Stay fit for life and you’ll reap the benefits
Consider this: your muscle mass peaks at the age of 25 and your bone strength in your early 30s. By 50, you’re well on your way to being a third weaker than you were in your 20s. Changes in collagen levels affect the resilience of your tendons and ligaments as well as your skin. But this is not the whole picture. ‘The message is, use it or lose it – but whatever your age you can work to optimise your strength and fitness,’ says chartered physiotherapist Sammy Margo.
When you don’t use your body properly – and bad habits persist for years – things start to go wrong. Being hunched and bent can strain your spine and its supporting muscles. And time is not on our side – we all shrink as we get older as the discs in our spine get flatter and thinner. An Alexander Technique teacher can realign your body – get yourself started by imagining a string coming from the top of your head pulling you gently towards the ceiling, pull your tummy in and keep the natural curve in your back.
BE A YOGI
When it comes to holding back the years, yoga ticks all the boxes. ‘A little goes a long way and regular yoga practice builds strength, stability and flexibility. But feeling youthful is more than just taking care of your body, it’s also about taking care of your thoughts,’ says online yoga guru Adriene Mishler. Don’t be put off by the fact that you’re not flexible. Start now with Adriene’s Yoga Quickies on Youtube – ideal for beginners.
Your body is designed to move – and that means avoiding sitting for too long during the day as well as getting three to four hours of exercise a week. As well as protecting against type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers, regular exercise can add years to your life, even if you’ve been a confirmed couch potato. One Harvard study found that previously sedentary men who only took up exercise after 45 had a 24% lower death rate than their inactive contemporaries. Just getting moving later in life can add more than a year and a half to your life expectancy.
Maintaining good balance is a complex equation with many factors including strength, reflexes and even eyesight. Try these exercises: ❤ Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth or washing up. That too easy? Close your eyes – if you manage 20 seconds you’re doing well. ❤ Walk heel to toe for 20 steps – then try doing it backwards. ❤ Balance on your left foot, bend your right knee and raise it behind you to hip level. Reach your hands out in front of you and then bend forward, extending your right leg straight behind you. Hold it for 10 seconds, then do it on the other side. Repeat at least 10 times.
The impact of declining hormones, weakening connective tissue and gravity all mean you will have to work harder to maintain strong muscles and bones. But it can be done with a combination of weight-bearing exercises (walking, stair climbing, tennis) and resistance exercises (lifting weights, using stretch bands). Recent research on a group of women over 58 found that twice-weekly sessions of weight lifting, resistance training and impact exercises, like jumping, strengthened bones.