Keep fit: banish aches and pains as you get older

Steve Iley
Medical Director at Bupa UK
22 December 2016

Are you having aches and pains, feeling stiff in your joints and getting slower on your feet as the years go by? No one can stop the clock, but getting older doesn’t mean you have to settle into that armchair either. Whatever your level of fitness, the secret to feeling great is to keep moving.

It might come on gradually as you get older, but one morning you really notice that you can’t leap out of bed the way you used to – at least, not without some pain. Maybe you even feel stiff or sore just getting up from the sofa. Don’t despair, because it’s not inevitable that you’ll always feel this way from now on.

Is it a medical problem?

The first thing to mention is, there are times when joint or muscle pain could indicate a medical problem that needs to be investigated and treated. Use your common sense; if it’s severe, comes on suddenly, or has you worried, see your doctor.

You also need to have it checked out if there is redness or swelling, or if the symptoms last without relief for more than a few weeks. In cases like this, don’t start an exercise programme until you know what the underlying problem is, and you have advice on how to proceed safely.

Is it a natural part of ageing?

Many times though, aching joints and muscles are simply the effects of age. As we get older, the natural tendency is for our muscles to get smaller and lose some of their strength. Our bones also start to get weaker over time. To some degree, you can hold back the years by keeping your muscles, joints and bones strong with regular exercise.

How to carry on being active

If you’re already a keen athlete or dancer, you’ll probably find that you need to slow down and modify your routine as you get older, to reduce the risk of injury. But if you love something, don’t give it up all together. Stay out there and stay active.

Many sporting clubs now have a senior or master’s team for older members, so if the time is right, go for it. Many master’s or veteran clubs have coaches who can help with guidance on appropriate levels of training for your age and fitness.  With years of experience, you also have valuable knowledge to offer. Think about coaching, teaching or being a referee.

It’s never too late to get active

Maybe you don’t consider yourself the sporty type, but physical activity can take many forms, and it’s never too late to give it a try. Start from where you’re at now, and you’ll soon feel the benefits.

Get your heart rate up

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, at least five days a week. If your activity is vigorous, the minimum is 75 minutes. Think running, exercise classes, swimming, cycling, or even brisk walking. Anything that gets you huffing and puffing gives your heart and lungs a workout. The effects on your metabolism also help to build muscle tissue.

Balance and coordination

As you get older, it’s also important to include exercise that promotes balance and co-ordination. Some examples are cycling and dancing. You’ll find that Pilates, yoga or tai chi also help you stay supple, keeping your joints and muscles more flexible.

Build up your strength

Strength training is crucial for your muscles and bones. To get strong and stay strong, they need to work against a force. Lifting weights will do this for you. So will exercises that use your body weight, such as press-ups or yoga.

All in one sports

Sports like football, rugby, or tennis are great because they tick all three boxes at the same time, providing aerobic, balance and muscle-strength training. Dancing can do this too.

If you’re not sure where to start, have a look at our article on exercise for older people

And stretch...

Whatever kind of exercise you go for, it is more important than ever to pay proper attention to stretching. This will keep you limber and reduce the risk of injury.

So if you are feeling the years, now is the time to build your bones, joints and muscles with regular exercise. It really is a case of move it or lose it.

If you have a muscle, bone or joint problem, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get advice from a physiotherapist usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Steve Iley
Steve Iley
Medical Director at Bupa UK

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