There is much to look forward to as we get older, but the ageing process can also bring with it some realities that are less appealing. But some basic physiotherapy principles mean those aren’t inevitable.
The thing many people fear about growing old is a loss of mobility and balance. Both of these are linked very closely to independence – something that we tend to take for granted when we’re young, but which becomes increasingly important to people as they get to retirement and beyond.
Disability, being unable to carry out personal hygiene tasks or becoming susceptible to a fall are all things that all loom large in the minds of those of us who begin to feel the effects of ageing on our bodies.
These symptoms are very closely linked to the natural loss of muscle strength that starts as the years go by – but what people often don’t understand that this process is not inevitable and can be deferred with a sensible and appropriate exercise regime.
The kind of exercises that we would recommend as a physiotherapy clinic to older clients achieve a number of things:
Strength exercises help to maintain muscle density and strength and also do a lot to strengthen bones that become more brittle as we age. This helps us to maintain our core strength, which in turn aids:
The better our core strength is, the better balance we have, which reduces the risk of experiencing falls or periods of unsteadiness that make us vulnerable to a fall.
With increased strength and better balance comes better mobility, meaning you’ll be more likely to maintain your ability to carry out everyday tasks such as bathing, climbing the stairs and light housework, over a longer period of time.
This is also more likely to be the case even if your general health deteriorates or you develop a disability.
We’re not talking about taking out a gym membership and smashing out mile after endless mile on a treadmill. But any sort of resistance exercise – whether that’s pilates, a brisk walk or step exercises on your bottom stair – will help to build strength and stamina.
Unfortunately, too few people in middle age and beyond are doing this kind of exercise regularly. If you currently take no exercise the thought of trying to get fit may be overwhelming – but just 10 minutes a day that raises your heart rate can be hugely beneficial.
Even if you can’t manage to exercise every day, a meaningful period of activity – a longish walk, for example – twice a week can be enough to maintain fitness levels to an extent that can help to stave off the worst symptoms of ageing.
The Chief Medical Officer’s recommended guidelines for exercise in later life can be found here
As physiotherapists, we have a responsibility to help people with naturally occurring health conditions to become fit to meet the challenges that getting older brings.
We work with a number of older clients and if you’d like to start getting fit for life but don’t know where to start, our experienced team can sit down with you and work out a tailored programme that’s achievable and takes account of your current health and fitness levels.
We would always recommend you see your GP for a health check-up before starting any sort of exercise programme, especially if you have not taken regular exercise for some time.