The new facts of life

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The new facts of life are: –

  • firstly, that physical activity is more important for people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond, than it is for than it is for people in their 20s and thirties,
  • secondly, that it is at least as important to try to increase fitness after the onset of disease than it is to try to prevent disease through increased activity

Never mind whatever other people think.  You need to believe within yourself and these magnificent seven facts:

  1. Ageing by itself is not a major cause of disability itself until the nineties
  2. Many of the problems that we have assumed are due to ageing are due to loss of fitness
  3. Many of the problems that we have assumed are due to ageing are due to preventable disease
  4. The risk of disease can still be reduced after the age of sixty
  5. Fitness can be regained after the age of sixty
  6. The problems of too many older people are caused by deprivation and poverty, not ageing.
  7. People who are over sixty make a positive contribution to society in many ways, for example without the contribution of people in their sixties, seventies, eighties and older the NHS would collapse TOMORROW


  • It is important to be clear in your own mind about the factors that influence your abilities
  • It is important not to feel guilty about the problems of younger people.
  • It is important to be positive and optimistic
  • It is important to believe that whatever your age you can close the fitness gap between the best possible rate of decline which only a few very fit people follow and the actual rate of decline


What has fitness got to do with me?   Well, there are two answers to that.   Firstly, physical activity is a good antidote to depression and it increases the probability that you will feel well in the short term (as well as making your muscles and heart work better).  However, getting more active is also an insurance programme for the long term. This insures you against the risk of becoming incontinent, dependent on other people, and becoming a burden to your nearest and dearest – possibly the biggest fear of all!

The good news is that your level of fitness, and therefore your level of ability, can be improved at any age.

There are four aspects to fitness all of which can be improved

  1. Stamina, how long you can keep going
  2. Skill, how well you can co-ordinate your actions, for example when recovering from a trip
  3. Suppleness, the opposite of stiffness
  4. Strength, what your muscles can do, and power, how quickly they can do it

Keeping fit and getting fitter are high priorities and the new message from research is that getting fitter may be even more important for people with one or more than one disease or condition than it is for people who have managed to avoid developing any condition.

Getting fitter is both a means of prevention and a type of treatment.

Being fit is a necessity, not just an option.  Your individual level of fitness will depend on your personal lifestyle, interests and the commitment you have to looking after your health. We all need to do what we can to help ourselves maintain physical independence and one significant, but simple way is by including more activity in our everyday lives.   The earlier good habits are started the more benefit is felt as the years roll past.

So take, and make, the opportunity to be more active anytime, anywhere and any place.

Try to take more regular moderate exercise, and persuade your friends or family to join you.   Start with simple things like taking the dog for a walk or by using the stairs instead of the lifts. Or try walking to work or shops or school instead of taking the car.   Then you can look forward to enjoying many more years of ACTIVE life.   The trick is to do an activity that gives you pleasure. You will then discover that being active actually boosts your energy levels.   When we exercise, the body releases chemicals called endorphins which give us a “feel good” factor and the circulation gets going, improving our heart and lung efficiency.   Exercise and being active makes your complexion glow and your mind more alert.  As we’ve seen being inactive is a major risk as we get older. Both Muir and I say – “down with sofas and up with stairs!”  Walking is our prescription for good health.  Do it with others and help others do it!

Brisk walking:

  • Increases your heart rate
  • Lessens the risk of heart disease
  • Encourages more oxygen into your lungs and
  • Improves your cardio-vascular system.
  • Is “Weight bearing” (body weight is supported by spine, legs and feet). Builds healthy bones
  • Builds strong leg muscles – vital for physical independence.
  • Can be both sociable and beneficial – especially if you have a partner to walk with.

How can fitness improve our health?

Physical fitness has 5 components

  • Cardio-vascular fitness
  • Muscular strength
  • Muscular endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Motor fitness

First CARDIO VASCULAR fitness, which provides stamina.  Good stamina enables you to sustain free bodily movement for the length of time you need it 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.

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 do 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.   This 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 keep leg muscles strong I’d suggest concentrate on strengthening the front thigh muscles (quadriceps) to maintain your physical mobility.   Simple regular brisk walking involves the rhythmic movement of both muscles and joints, and will stop the muscles atrophying.

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 IF you have a fall.

The next component of physical fitness is FLEXIBILITY. Being flexible 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, so it’s safe to stretch them out just that little bit more, in order to increase your flexibility and suppleness. Do it at the end of a brisk walk – and surprise yourself by finding you are suppler and able to reach parts you couldn’t before!

Finally, MOTOR FITNESS which governs your skill and ability to control movements, balance, speed, co-ordination and agility.   It gives you the capacity to react 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 and will give you the opportunity to live a full life.  In order to maintain your physical fitness, make exercise a natural part of every day. Try to be generally more active Walk more, climb stairs, cycle, dance, swim and garden. Moderate exercise CAN help enhance and maintain your quality of life. But there are no quick fixes for a healthy lifestyle, just 2 simple rules:   be more active and eat sensibly.

Some bodily changes

As Muir has mentioned, an increase in years will inevitably bring 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.

Exercise will keep you fit for work and play, and make you confident and more comfortable with yourself.  For example, when you go travelling or are faced with an unexpected challenge you feel able to cope.  Exercise helps ease joint problems and weight bearing exercise (brisk walking etc.) can help prevent the bone disease osteoporosis.  Both could restrict your mobility; rob you of your physical independence and quality of life in later years.

But remember it’s important that you also eat a sensible well balanced diet to keep healthy and in good shape.  If you are what you eat what stronger motivation do you need?

  • Eat more fibre and less fat.
  • Consume more olive oil and less lard and butter.
  • Shift from red meat to fish and chicken
  • Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day

Physical activity is also extremely important for maintaining bone strength and it can also improve muscle strength, thus helping to prevent falls which can cause fractures.  Calcium found in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt builds and maintains bone strength.  Other good sources of calcium are found in green vegetables, tinned fish (eaten with the bones) and cereal products.   But alongside the Calcium, Vitamin D is essential for maintaining bones and helping to prevent Osteoporosis.  Ideally we need 1,000 of Vitamin D a day.  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 Vitamin D, I for one prefer to take a daily supplement of calcium plus Vitamin 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.

At the age of 77 I’m determined to not only “Sod Sitting and Get Moving” but to keep moving for as long as I possibly can! My Get Moving Exercise Plan consists of simple exercises specially designed for people who are largely neglected by the fitness industry. It’s for those of us who are later on in life; those who haven’t exercised in a while, and those who can’t do the type of exercise they used to!  It also involves a range of exercises, specially designed for the less active to perform in the comfort of their living room, and even while sitting down!

The Get Moving Exercise Plan consists of a head to toe warm-up, muscular core strength and endurance exercises plus a relaxation section. Stability drills help strengthen limbs and promote flexibility, while light aerobic work improves cardio-vascular capacity and circulation.

It’s a fact that 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 UK population suffers 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.

Before beginning the “Get Moving” programme it is important to stress that you should be responsible for ensuring how suitable an exercise is for you.  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.

Equipment you may need

Sturdy trainers

  • Mat
  • Small pillow
  • Upright armless chair
  • 2 small water bottles or light hand weights
  • Exercise bands
  • Small soft ball (tennis)
  • 12” ruler or small stick
  • Small bag of marbles