You’ve probably heard that being physically active on a regular basis is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself, especially as you age.
Whether it’s incidental or structured exercise, physical activity can potentially improve 50% of the physical decline associated with ageing including [better health]:
- Reduced muscle mass, strength and physical endurance
- Reduced coordination and balance
- Reduced joint flexibility and mobility
- Reduced cardiovascular and respiratory function
- Reduced bone strength
- Increased body fat levels
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased susceptibility to mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression
- Increased risk of various diseases including cardiovascular disease and stroke.
To help them maintain independence, recover from illness and reduce the increased risk of disease as we age, it is important we establish healthy habits and regimes earlier in life.
Common Health Conditions
The National Health Survey (First Results) 2014-15 found a large number of major long-term health conditions experienced in Australia in 2014-15 could be improved through health and fitness lifestyle modifications. These health conditions included:
- Arthritis – 3.5 million people (15.3%)
- Asthma – 2.5 million people (10.8%)
- Cancer – 370,100 people (1.6%)
- High cholesterol – 1.6 million people (7.1%)
- Diabetes – 1.2 million people (5.1%)
- Heart disease – 1.2 million people (5.2%)
- Hypertension – 2.6 million people (11.3%)
- In 2014-15, 23.0% of adults (4.1 million people) had measured high blood pressure (systolic or diastolic blood pressure equal to or greater than 140/90 mmHg). This is up on the 2011-12 figure of 21.5%.
- Kidney disease – 203,400 people (0.9%)
- Mental and behavioural conditions – 4.0 million people (17.5%)
- Osteoporosis – 801,800 people (3.5%)
Other common ageing conditions which can be partially prevented and reversed with an active lifestyle include:
- Muscle weakness and pain
- Loss of muscle size and strength
- Fatigue, weakness and reduced tolerance to exercise
- Reduce number and size of muscle fibres
- Slower replacement and decreased quality of replaced muscle tissue (tougher, more fibrous tissue)
- Bone wastage
- Hormonal changes
- Loss of calcium and other minerals in the bones
- Stiffer and less flexible joint movement
- Thinner and shrunk and/or stiffened cartilage
- Ligaments shortening and loss of flexibility
- Reduced joint mobility
In 2016, we’re living healthier and longer lives than previous generations. The life expectancy of Aussies has increased from 74 years for girls,and 67 years for boys in the 1960’s to 84 years for girls and 80 years for boys born in 2013. On top of this, the proportion of those aged 65 and over in Australia is increasing. The number of Australians aged 65 and over has more than tripled in the last 50 years to 3.4 million and increased nine-fold in respect to those aged 85 and over to 456,600 in 2014.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests there will be 9.6 million people aged 65 and over and 1.9 million people aged 85 and over by 2064… when I’m 74!
So how can we prevent the effects of aging now and in the future? And how can we reverse some of the damage sustained by our current lifestyles?
In 2014-15, 55.5% of 18-64 year olds participated in sufficient physical activity (more than 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or more than 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both) whilst nearly one in three (29.7%) were insufficiently active (less than 150 minutes in the last week) and 14.8% were inactive (no exercise). That means, 44.5% of Australians are currently under exercising!
With this in mind, it’s not surprising to note in 2014-15, 63.4% of Australian adults were overweight or obese (11.2 million people), and the numbers continue to rise. 2011-12 figures showed 62.8% Australian adults were overweight or obese a whilst in 1995 revealed a figure of 56.3%. And if that isn’t enough food for though, Statistics show around one in four (27.4%) children aged 5-17 years are currently overweight or obese, an increase from 25.7% in 2011-12.
So stop waiting, and stop thinking ‘it won’t happen to me’ and start building a healthier lifestyle today.
Some of the many benefits of regular exercise for older people include:
- Muscle – some studies suggest that the average body loses around 3kg of lean muscle every decade from middle age, most of which is related to a sedentary lifestyle rather than age.
- Solution: Adequate amounts of regular exercise can help increase muscle mass, and can occur relatively quickly.
- Bone – bone density begins to decline after the age of 40, and accelerates substantially around the age of 50.
- Solution: Weight-bearing exercises can help keep bones healthy and strong, as well as helping to prevent the possibility of fractures and other bone related injuries.
- Heart and lungs – Whilst cardiorespiratory fitness takes longer to achieve in an older person, the physical benefits remain the same.
- Solution: Regular cardiorespiratory fitness, especially at a moderate intensity.
- Joints – Regular movement is required to keep joints supple and healthy.
- Solution: Aerobic and strengthening exercise programs, especially for people with arthritis.
- Body fat levels – carrying too much body fat has been associated with a range of diseases including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- Solution: Any type of physical activity.
As you can see, regular exercise is crucial, and being physically active can help us stay strong and fit as we age. The fitter and healthier we are as we age, the more likely we are to live independently and continue doing the things we love.
A Personal Story
I want to share with you a very personal, yet funny, inspiring and somewhat strange story. It’s about a family friend of mine, Lady W (as I will call her). She’s in her mid 80s and is one hell of a lady to say the least.
A few years ago whilst my family was away on vacation, I had returned from the holiday a bit earlier than she had anticipated. One evening whilst I was home, I heard something strange in the front courtyard. I didn’t take much notice of it as I thought the neighbours were most likely just working outside on their driveway or in their garage as they often do. But when I went to leave home the very next day, I could not believe what I was seeing. Someone had been gardening in the front courtyard, which is completely fenced in!
When I returned home from work that afternoon, I drove into the driveway and once again could not believe what I was seeing. This amazing woman in her early 80s, using a small step ladder to climb the front fence and throw bags upon bags of soil, which are ridiculously heavy at the best of times, over the fence all on her own.
So why am I sharing this story with you now? Because just a couple weeks ago, at 10pm at night, she jumped the front fence yet again when I wouldn’t answer the doorbell. She knew I was coming home late, so she had spent the evening coming and going every couple of hours until finally, at 10pm she started banging down my front door and screaming my name.
Needless to say, I woke up from my coma and opened the door to find her standing there with 4 bags full of home cooked dishes! This woman, in her mid-80s, when so many others are barely able to move freely, had used a bin to jump the fence at 10pm at night to bring me pots of soup and homemade baked goods.
And though this story sounds a little nutty, when you really take a moment to think about this woman, it becomes apparent just how amazing she is as a role model. Though she can be a little wacky, which at least she has an excuse for at her age, her kind hearted nature and vigour for life has kept her mind and body switched on. She is extremely active, clearly, and still very on the ball for her age. She’s active in the community with lots of volunteer work and the jumping of people’s fences, keeps mentally active every day, and is extremely physically active, more-so than a lot of people significantly younger.
I hope to one day be a lot like her. To be honest, sometimes I wish I could just bottle up a little piece of her and share it with those who need it most. Because to be so alert, caring, and physically active at her age, well, I know a lot of people close to my age that could learn a lot from her.
So next time you find yourself feeling a bit ‘out of shape’, a bit unmotivated or a bit lonely, just remember this story and use Lady W as a testament to how rich life can be if you treat yourself and your life right.
PS. This is a true story which happened to me. And Lady W, well, she’s the real deal too.