunately, many are unable to do so so they don’t even start, but most likely this condition could have been prevented earlier. Even half an hour of walking, a bit of spine training, some stretching, any kind of moderately active form of exercise would have an effect.
Based on my experience, the elderly in Budapest are more willing to exercise, compared to the countryside. They are much more open and receptive of novelties, and there are many more options available. I come from a small town where people are surprised to hear that I even have guests visiting my courses who are over 70; and they’re not even coming for senior training, but for bodyshaping, stretching, and even salsa fitness.
I’d like to tell you about a particular case. One of my early interval training sessions was joined by an elderly couple, both well over 70 (which became clear only later, as they were in very good shape). Wow, they might be overextending themselves a bit, I thought. I accidentally managed to start blasting the music terribly loudly, and then the old man told me to be careful, as his heart is weak. :O Needless to say, I was terrified throughout the training, I was not sure what kind of exercise he can take, how cautious I have to be not to overstrain him. Then the couple went through the training putting even the youngsters to shame, then thanked me, saying they’ve enjoyed it. He told me he was just kidding in the beginning and I shouldn’t be gentle with them. :D So, that’s one way to live, too! :) Since then, they’ve been taking part in my bodyshaping sessions, but I’ve seen them joining numerous other trainings as well.
Their enthusiasm and perseverance can serve as an example to anyone.
Some elderly people obviously aren’t new to sports, like the aforementioned couple. However, I have many retired guests who’s been on the right line only recently, and who’s been feeling much better all the way since.
Fortunately, today we know lots of reasons why it’s important to exercise regularly at an older age. It can counterbalance the deterioration of our body’s abilities. Metabolism slows down with age, which can easily lead to obesity, resulting in difficulty of movement and development of various diseases, such as hypertension, spinal problems, back pain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and I’d like to emphasize depression, which can most effectively be prevented by social activities. Prevention by sports is most advisable, but exercise can also greatly help an already established situation.
Furthermore, sufficiently frequent physical activity generally results in an increase in bone density, thereby preventing the development of osteoporosis. It’s also an excellent weapon against sleeping disorders and fatigue. It reinforces the immune system, so ailments either can’t bring us down, or we recover more easily and quickly. Sports strengthen the muscles, moreover, they also work against the narrowing of joints’ movement range, which reduces vulnerability. This function is of great importance in this age.
Fear of loneliness and feelings of uselessness often follow retirement. Exercise, especially group exercise is a excellent way to brush these off, as it strengthens the soul, improves brain function, thus helping to overcome our great enemy, excessive stress.
No matter which age group we’re in, choosing a suitable form of training does matter, especially for the elderly. Before engaging in a sport that’s new to us, we should consult a physician, or at least our GP. It’s better to do aerobic exercises (when metabolism takes place in the presence of sufficient quantities of oxygen), and avoid strength training exercises requiring great effort.
Maintaining and improving balance is essential, as it can save one from accidental falls. Good posture has an even greater role in this age. Care must also be taken to ensure performing exercises in a proper position and with perfect technique.
Regardless of being in excellent health, age must still be taken into account. Take care not to overextend your body. Protecting the joints and muscles is critical. It’s extremely important to maintain graduality and not to engage “in medias res” in hard training exercises, since there’s the chance of overstrain, or worse yet, injury. We need patience and persistence to attain our goal.
Regularity, which means at least 30 minutes 4-5 times a week, is indispensable for proper effect. During this time, it’s advisable to perform aerobic exercises of moderate intensity, covering all large muscle groups.
Warm-up, cool-down & stretching plays an important role at this age. Do not overload already vulnerable joints. Stretching should be slow, only stressing our muscles and joints to a pleasant level. It’s worth holding the positions for about 20 seconds. We can’t allow minimal cartilage and joint pain prevent us from living an active life. Many people blame joint problems for not engaging in exercise, even though it’s strong muscles that protect joints the best.
We should choose a training that we enjoy, so it will not feel like a burden. The range of options is inexhaustible: walking (at a slightly increased pace, preferably on natural terrain), jogging, swimming, cycling, Nordic walking, stretching, spinal exercises, light weight workout, aerobics (preferably moving all large muscle groups), dancing (benefits the body and the soul, improves mood), team sports (fun and a good opportunity for networking, too), hiking, ski touring, golf, rowing, riding and skating. At this age, it’s slower and more difficult to acquire new types of exercises, but with due care and perseverance, everything is possible.
Numerous training courses recommended regardless of age can be found in gyms as well, such as senior gymnastics, spinal training, stretching, yoga, callanetics, pilates, and any beginners’ course (shaping, TRX, spinning). It’s important not to compare our performance to others’ and not to overwork ourselves. Keep in mind what your body can handle.
Outdoor sports activities are the most recommended, as exposure to sunlight triggers the production of vitamin D, which is essential for increasing bone density. The stress-relieving effect of fresh air is irreplaceable, not to mention reinforcing the immune system, and doing good for the skin.
I’m sure that everyone will find a training method from this myriad of possibilities that’s to their liking.
Let us all remember that “physical activity is the cheapest medicine”.
Source of featured image: pixabay.com
Translated by Ádám Hittaller