Exercising in your fifties and sixties

Emma Mitchell
Physiotherapist at Bupa UK
29 January 2019

When you enter your fifties or sixties it’s easy to associate any changes happening in your body with getting older. Some people decide to opt for a more sedentary lifestyle, but you’re never too old to improve your fitness levels. In fact, once you hit 50, it’s even more important to exercise to help lower your risk of conditions like dementia, heart disease, cancer, stroke and osteoporosis.

Staying physically active can also play a critical role in keeping both your brain and body healthy into old age, and help you to look and feel younger. Here I explain some active options for keeping fit as you get older, and why they’re important.

1. Get stretching

As we continue to age, we might notice our body parts feeling stiffer. This is due to changes happening to our muscles and joints. For example, the water content of our tendons and joints reduces, making them stiffer. Our ligaments also shorten, causing a loss in some flexibility.

However, by doing simple stretching and muscle strengthening exercises at least twice a week, you can prevent your muscles from becoming shortened, and in turn improve the range of motion and lubrication around your joints. Pilates and yoga are great exercise routines for helping you to stretch and maintain your flexibility, as well as improving your balance and core strength.

2. Strengthen your muscles

On average, by the time we reach our seventies we will have lost 25 percent of our muscle mass. Research suggests that this is not only due to the ageing process, but to being inactive. Typically, when we lose muscle mass as we age, we can also put on fat due to having a lower metabolic rate and eating more calories than we burn off. This is generally unhealthy for you, as extra fat tissue can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.

But the good news is that if you start doing strength training exercises, you can regain and maintain some of this muscle loss. Exercises that use resistance, such as gym weight machines or free weights, can not only strengthen your muscles, but improve your brain function, and help to reduce blood pressure and high cholesterol too.

Try doing strength exercises two or more times a week that work all the major muscles in your body, including the back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms.

3. Keep your bones strong

Your bone mass (how dense your bone is) usually starts to naturally decline from your forties onwards. For women, this decline can accelerate after they reach the menopause, which typically starts in the early fifties, or sometimes earlier. For both men and women, low bone mass can make your bones brittle and more likely to break (osteoporosis).That’s why it’s important to strengthen your bones by doing weight-bearing exercises. This involves working against gravity to make your bones denser, as well as strengthening your muscles.

Exercises that are good for making your bones stronger include walking, dancing, walking up stairs and jogging.

4. Embrace aerobic exercise

Our ability to use oxygen during exercise (aerobic capacity) also reduces with age. This can have an impact on our ability to do daily physical activities in our fifties and sixties, such as walking. But research has shown that people who start and maintain greater levels of aerobic exercise have better mental capacity and fitness as they grow older. This suggests that taking part in regular aerobic exercise to can help you to stay fit and maintain your aerobic capacity for longer.

If you are generally fit and have no health conditions that affect your mobility, government guidelines suggest trying at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as walking, golf, swimming, badminton and cycling every week. Or, to get the same benefits you could try 75 minutes of more intense aerobic activity such as aerobics, fast swimming, tennis or jogging.

Other reasons to stay active

Around two-thirds of adults spend more than two hours per day watching TV and using the computer. But, there is now increasing evidence to suggest that sedentary behaviour, such as sitting, is now considered a risk factor for health, despite how much exercise we do. So as a general rule experts say we should be aiming to break up long periods of sitting with light exercise of one to two minutes, such as walking up stairs.

A final word of advice

So if you haven’t been very active up until now it’s time to get started. When building up your physical strength, remember that allowing your body time to rest and recover is just as important to being active. And as your body will be much more prone to injuries and strains, always seek advice from qualified experts when starting a new exercise, or using a new piece of gym equipment.

You might be interested in reading our other articles in this series on exercising in your forties, thirties and twenties.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

Emma Mitchell
Emma Mitchell
Physiotherapist at Bupa UK

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