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The importance of staying active in later life

Posted on 23/10/2016

The headlines are full of the amazing feats of older athletes. From an 85-year-old who recently set an age-group world record at the Toronto Marathon, running it in under four hours, to a 67-year-old completing the gruelling Ironman challenge, defying doctor’s advice that he should refrain from hard exercise altogether.

Of course, these feats are exceptional, but staying active throughout your life and into older age has numerous benefits and can help to reduce the risk of age-related illness and conditions. In combination with eating well, regular exercise can keep you feeling fit, healthy and independent for many years.

Starting young and maintaining an active lifestyle is the optimum – prevention is better than cure after all. A healthy lifestyle helps to keep weight stable, and being overweight is known to be a contributing factor in a series of health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer. Being fit also helps you to recover from illness quicker, meaning you can get back on your feet and return to normal life faster.

But if you’ve never taken regular exercise, it’s not too late to get started. There are a plethora of exercise classes and health referral schemes for older people. If you’re overweight or suffer from particular health conditions, speak to your GP about what you can do. You will need to start slowly at first and build your fitness bit by bit. There may be programmes in your area that can get you started, for example at your local gym or community centre. The NHS has some exercises specifically for older people on its website.

Age UK says that nearly half (45.3%) of people aged over 65 in the UK are ‘inactive’, which is a higher percentage than the population as a whole. Part of the problem is that for those who have never been particularly active, it seems unachievable to get started. There are a lot of different fitness options that older people can get involved with. Age UK itself has projects designed to get older and disabled people into sport. Inspire and Include is aimed at older disabled people around the UK, and Get Going Together brings together older people in different physical activities. Such activities may include walking, swimming, seated exercise, dancing and more.

Even if it is too late to prevent certain conditions, exercise can help to manage symptoms.  Alzheimer’s Society has reported on a new study that shows some benefits of exercise for older people with vascular dementia, which causes problems memory and thinking skills.

Whatever your particular preference, taking some form of exercise is so important to your health. Build it into your daily life and you’ll start to feel the benefits.

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