Keeping fit

Don’t worry, I’m not about to preach that you should start running marathons or swimming the channel! 

Keeping fit, in my opinion, is very much age and ability related. If you’re not doing anything at all then start gently and work up to something a bit more challenging.

If you always take the car, try walking instead; it will mean allowing a bit of extra time to get there but the walk will do you good, you’re saving fuel and therefore money, so it’s a win, win, win. 

Admittedly you can’t walk to the supermarket and do a week’s shopping and carry it all back, but there will be times when you can leave the car at home. 

I always take the stairs when I’m in a department store for instance, rather than the escalator, just a little thing but it’s usually a bit quicker anyway. And you know what it’s like, you get back from doing the weekly shop and discover you forgot to put something on the list – so if it’s only one item, you can carry that, so walk to the shop to get it.

I also take a slightly longer route to the shop to extend the walk. My wife walks to work everyday, there are a few routes she could take but now she’s used to it she takes the hardest route which includes a steep hill, so she gets out of puff a bit, knowing that’s doing her more good than the easier route. Building exercise into your daily routine like this means you’re exercising without realising it.

If we run out of a couple of bits of groceries midweek, we go for a walk after dinner to the supermarket (we’re lucky enough to live within walking distance), and it’s better than slumping in front of the telly on a full stomach. 

If like me, you’re more mature in years, you’re unable to undertake vigorous exercise so choose something within your capabilities. Gentle stretching can help keep you supple and mobile; you can do this in your own home with the help of a DVD or internet video. Pilates is great for all ages and can strengthen muscles and increase joint mobility, both of which are important as you get older.

You naturally have muscle wastage as you get older, so keeping strong is essential. We probably all know an elderly person who has had a fall, this is often caused by lack of strength in the muscles. The elderly are more sedentary than younger people and therefore lose muscle mass; so it’s important to try to keep up some form of exercise.

My 91 year old mum is an example of this – she had a fall at 89 years old (nothing to do with muscle wastage, she’s just clumsy!) and fractured her hip. She had a hip replacement the same day thanks to the brilliant NHS and was soon back on her feet. But because of the healing process she had some muscle wastage, made worse a few weeks later by the first Covid lockdown. She couldn’t get out so couldn’t exercise more than her bungalow would allow. Two years on and she’s having problems with the hip; the specialist says she’s relying too much on the bones and needs to build some muscle up, so she is now doing the exercises he gave her religiously and is a bit more mobile and in less pain. So she will continue with the exercises and we’ll try and get her out for more walks when the weather allows. 

If you’re lucky enough to have age on your side, I would encourage you to make the most of it. Because let me tell you, if you’re not careful, you’ll blink and wonder where those twenty years went. It’s no good thinking you’ll get round to it one day because unless you make it happen – guess what – it won’t happen. And if the thing you wanted to do is a young person’s activity, you’ve missed your chance. 

If you do have age on your side, have a think about what you’d like to do. It might scare you a bit, but you don’t want to look back in twenty or thirty years’ time regretting that you didn’t give it a go.

It doesn’t have to be an extreme sport, it may be that the scary bit for you is to go to a class or group activity where you don’t know anybody – but everyone else there will probably have felt the same way and will understand your fears or anxiety. At the end of the first session you will have spoken to one or a few people, so the next time you’ll see friendly faces and it won’t be so bad. And you might make some new friends, have a laugh and really enjoy the activity whilst getting fit. It won’t even feel like a work out if you’re enjoying yourself. 

I know someone who took the plunge and booked up for a Zumba class. She’s young and wanted to do something she would enjoy and would help to lose a bit of weight, complementing the lifestyle change she had decided on. She found the first session really difficult because she didn’t know the dance moves, hid at the back of the room and struggled to keep up. But she persevered and went every week, and now she knows the moves, can keep up with the instructor and a lot of the older ladies in the class follow her as much as they do the instructor. She really enjoys it and missed it badly when the classes weren’t allowed because of Covid restrictions. 

Some guys I know play walking football every week, which is aimed at anyone who struggles to run but mainly older people who love their football and can’t bear to give it up completely now they’re too old to play competitively.

My neighbour played football at a good standard, he’s too old for that now so he goes running at weekends to keep mobile. His sons play football, golf and go to the gym, making the most of their youth.

I bumped into someone I used to work with while out for a walk recently, and she and her husband are five years older than me and retired, but seem to have a very active life, walking every day, going to the gym a few times a week and whatever they can to keep active. 

Some people will buy a dog as a way of having to get out for a walk – with a dog you don’t get a choice. The fresh air and exercise will help with your health. 

So there are many reasons to keep and stay fit, and many ways of doing it. It doesn’t have to be expensive, or time consuming, just find something you enjoy and that you can fit into your lifestyle.

It doesn’t have to be just one thing;  if you are able to do two or three activities through the week, you’ll be exercising different muscle groups, potentially meeting different people and getting different benefits from each activity. It may help to also do something at home, so if your chosen activity is weather dependent, you’ve got something to do indoors on those rainy days. 

The key is, to do something – anything you enjoy and will make you feel better. So have a think about what you’d really like to do, research the availability in your area, and go for it. Drag a friend along if that helps, but just go for it – the first time might be a bit scary, but it will only get easier and more enjoyable. You won’t know until you try, and if after a few sessions you decide it’s not really for you after all, find something else, there’s loads of things you can do. 

Your body will thank you in the long run.

Remember – the first step is to take one.