Want to live longer? Then science is clear: exercise is your best bet. It’s not just about quantity, either. If anything, the effects of exercise on quality of life are even more pronounced. Work out regularly and you’ll enjoy better immune functioning, posture, mobility and mood and reduce your risk of dementia, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer. Think nature’s telling you to slow down? Think again. Only 15% of women over the age of 75 meet the government’s recommended targets for physical activity, versus 60% of those under 45. But it’s lifestyle, rather than age itself, which takes the real toll on your athletic ability, muscle tone and metabolism. Sit less, move more and you’ll reap the benefits – whatever your age. You might not be able to run as fast or lift as much as you could in your twenties, but start small and you’ll soon see results. “It’s a misconception that you need to change things drastically as you get older,” says Scott Humphreys, co-founder of gym, aerial and ninja fitness studio SP Athletic. “In reality, not a lot has to change.” Read on to find out how to maximise your workout time, whatever your age…
The best exercise to do…
In your thirties
Metabolisms tend to falter as we enter our thirties. Kick yours back into gear with high intensity interval training. HIIT combines short, intense bursts of cardiovascular activity with strength training. The result? You’ll continue to burn calories long after you’ve towelled down. You’ll also build lean muscle mass. More muscle = faster metabolism.
In your forties…
Start pumping iron on a regular basis during your forties and you’ll gain less belly fat over time, according to a study by Harvard University. Get started with our beginner’s guide to strength training. Need another reason to hit the gym? Weight training buffers DNA against age-related damage, according to researchers. Which doesn’t mean you should ease off the cardio: walking, cycling, jogging and spinning all offer similar benefits, too.
In your fifties…
Want to beat brain fog? Thrice-weekly yoga sessions have been found to improve recall, mental flexibility and task switching abilities in fifty-somethings. Not the Zen type? Weight-bearing exercises which use the leg muscles (think tennis, skipping or running) also appear to help the brain stay ‘younger’ for longer. They’ll help you maintain bone density, too, which tends to drop as oestrogen levels decline post-menopause.
In your sixties…
Pole dancing (or something completely new)
“My mum is 60 and in the best shape of her life from Latin, ballroom and pole dancing, aerial hoop and stretching,” says personal trainer and aerial instructor Abbie Ellis, who co-owns SP Athletic with Scott. “Pole and aerial are for people of any age, size and gender. No matter what age you are, the best exercise is what you enjoy doing, so it’s sustainable.” Core strength is something we should all be working on, she reckons. “And it’s transferable through all kinds of training.”
Whichever activity you pick, do it regularly and it’ll improve your sleep, memory and mood, reduce stress and anxiety and help you beat belly fat. Even better, evidence suggests that, when it comes to weight loss, aerobic exercise may have even more of an impact on post-menopausal women than their younger counterparts! Not quite brave enough to join a class? Even light physical activity like walking and gardening can help.
In your seventies…
Keep dancing (and lifting…)
Over a five-year period, regular dancing is associated with a 76% reduction in dementia risk amongst over-75s. Continue on into your eighties and you may require up to 40% less pain medication. But that doesn’t mean you should ditch the dumbbells. “The thing which will make the most difference to quality of life as you age is muscle strength,” says Dr Beck of Griffith’s School of Anatomy. Lift weights twice a week and you’ll develop fewer white matter lesions and be less likely to suffer a dangerous fall.
It might sound like a daunting prospect, especially if you’ve not set foot in a gym before. But, say Scott and Abbie, you shouldn’t let that stop you, however old you are. “Don’t be afraid of the gym,” Scott advises. “And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.” Stretching and form are key, so don’t be shy about seeking help from a trainer – that’s what they’re there for. “Look after your body!” pleads Abbie. “It’s never too late to start.”