Exercise for the over 50s.

Walk into any gym or exercise class in the land and chances are they are full of the wrong people…

exercise with cancer

Not wrong in the sense that the participants won’t benefit – they most certainly will. Wrong in the sense they are not the people who would benefit most from being there.

The fitness industry takes great pleasure in curating the latest equipment, the funkiest music and the most attractive and bendy instructors.

All very well and good for the young the fit and the trendy, but what about the rest of us?

A gym for the over 50s?

The Leisure Database Company recently reported on the record numbers of users of UK gyms stating: “whilst all is going in the right direction these numbers are failing to have the desired impact on the health of the nation.’

They are right of course, because gyms ARE full of already fit and young members, but less so the unfit and the ageing population. It is this latter group, the 50 years plus generation, where we see the biggest rise in health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. These older people are the very people we most need to get the gym.

Exercise keeps you young

Exercise is of growing benefit as we age. We know this as research continues to show that exercise can slow down the physiological process of ageing. In effect exercise will keep you young.

Traditionally exercise prescription for those over a certain age has been focused on aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging or cycling. Logic has always outlined this type of exercise as strengthening the heart and lungs and curbing the incidence of cardiovascular disease. However, volumes of recent research has shown that it is strength training for people over 50 right through to their 70s and 80s that provides significant benefits that keep your body younger, stronger and disease resilient as each year passes by. Strength training could well be Holy Grail of ageing well.

The benefits of strength training for older people

The benefits of strength training change as we age. It ceases to be about big muscles and a beach body but rather takes on the mantle of maintaining a strong, healthy body which is less prone to injury and illness. The main benefit of strength training being the preservation of muscle mass.

The loss of muscle is not something that just happens when we age, it is a fundamental mechanism behind why we age. The human body is programmed to lose up to 40% of all our muscle between 50-80 years old. This seismic shift in body tissue has huge repercussions on a range of functions from our posture, to our energy, to hormone production and disease resilience. Any activity that could slow or reverse this loss of muscle in older age would have an outstanding impact across all systems of human health.

Given the importance of muscle to health it is no surprise to find many benefits of strength training after 50 including:

Lowering the risk of chronic disease: Strength training for older adults has been linked to reduced symptoms of arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, back pain and dementia.

Building bone density: Strong muscles support strong bones. Thinning and more breakable bones in ageing is a major health concern in an ageing population. Strength training for people over 50 builds bones that don’t break as easily and prevents osteoporosis.

Decreasing body fat: strength training consistently out-performs other types of exercise when it comes to reducing levels of body fat. More muscle means more calories burned and this is a major reason for assisting weight management and fat control.

Maintaining functional strength: Strength gets you out of your chair, lifts your luggage into the overhead compartments on planes, allows you to carry the shopping home. It is hugely noticeable once gone!

Improving mental health: Along with aging comes a higher rate of depression and, for many, a loss of self-confidence. Strength training has been shown to improve people’s sense of worth and lessen the incidence of depression.

Thankfully we are seeing a change in the tide with an increasing number of exercise programs for the older population popping up. Senior yoga classes, gym memberships for over 60’s and more are becoming available in specialised centres. .

Plato was right when he said ‘Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it’. A strong and preserved musculoskeletal system will prove resilient in the face of chronic diseases. Exercise is great for the young but it is more than that for anyone over 50. It is an essential cog in the ability to influence healthy ageing.

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