To age well, keep your mind and body ac­tive

Phys­i­cal and men­tal fit­ness is key to stay­ing healthy into old age

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Healthy Ageing - Sylvia Thomp­son

If all the ad­vice on healthy age­ing could be en­cap­su­lated into one short sen­tence, it would be to “keep your mind and body ac­tive”.

Even peo­ple suf­fer­ing with chronic con­di­tions such as arthri­tis and some forms of de­men­tia are en­cour­aged to en­gage in ac­tiv­i­ties that stim­u­late their mind and body – to help pre­vent their symp­toms get­ting worse. “It’s all about try­ing to bat away frailty by main­tain­ing strength, mo­bil­ity and fit­ness as much as you can through ex­er­cise. The aim is to keep mov­ing,” says Ruth McCul­lagh, lec­turer in phys­io­ther­apy at the School of Clin­i­cal Ther­a­pies in UCC.

McCul­lagh rec­om­mends two types of ex­er­cise – aer­o­bic ex­er­cise for the heart and lungs and strength­en­ing/con­di­tion­ing ex­er­cises to keep the mus­cles strong. “After the age of 40, the mus­cles start to weaken and after the age of 50, it’s im­por­tant to do strength­en­ing ex­er­cises. Strength­en­ing ex­er­cises help to pre­vent falls be­cause if you have stronger legs, you are less likely to fall,” she ex­plains. Strength­en­ing ex­er­cise in­cludes gym classes, hill-walk­ing, cy­cling, golf, ten­nis and swim­ming.

And any of th­ese ex­er­cises be­come aer­o­bic when they get the heart pump­ing faster and the breath mov­ing faster in the lungs. “The key with all ex­er­cise is to do what you en­joy – whether that’s walk­ing, swim­ming, go­ing to an over 55s ex­er­cise class, gar­den­ing, play­ing golf or ten­nis, and the so­cial el­e­ment of ex­er­cise is im­por­tant too,” she adds.

There is grow­ing aware­ness among health pro­fes­sion­als that peo­ple are sit­ting for very long pe­ri­ods of time – whether at desks in of­fices, in their homes or even in nurs­ing homes and hos­pi­tals. “We all have to start break­ing up seden­tary be­hav­iour by tak­ing a short walk ev­ery hour. For older peo­ple in their own homes, it can be dif­fi­cult to get up out of low, com­fort­able chairs but it’s im­por­tant to do so,” says McCul­lagh.

Cog­ni­tive fit­ness

The sec­ond com­po­nent of healthy age­ing is keep­ing your mind ac­tive. Dr An­nal­isa Setti, cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gist and lec­turer in the School of Ap­plied Psy­chol­ogy at UCC, says good cog­ni­tive fit­ness is about us­ing your at­ten­tion and me­mory to solve ev­ery­day is­sues as you age. “When you are young, healthy and fit, most things are ob­vi­ous but as you age, it can be­come less ob­vi­ous to con­sider things like know­ing whether you have all the cor­rect in­gre­di­ents in the house to cook a meal,” she says.

Dr Setti rec­om­mends sim­ple things like go­ing out to meet friends, read­ing a news­pa­per or book and dis­cussing it with some­one else, play­ing cards, do­ing cro­chet or cross­words. “There is no one recipe but it’s all about keep­ing your mind ac­tive by do­ing things that you en­joy. Hav­ing a cer­tain amount of chal­lenge in the ac­tiv­ity is also im­por­tant,” she says.

Hav­ing a neg­a­tive view of age­ing can im­pact on your own age­ing, ac­cord­ing to Dr Setti. “We re­ally need to step out of the idea that when you are older, it’s all about de­cline. It’s also detri­men­tal to see older peo­ple as a sep­a­rate group. If you think about it, age­ing is some­thing that faces all of us in 20 or 30 years’ time.”

Dr Setti says it’s im­por­tant to re­alise that peo­ple can learn new things when they are older. “My own par­ents – who live in Italy – have learned how to use Skype and tablets so that they can see and talk to their grand­chil­dren in Ire­land. Now, they use the in­ter­net for other things too and they are in their 80s.”

We re­ally need to step out of the idea that when you are older, it’s all about de­cline

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