Baby Boomers are often told that exercise is essential to enjoying a long and healthy retirement, but how much exercise is enough?
The good news is that exercise doesn’t have to be hugely strenuous or done for long periods to be beneficial for your health.
Research suggests that just 15 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity a day – 105 minutes per week, so considerably below the minimum 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) – helps keep older adults alive for longer.
French researchers looked at different ‘doses’ of exercise in adults aged 60 and above, across nine different studies. They found 15 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity reduced the overall risk of death by 22 percent.
More than this amount of exercise produced even better results. The same study found that the participants who exercised for longer than the current range recommended by WHO saw their mortality risk fall by as much as 35 percent.
The same message was underlined by a study released this year in the Journal of the American Heart Association, which also indicated that the more moderate- and/or vigorous-intensity physical activity you accumulate each day, the more you may help reduce your risk of death.
There may also be a sliding scale of exercise benefit when it comes to not just staving off death but ageing well too. A 2018 Australian study of more than 1,500 Australians over 10 years suggests older adults who do a lot of physical activity (well above the current recommended levels) may be twice as likely to experience successful ageing – that is, to be free of certain chronic conditions and cognitive impairment – than those who don’t meet physical activity guidelines.
So, what constitutes moderate and vigorous exercise, as the WHO recommends?
Moderate exercise activities such as uphill and brisk walking, aqua and low-impact aerobics, swimming, yoga, tennis, golf that involves carrying clubs and housework that requires more intense scrubbing and cleaning.
Vigorous activities, meanwhile, include jogging, high-impact aerobics, martial arts, skipping, weight training, skiing and using aerobic machines such as an exercise bike at a vigorous pace.
There are, of course, many studies that show the health benefits of non-aerobic activities too, such as including some weight training each week for the preservation of muscle mass in older adults.
Likewise, the ancient Chinese art of tai chi may help with balance and preventing falls, according to research published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society. It followed earlier research that found tai chi improved flexibility and balance in older men.
If you’re struggling to do much exercise at all, let alone the recommended 150 minutes a week (minimum) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, the good news is that even a slight increase in activity can make a difference to your health and wellbeing.
The 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that even very short bursts of exercise throughout the day, such as walking up and down stairs, can be just good as doing longer bouts of structured exercise. It’s the total accumulated physical activity throughout each day that helps provide important health benefits.
The amount of physical activity you need to do each week will depend on your individual age and level of health. Be realistic and try to find activities you enjoy, remembering that every bout of physical activity counts! If it’s suitable for you, you might aim to progress towards the recommended weekly targets over time.
Before making changes to your exercise routine, however, it’s important to touch base with your doctor to ensure your exercise plans are safe.