Carer smiles as he works with a service user to improve her strength.

Getting physically active

Regular exercise and physical activity are good for both your physical and mental wellbeing. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, being physically inactive is the greatest health risk for older adults. 

Being physically active can help you to;

  • Increase muscle mass, strength and physical endurance;
  • Improve coordination and balance;
  • Improve joint flexibility and mobility; 
  • Improve cardiovascular and respiratory function;
  • Increase bone strength; 
  • Reduce body fat;
  • Reduce blood pressure;
  • Reduce susceptibility to mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression;
  • Reduce risk of various diseases, including cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Many people think they should slow down as they get older, but that's just not the case. In fact, you need to be more active as you get older, to help counteract the normal effects of ageing.

The irony is that a lot of older people experience aches and pains because they are physically inactive, not because they're getting older. To find out more, visit The importance of exercise as you get older section of the NHS Choices website

Getting started with getting active

If you've not been active for a while, begin by setting realistic goals. Don't start your fitness regime by deciding to run a marathon; instead, go slowly and build up your strength and stamina to get the best results.

Establishing a routine

Start by putting time aside to exercise a few times a week and then increase this as you build up your stamina. If you're not sure what type of exercise or physical activity you'd like to do, try  making a short list of things that interest you. Begin with something that will fit easily into your existing routine.

Once you get going and you begin to feel the benefits, then you'll be motivated to start exploring other activities. You may find that you prefer to make it seasonal, by doing different activities in different seasons, or you may prefer to choose activities that can be done all year round.

Consult your doctor

If you've not done any exercise before or you've been inactive for a while, before you get going, it may be best to check with your doctor that your physical activity choices and plans are suitable. 

The Mayo Clinic has some helpful advice in the Exercise: When to check with your doctor first section of its website

Make it social

Staying motivated and sticking to a routine is challenging for most people. One of the best ways to stay motivated is to make physical activity a social event by doing it with a friend. This can be simple and informal, like going for a regular walk in the park together. You may prefer to do something a bit more organised, like attending yoga class together.

If you're a little more competitive, then you can even think about doing sports with one or more people, such as tennis or golf. 

Set realistic goals

When you start getting physically active, go slowly. Gradually increase the amount of activity, as well as its intensity, over time. As the activity becomes easier, you can increase the length of time you do it, how hard you work or both. 

If walking is your chosen activity, walk a little further or a little faster every day. Don't push yourself too far, but see if you can challenge your body a little every day. 

To learn more, visit the Physical activity guidelines for older adults section of the NHS Choices website

Choosing an activity

There are many ways to be active every day. The most important thing is to choose something you enjoy doing and to include it in your regular routine. If it isn't something you enjoy, you will quickly find excuses not to do it.

Walking

Walking is a great way for anyone to exercise, especially for older people. It is low impact, less strenuous and easier to do than many other types of exercise. If you haven't done any activity for a while, then walking is a great way to start.

To find out more, visit the Walking for health section of the NHS Choices website

The British Heart Foundation and the Countryside Agency have set up the Walking for Health programme to encourage people all around the country to get walking. They have set up health walk schemes throughout England.

To find a scheme near you, visit the Find a health walk scheme near you section of the Walking for health website

For information about similar schemes in Wales and Scotland, visit the Health walks in Wales and Scotland section of the Walking for health website.

Hiking

If you like the countryside and enjoy walking, but want to do it more vigorously and for longer, then hiking could be for you.

For a bit of inspiration, check out the Top ten best ever British hikes on the Rough Guides website. The Walking and hiking section of the Visit England website is a great resource for walking and hiking holidays in England.

If you'd like to hike around the highlands and lowlands of Scotland, check out the Scotland's Great Trails website.

If the hills and valleys of the Welsh countryside are more your thing, then the Walking holidays and hiking in Wales section of the visit Wales website has some great resources.

For ideas of where to go walking and hiking in Northern Ireland, check out the Walking section of the Discover Northern Ireland website.

Running

If you've enjoyed running in the past or want to start now, being older shouldn't stop you. The Medical News Today website's article entitled "Running for exercise slows the ageing process" presents a pretty compelling argument to get going. You can get started with the Running tips for beginners section of the NHS Choices website. The Keeping the fire of youth article on the Runners World website provides some really helpful advice for older runners.

Israeli dancing

Israeli dancing, also known as Israeli folk dancing, is great fun and great exercise. Although the hora may be the most famous Jewish dance, Israeli dancing has many different styles and is more choreographed. It has developed as more of a social activity rather than a celebratory one. To find out more, check out the Hora Wiki website, a treasury of Israeli folk dance information.

Swimming

Swimming is a great all-round exercise and is particularly good for older people because it is not weight bearing. It's easy to start at any age and is great for people who are unable to do other types of aerobic exercise due to injuries or health conditions. To get started, check out the Swimming for fitness section of the NHS Choices website.

Rowing

According to British Rowing, the governing body for the sport of rowing, rowing is great for people of all ages. In fact, rowing is one of the only sports that exercises almost all of your body.

To find out how to get started, check out the Go Rowing section of the British Rowing website.

Cycling

You may think that riding a bike is only for youngsters, but that's just not true. Many older people enjoy cycling, and if it peaks your interest, then why not give it a go?

The "Cycling in older age" article on the Cyclorama website offers inspiration and advice for older cyclists. Also, the Livestrong website has some great tips in the article 'The best bicycles for over 60'.

To get started, check out the Cycling for beginners section of the NHS Choices website.

Join a gym

If you think that being a member of a gym is for young people and bodybuilders, then think again. Gyms, fitness centres, health clubs...call it what you like, they are all a variation on a theme and provide fantastic opportunities for older people to get fit.

It's important to find a gym that meets your needs, but it's also equally important to make sure the environment is one that you will feel comfortable in.

When considering a gym, get in contact with them and set up a tour. Make sure you bring a list of questions you want to be answered. It's ideal to set up the tour during the time you would like to exercise. 

Here are our top tips for finding the right gym for you:

  1. Make sure the gym is in a convenient location. If it is too far afield, difficult to get to or even tricky to park your car nearby, you may find that these present serious barriers. 
  2. Check out the opening hours of the gym and make sure it is open on the days and times you wish to exercise. 
  3. Have a look around at the other members of the gym and make sure they are the sort of people you will feel comfortable exercising around. Some people prefer same-sex gyms. Others prefer exercising around people of a similar age. Just make sure you are comfortable.
  4. Speak to as many staff members as you can, and make sure they are supportive and courteous, ready to answer questions or spot you on a machine if needed. They are there to help you make the most of your workouts. Make sure they are suitably qualified to guide you through your fitness routine.  
  5. Check out the cleanliness of the gym in general and make sure that towels are available to wipe off the equipment after each use. Visit the changing rooms, showers, toilets and sinks to make sure they meet your hygiene standards.
  6. Take a good look at the equipment. Make sure that there are enough machines so that you don't have to wait too long to use the ones you like. Check if there are any time restrictions on the use of machines and make sure that these suit you. Also, it is vital to make sure that the equipment is well maintained.
  7. Find out what classes are on offer, what the schedule is and if there are any additional costs. Find out how busy the classes get and what the process is for ensuring you get a place. Some gyms allow you to book in advance and others offer classes on a first come first served basis. 
  8. Find out what the membership fees are. Gym membership fees vary widely, so don't assume that all gyms are the same. 

Yoga

Yoga is good for your mind, body and spirit. It involves physical poses and movement, breathing, relaxation and meditation. It helps people of all ages maintain overall wellbeing.

Unlike many other exercise regimes, yoga is non-competitive. It focuses on being aware of your body and how you practice, rather than how much you accomplish or how fast you go.

To get started, check out the A guide to yoga section of the NHS Choices website.

Pilates

Pilates is similar to yoga; it  involves controlled movements and breathing and does not include meditation. It focuses on strengthening the body's core, bringing balance to body and mind. 

To get started, check out the A guide to pilates section of the NHS Choices website.

Qigong

Qigong (also known as Chi gong or Chi Kung) is an ancient Chinese health method that combines slow graceful movements with meditation and breathing. It increases vitality and balances the body and mind by working with the body's energy.

There are many places in the UK offering different styles of Qigong. However, if you can't find anything in your area, there are some helpful tips in the Getting started section of the Qigong Institute website.

If you'd like to learn Qigong by watching a DVD, we've heard that the Qi Gong for beginners DVD is a good place to start.

Tai chi

Tai chi is a martial art and a form of Qigong. Unlike Qigong's focus on mental and physical health, the focus of Tai chi is on its application as a martial art. It involves slow, gentle movements combined with breathing and mental concentration.

To get started, check out the A guide to tai chi section of the NHS Choices website.

Golf

Golf is a great sport for older people to play, as its system allows for people of all ages and abilities to compete against each other in a meaningful way. Although golf may be played alone, most people tend to play with friends or family and its culture is highly sociable, with many people stopping for a drink or a bite to eat afterwards.

In addition to the benefits of physical activity, being outdoors and connecting with nature makes it good for your mental wellbeing.

To find a golf club or golf course near you, have a look at the following listings from the Golf Today website:

Tennis

Tennis is a great sport for older people, as it is both a physical and social activity. Tennis can be played as "singles" against a single opponent, and as "doubles", with one couple playing against another. Many people play tennis competitively, but it can also be played just for fun.

To find out about tennis in Britain or to find a tennis club or court near you, visit the Lawn Tennis Association website.

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