How to successfully kickstart your fitness journey later in life

Aug 17, 2023
If you're over 60, regular exercise is crucial in maintaining your health and independence. Source: Getty Images.

If you’re over 60, regular exercise is crucial in maintaining your health and independence and ensuring you have the energy to do more of what you love, like playing with the grandkids. Not only does regular exercise help you maintain an active lifestyle, it can help to decrease the risk of serious conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, and can also help lift your mood and improve your mental health as well as your immunity.

With all these incredible, life-changing benefits, it’s a surprise everybody isn’t rushing to the gym! But as the old saying goes, “the first step is always the hardest” and committing to starting a new fitness routine or exercising for the first time can be quite daunting.

With that in mind, Starts at 60 sought out those in the know, to determine the most effective way to get started on your fitness journey.

Co-ordinator for Living Longer, Living Stronger, Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria, Mish Wright, provided some insight on getting more activity into your daily life. Wright highlighted the importance of not taking on too much all at once, saying that “small and sustainable activity bites add up to positively impact your body and your mind”.

Maryanne Spiers, an experienced exercise physiologist and CEO of BU Adventures who is passionate about the health and fitness of older men and women, told Starts at 60 that “it’s perfectly normal to be fearful when starting anything new”. She provided some helpful tips and advice (below) on getting started, staying motivated, avoiding injury and how to have fun with it.

Where to go

Spiers points out that while “it’s important to stay mobile” as we age, the gym isn’t the only avenue to get some decent exercise. Take on something that interests you. If you like hiking, find some local trails and keep them light and easy at first.

“Get out into nature or take a brisk walk for a minimum of 30 minutes, three to four times a week,” Spiers said.

“Swimming is also a great exercise that is non-weight-bearing and works all major muscle groups. If you are not a swimmer then try out some aqua aerobics classes!”

How to get started

If you’re committed to the idea of getting fit, your enthusiasm and dedication are typically sky-high as you pack your gym bag and head off to the local gym to try out the new equipment. But before you rush off to claim that personal best on the bench press, Spiers has some sage words of warning for first-time gym goers.

“If you have never exercised, it’s best to seek out a professional in your area who specialises in training older adults,” she said.

“Remember to start with a small amount and build up slowly to avoid injury.”

Spiers also encourages people to be mindful of their limits, especially when it comes to pre-existing conditions and injuries.

“If you have a previous injury, make sure you tell your fitness professional,” she said.

“Movement of any kind is perfect. You cannot hurt yourself by moving. Work on mobility by walking more on uneven surfaces to build up your mobility. Core strength will assist in keeping you more balanced and upright, as well as assist in supporting your overall health. Try pilates or yoga classes – gently.

“Some exercise that includes weight training and cardiovascular-based training will help to maintain muscle mass, promote flexibility and feelings of wellbeing. Picking up a moderate weight-based training program will assist in getting you stronger and avoiding osteoporosis or indeed helping to reverse the severity of this condition with a two-to-three times a week strength-training program.”

Staying motivated

It often takes a few weeks to feel and even see the results of all your hard work. There may also be days when you just don’t feel like putting in the effort. When it comes to maintaining motivation, Spiers finds running in packs the best.

“If you find an activity or group that is like-minded, you can enjoy your journey so much more,” she said.

Wright agrees and says “exercise is much easier when you have a friend”.

“This might mean sharing a commute or just sharing a commitment to attend. Research shows that when embarking on a new fitness regime with social connections, the retention to the activity is much greater. Ask your friends what activity they enjoy doing and give it a go,” she said.

Wright also suggests injecting some fun into your new exercise routine as “any activity associated with joy or fun will ultimately mean that we commit to it”.

“Take time to think about the things that you have done (or would like to do) that you found fun,” she said.

“This might mean re-joining a sport you once played. Many sports clubs have modified programs for older adults. It might mean joining a dance club. Whatever has made you laugh in the past, will bring you joy again.”

Staying active through regular exercise becomes vital for maintaining your health and independence later in life.

From hiking in nature to embracing weight training, the path to fitness can be tailored to your interests and needs.

So, step by step, you can make exercise a joyful and sustainable part of your life, supported by a community that shares your journey.

This article was originally published on January 9, 2022, and has been updated on August 17, 2023.


IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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