“People who exercise regularly in their 60s are more likely to be mentally fit in their 90s.” George E Vaillant – Harvard University
This article explores the notion of remaining active in later life along with practical steps on staying independent as we age.
Many of us understand the importance of remaining both physically and mentally active once we retire.
The UK Chief Medical Officers have set guidelines for adults to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.
What does it mean to stay active?
Staying active means making the most of each day by having a healthy diet, exercising daily and taking responsibility for the choices we make whether they be mental, physical or social.
While there are some wonderful care options available for those who need extra support, staying active in later life has a direct link to our ability to remain independent for longer.
How do people benefit from staying active in later life?
Physical activity has been identified as one of the key factors in promoting health-related quality of life for older people.
Being able to make our own decisions helps us to feel like we’re in control and living a purposeful life.
Such independence is contingent on staying as active as possible.
Activities such as swimming, dancing and brisk walking can strengthen our muscles, joints and bones, improving mobility.
Being mobile plays a huge part in remaining self-sufficient.
Higher activity levels increase blood flow to the brain, which in turn helps to preserve our memory skills.
Therefore, someone who regularly exercises, or enagages regularly in cognitive activities is more likely to enjoy better mental health.
Physical health benefits
There’s strong scientific evidence that keeping active, regardless of your age, can mitigate the risk of serious life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and strokes.
In fact, this cost-free form of medicine can reduce your likelihood of premature death by a whopping 30%!
According to the NHS, adults who complete the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week have up to…
- 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease or stroke
- 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- 20% lower chance of breast cancer
- 30% lower chance of falls
- 30% lower risk or depression
- 30% lower chance of dementia
Not only does exercise have amazing physical benefits such as improved strength and balance, but it can also work wonders for boosting self-esteem, energy levels and sleep quality.
Research has found that low-intensity aerobic exercise for 30–35 minutes, 3–5 days a week, for 10–12 weeks was best at increasing positive moods (e.g. enthusiasm, alertness).
Mental health benefits
Being physically active can help prevent common mental health conditions such as mild depression and anxiety, with exercise causing chemical changes in the brain which enhance feelings of positivity and happiness.
Indeed, studies show that there’s approximately a 20% to 30% lower risk of depression and dementia for adults participating in daily physical activity.
Furthermore, having a fitness goal to work towards can boost motivation and self-esteem, resulting in a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
How can I remain active?
Exercise is strongly recommended for everyone, at all ages.
The National Institute on Ageing says that, “Exercise is good for people of any age and can ease symptoms for chronic conditions. Contrary to popular belief, weakness and poor balance are linked to inactivity, rather than age.”
A lack of exercise can, therefore, lead to lost muscle mass and weaker core balance, making falls more likely.
Being mobile makes it much easier for a person to maintain their independence, so it’s advised that we try and exercise as much as possible, even if it’s just a 10 minute stroll around the block.
Exercising has been proven to make people feel more energetic during the day, to sleep well at night, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their life – all in all providing a profound sense of wellbeing.
5 examples of physical exercise:
- Taking a dog for a walk – Who doesn’t love having a dog around?! Dog walking is a great way to get out the house, stay active, meet new people and build physical strength. If you don’t have a dog, there are great organisations such as Dogs Trust who allow dog lovers take a furry friend out for a walk, benefiting both parties.
- Gardening – We all know the restorative effects of being outside in the fresh air. Gardening is good for physical strength, mobility and for eating the fruits of your labour if you’re a vegetable grower! You can check whether there are any gardening groups near you on the RHS website.
- Volunteering – Community organisations are often in need of support to help them organise important events and activities. From community centres to libraries, garden centres and care homes, there are many great organisations which would warmly welcome extra volunteers. Joining their ranks can help to build confidence, foster friendships and provide a sense of purpose. You can find your local volunteer centre on the NCVO website.
- Yoga classes – Signing up for a local yoga class presents a great opportunity for you to meet new people, whilst improving your strength and fitness. It also allows you to develop a sense of mindfulness, allowing you to stay present and navigate life’s obstacles with greater ease.
- Water aerobics – If you’ve always been a water baby, water aerobics could be the perfect form of exercise for you! Many swimming pools/spas/gyms will offer regular classes.
5 examples of mental exercise:
- Daily puzzle – Activities such as crosswords and sudoku help to give your brain a good work-out. Completing such congitive exercises can help improve your memory and recall.
- Take up a new interest that requires thinking – You could learn how to cross-stitch or play an instrument. Modern-day technology even allows you to practice by watching Youtube videos – a great way of saving some money in tuition fees!
- Mental arithmetic – Yes, we know how tempting it is to reach for a calculator…but forcing yourself to solve a sum in your head can work towards preserving your mental cognition.
- Join a local group – Whatever your interests, there are usually other locals who are just as enthusiastic, broadening your horizons for meeting new friends! If you love singing you could join a choir, or if poetry’s your passion you could join a local writing group.
- Read more – There’s nothing better than getting stuck into a good book by your favourite author. Reading is an excellent way of exercising the brain, expanding the mind and learning new things!
Sign up to a social club today
Maintaining independence in later life is paramount to a person’s physical and mental well-being.
By participating in activities and hobbies, retirees can remain engaged and connected in their local communities.
So, try to maximise your daily routine to remain active for as long as possible!
And feel free to browse the Mirthy website to find social groups in your area.