The body is a truly amazing vessel. It’s smart, capable and awe-inspiring. It’s much more intelligent than we can imagine and the good news is it’s always on our side working day in, day out to grow, mend and fix.
Your body wants you to be the best version of you. It has helped you through every challenge, whether that’s physically or mentally, and it’s there for you right now.
The body continues to do this throughout our lives, despite changes that happen to our muscle mass and bone density.
So how do we help our body?
Excersing is the best way to take care of our body, and studies reveal that it is one of the best things we can do to extend our lives. One study by BMJ followed nearly 15,000 men and women in the UK over a period of 20 years. Researchers looked at the participants around the 10-year mark and then again at the 20-year mark to see how many people in the study had passed.
Results showed that those who increased their activity levels were substantially more likely to live longer — even for those who had pre-existing diseases like cancer.
The study also showed that meeting and maintaining the minimum public health recommendation of around two and a half hours of moderate-intensity exercise every week could prevent nearly half the deaths that resulted from inactivity.
For anybody, young or older, injuries can be a problem. Especially after an exercise hiatus.
As we age, our bone density changes. After 50, bone breakdown accelerates leading to weaker bone structure.
According to Osteoporosis Australia, getting the most out of exercise means progressing slowly over time. Anything that involves balance is very important to help prevent falls later in life.
Muscle mass starts to drop off after 30, but investing in an exercise regime is proven to build those muscles back up. Harvard Medical School says exercise may prevent, and even reverse, age-related changes in the body. And this exercise can be started at any time in life.
Results show that, while people think that as you age, you should start to slow down, really the opposite is true. This is the time when exercise is most important.
Starting to exercise again
Experts encourage exercise in older adults wholeheartedly but also recommend embarking on the journey with care and professional help. Bones and muscles will not react as they used to and it’s not worth risking injury. Hitting the gym at 50 is different from hitting the gym at 20 or 30.
“The reality is that if you’ve not exercised for a number of years jumping straight into the gym is likely to end with an injury,” explains Phil Goodwin. “Most will have quit within 6-12 weeks. Not because they want to but because they’re injured.”
Start to exercise with the brain
According to medical professionals, starting again begins in the brain with neuromuscular training. This is where you retrain your brain to speak with your body again. Your brain needs to remember how to communicate well with your body before anything can even start happening in the body.
This can be done through increasing exercise and weight-bearing exercises like walking or yoga. “Working on your flexibility is also really important,” says Phil. “If your muscles are tight from a lifetime of no movement — or limited, but repeated movements — it doesn’t take much to tear them.
“If you go straight to the gym and don’t warm up properly, the risk of injury is high. When working with flexibility, it’s all about gentle incremental changes. If you’re serious about living healthily for longer, set realistic goals like three months to work on flexibility and core stability first. The building blocks to getting back into practice are Flexibility, stability (core strength) and then you can work on building strength.”
Strengthening the body
It takes time and patience to strengthen the body again. And a lot of mental strength. As Phil explains “when you’re over 50, you also know that there are very few quick fixes. Slow and steady wins the race.”
Only then is it safe to consider more progressive resistance training, which can help to increase bone density and muscle mass.
“In my experience, it seems the most at-risk group is those over 50 who haven’t exercised for a while. When they jump straight back into the gym with tight and tense muscles, expecting to lift weights and perform like they used to, they’re at risk of injury. Starting with yoga and reformer Pilates to build up strength over time is much more sustainable.”
Solutions to exercising into older adulthood ultimately depend on what each individual wants to gain. Being able to run marathons into your 50s and beyond is amazing, but functional fitness is a key marker of healthy older age, too. Being able to perform simple actions like getting up and down the stairs will impact the quality of life and longevity way into the future.
But, if running the marathon is the goal, there’s nothing stopping you achieving it. Slow and steady wins the race.