- First cardio-vascular fitness, which provides stamina. Good stamina enables you to sustain free bodily movement for the length of time you need it to, without leaving you feeling puffed, exhausted or faint. To achieve good stamina, you must aim to do enough regular activity in order to boost the efficiency of your heart and lungs and improve your circulation and digestion. Work on your cardio-vascular fitness by doing aerobic exercises. (Aerobic exercises simply mean exercising with air). Examples of these types of exercise are, exercises to music, line dancing, ballroom dancing, or jogging and brisk walking. After a time, they make you puff and breathe deeply. Whichever aerobic exercise or activity you choose; you need to sustain it for a length of time in order to gain benefit. 30 minutes is an ideal time, but take age and ability into account. All aerobic activities will make your heart (which itself is a muscle) pump just that little bit harder, and this has the effect of making your lungs work more efficiently, utilising the oxygen you breathe in and improving your circulation. It’s important to breathe deeply in order to encourage greater oxygen intake and lung elasticity. Aerobic exercise makes you feel warm and you puff a bit, but you should still be able to talk whilst you’re doing them!
- The second component of physical fitness is muscular strength. This is the ability of a muscle to exert maximum force to overcome a resistance. Which simply means being able to do things like twisting the stubborn top off a jar of marmalade, or being able to pick up a particularly heavy object. Your body needs strong muscles in order to maintain good posture and improve your shape. As the years advance it’s paramount to do all you can to keep the muscles, particularly leg muscles strong. |Concentrate on strengthening the front thigh muscles (quadriceps) in order to maintain your physical mobility. Simple regular brisk walking involves the rhythmic movement of both muscles and joints, and will stop the muscles atrophying. Walking can be both sociable as well as beneficial especially if you have a partner to walk with.
- To be physically fit you also need muscular endurance. This is the ability of a muscle (or group of muscles) to exert force, in order to overcome a resistance, for an extended period of time. In other words, you need strong muscles to make light work of everyday chores. Those occasions when you have to push yourself just that little bit harder, or exert a little more strength for longer periods than you want, in order to achieve. How many times have I wanted to drop my heavy shopping bags in the supermarket car park just because I have stupidly forgotten where I parked the car! Situations like this call for muscular endurance, and one has to keep on walking and looking! What a relief to finally find the car and be able to put the bags down. If you have well-toned, strong muscles, you reduce the risk of tearing ligaments or damaging yourself when pushed to the limits or you have a fall.
- The next component of physical fitness is flexibility and enables you to put your muscles and joints through their full range of movements with ease. We take this flexibility or suppleness for granted when we are young, but you need to work at it as you get older. It’s a great feeling to be able to use your body efficiently to bend down to do up shoe laces, to stretch up to high shelves, and to use your body to its full potential. Stretching exercises should be performed before and after an exercise session or physical activity, such as gardening, jogging or playing tennis, in order to prevent injury. When you finish being active your muscles are warm, and it is safe to stretch them out just that little bit more, in order to increase your flexibility and suppleness. Try it at the end of a brisk walk – you may surprise yourself – find you are more supple and able to reach further than you could before.
- Lastly motor fitness, which governs your skill and ability to control your movements, balance, speed, co-ordination and agility. It gives you the capacity to re-act quickly, and the confidence to move about without fear of falling over. With skill and the natural co-ordination of mind and body working together you can make your movements graceful, effective and efficient.
If you work hard on all 5 components of your physical fitness, there is a good chance of maintaining your physical independence long into later life. The benefits to your general health and wellbeing are enormous, but give you the opportunity to live a full life. But you need to make exercise a natural part of every day.
Try to be generally more active – walk more, climb stairs, cycle, dance, swim and garden in order to maintain your physical fitness.
Inevitably with an increase in years there will be some bodily changes. There will be changes to your skeleton with a natural thinning of bones in both men but particularly women. Exercise can help prevent the disease osteoporosis. Changes occur in the joints, and arthritis, rheumatism and backache are painful reminders of the passing years for too many people. With age muscles can become weaker, and less able to support – particularly true if you don’t keep active. The muscles begin to atrophy and posture and your self-esteem can be adversely effected by poor muscle tone.
There may be respiratory problems too for some older people, which are often brought about by insufficient exercise (and from the effects of smoking). These problems in turn decrease the efficiency of your cardio-vascular system (your heart and lungs) which can affect breathing and circulation, leaving you feeling fatigued and breathless. Sadly, too, there may be changes to your nervous system, which can result in memory loss, lack of co-ordination and balance. Of course some bodily decline is inevitable as the years pass by but much of the decline can be prevented, and some even reversed. Heredity factors also play an important role in determining many of these changes, in just the same way as they can determine individuals look and character.
The popular saying, “if you don’t use it, you may lose it” applies to both body and mind. I’m a firm believer that in exercising the mind as well as the body in order to function efficiently. Finally, remember it’s important that you eat a sensible well balanced diet to keep healthy and in good shape. You are what you eat! What stronger motivation do you need? Physical activity is extremely important for maintaining bone strength and it can also improve muscle strength thus helping to prevent falls which can cause fractures. Calcium builds and maintains bone strength. Found in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. Other good sources of calcium are found in green vegetables, tinned fish (eaten with the bones) and cereal products.
But Vitamin D is essential for maintaining bones, the main source of vitamin D is that formed in the skin by the action of summer sunlight between April and October. But for some older people exposure to the sun can be limited and the ability to convert vitamin D to its active form is impaired with ageing. Because few foods contain Vit D, I for one prefer to take a daily supplement of calcium plus Vit D to ensure an adequate intake. There is an increase in age-specific fracture risk related to vitamin D. Loss of muscle strength and reduced bone density contribute to falls and fractures and the rates increase with age so regular physical activity, such as walking strengthens and builds up muscle and bone and increases calorie requirements, which in turn increases appetite and increases a sense of well-being.
Reintroducing exercise into the lives of the less active is key to maintaining a sense of independence and quality of life for those who are getting older or are restricted in their movements. Working out isn’t exclusive to the super fit, but accessible to everyone whatever your age or level of fitness. Before beginning the “Get Moving” programme of seated exercises it is important to stress that each individual participant should be responsible for ensuring how suitable an exercise is for them, since everybody’s health issues, especially those in the over 60 age group, are variable. Some people will be fitter than others, some stronger, others less flexible, and some less stable.
It’s a fact sitting for too long can result in slack abdominal muscles and slumped posture which encourages cramp and indigestion. Inactivity is bad for our hearts and circulation, and often results in swollen legs and feet. Unsightly varicose veins are worsened by sitting with legs crossed at the knee and can be avoided by crossing them at the ankles instead. About half the population suffer from some kind of leg problems and about a quarter seek treatment for conditions such as varicose veins or leg ulcers.
Good circulation is important in preventing problems. When we exercise blood that flows into the lower leg is helped back to the heart by the calf muscle acting as a pump, and by the one way valves in our veins. However, if the veins become damaged or the valves stop working properly, blood can gather in the lower limb causing some people to experience problems such as swollen ankles and tired, aching legs. So if you are one of these people, these simple chair exercises are for you because exercise encourages the “pumping” action. You’ll revitalise your body, re-oxygenate your system and improve your circulation and digestion.