Anyone experiencing aches and pains knows they can get in the way of living life to the fullest and while some people have every intention of exercising, fear of further discomfort can prevent them from participating in activities that may benefit them. Others simply don’t know how to access classes or the right support for their individual needs.
Whether it’s a previous injury stopping you from getting physical or stiffness and inflammation, there’s a number of reasons why older people feel their fitness and exercise days are behind them. Many unknowingly become sedentary through their adult life and it catches up with them in their later years.
“That’s just out of habit because of jobs, work and so on. That inactivity creeps up on people when there’s that level of inactivity,” Kusal Goonewardena, sports physiotherapist at Elite Akademy and Starts at 60’s Active Living Coach, explains.
In addition to doing little to ease pain, being inactive has been linked to an array of major health problems including heart disease, lung issues, diabetes, dementia, mental health issues and even cancer. The World Health Organization says people should complete 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity weekly such as running, swimming, cycling or dancing, but Goonewardena believes people should focus on different intensities when they work out to reduce pain.
Read more: Australia’s big problem with chronic pain
Exercise intensity refers to how hard the body works during physical activity and can be either low, moderate, or vigorous. To reap the benefits, the aim is to push yourself but not too hard – which could be as simple as increasing speed or opting for more strenuous activities during exercise.
“A person who does various intensities in 15 minutes will have a better outcome than someone who does the same thing at the same level day in and day out,” Goonewardena explains. “The human body needs to be pushed outside its comfort zone and you’re only going to achieve that if you’re changing intensities.”
A key way of achieving this is by signing up to an exercise class in your local area. While older people may see benefits in something as simple as participating in a walking group, there are other classes that can target pain in different ways.
“I talk about whole-body activities, so activities that get the muscles working from top to bottom,” Goonewardena says, pointing out that swimming classes are a great example.
Pilates, Tai Chi and yoga classes can reduce pain in the back because they improve spinal movements, while hydrotherapy classes can do wonders for those experiencing joint pain.
“When a person submerges at chest-level in water, 70 per cent of their body weight is off. Someone who’s weighing 100kg will only weigh 30kg,” Goonewardena explains. “That means all those nerves, joints, muscles and ligaments have the time to recover, have the time to exercise and improve flexibility.”
Most classes will offer various progression levels, which allows people to improve their skills and gradually reduce pain over time.
“Even if it’s one class a week for four weeks, you’re going to start seeing results,” Goonewardena says. “You’re getting the body moving in ways that it hasn’t moved before, potentially. The body then starts adjusting.”
Exercise and physical activity also doesn’t need to be a chore. Goonewardena recommends signing up with a friend to add an extra social element to classes, to motivate you and keep you accountable. It’s also important to find classes or exercises that you enjoy doing.
“You’re thinking of doing an activity that gets you going but really pushes you to be better at it,” he says. “When you choose an activity you love, you become more accountable to it and you’ll stick to it.”
Local communities are thriving with an array of classes for over-60s, with many councils offering free or affordable classes. For example, Brisbane City Council offers Yoga, Tai Chi and gentle fitness classes specifically for older members of the community at no cost.
Meanwhile, community centres, fitness centres and aquatic centres across the country offer similar services.
“The sad part is not many Australians know these classes exist. Some of the council-run ones can be free. The most you might pay is about $10,” Goonewardena says.
Finding the classes is as simple as Googling what’s available in your local area or phoning your local council.
Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.