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 remarkable, life-transforming benefits, it’s astonishing that more people aren’t flocking to the gym! However, as the age-old saying suggests, “the first step is always the hardest.” Initiating a new fitness routine or stepping into exercise for the first time can be an intimidating prospect. Yet, with the new year upon us, there’s no better time to take that crucial first step towards a healthier, more active lifestyle.
In light of this, Starts at 60 has sought guidance from those in the know to pave the way for the most effective and enjoyable strategies to initiate your fitness journey in the new year. Prepare to embrace the positive changes that embarking on this health-enhancing path can bring to your life!
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 routine. Wright highlights 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, tells 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.
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 says.
“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!”
If you’re committed to the idea of getting fit this year, 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 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 says.
“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 explains.
“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.”
While motivation tends to soar at the beginning of the year, fueled by New Year’s resolutions and a sense of fresh starts, it can gradually diminish as the weeks pass by. The initial surge of enthusiasm may encounter obstacles, and the reality of consistent effort and patience sets in. Results from dedicated work may not be immediately apparent, leading to potential frustration.
During this phase, it is common to experience days when the drive to put in the effort diminishes. The initial excitement may give way to fatigue or a sense of monotony. However, it’s crucial to recognise that this is a natural part of any long-term pursuit.
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 says.
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 says.
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 suggests.
“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.”
Embarking on a journey to get fit in the new year involves recognising the importance of staying active through regular exercise, which is crucial for maintaining health and independence as you age.
From hiking in nature to embracing weight training, the path to fitness can be tailored to your interests and needs.
As you take gradual steps toward your fitness goals in the 2024, the aim is to make exercise a source of joy and sustainability in your life. This transformation is even more achievable when supported by a community that shares your enthusiasm and journey towards fitness.
So, step by step, weave exercise into your daily routine, and let the support of a like-minded community make your quest for fitness in the new year both enjoyable and enduring.
This article was originally published on January 9, 2022, and has been updated on January 09, 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.