There are a number of inspirational older people in my life, who have managed to stay fit, healthy and active into their later years. Many of them simply attribute “keeping busy” as their long-living secrets, maintaining social engagements and responsibilities in a community, giving each day purpose and structure. Our physical health is directly correlated with our mental health – if we feel needed, important, and positive about things, our body is naturally happier, and works to keep up and maintain mobility. Getting together with others for physical activity can be the best way to get endorphins moving through the body, boosting physical and mental energy, increasing mood, and engaging in social interaction.
So, you want to get physical, or stay physical, as you move into later years. What are the best options for heart health, joint mobility, flexibility, strength, and getting out of your head and into your body?
Check with your local community organisers about local walking groups, weekend rambler gatherings, or perhaps just talk to your friends or neighbours about getting together a casual walking group a couple of times a week. Walking is wonderful for heart health, maintaining healthy weight, developing strength in the legs, promoting healthy circulation and can be a nice time to chat with your walking buddies. It’s also very invigorating for us mentally to be amongst nature, fresh air and in tune with our surroundings. Plus, if you have a dog, they will be a great advocate for this one!
There is a vast range in styles of yoga, and one style will be great for one person, and not so great for the next. As an individual, you need to find the style that works for you. For older bodies, a slower, more restorative style may be the best option, with not too much dynamic flow.
Iyengar Yoga is a tradition of yoga strongly focussed on alignment, and uses props and tools to make each pose more accessible. Classes tend to move at a slower pace, working slowly into the pose using the assistance of props such as blocks, straps, cushions and the helping hand of a teacher. This style of yoga is all about making each pose accessible to you – not trying to bend you into a certain shape.
Hatha Yoga is the classical foundation of yoga, based on a series of asana (poses) that focus on the breath, awareness, and moving mindfully. There are many different levels of hatha yoga, and teachers will often run 6-8 week beginners courses, moving through the practices mindfully and offering adjustments and assistance to students. This can be a great option for bodies with a lot of tightness – you don’t have to move too quickly, in fact, its better to slow down and observe the sensations.
Yin/ Restorative Yoga is a powerful, deeply restful style of yoga where you navigate into the pose, using bolsters, cushions, blocks and straps to find your way in, and then hold the pose for anywhere from 3-10 minutes, slowly transitioning to the next. The idea is to completely surrender into each pose, taking strain off the muscles and accessing deep physical and emotional tissue to release tightness in the body and the mind. This is a wonderful option for stiff bodies, allowing time to go deeply into a pose without placing strain on the joints or overexerting the heart.
Swimming/ Water Aerobics
Swimming is a great low-impact option for exercise – good for improving and maintaining cardiovascular fitness without putting strain on the joints. Start slow with a few laps, and work your way up. Another good option is group exercise water fitness, such as water aerobics or aqua jogging, which involves wearing an flotation belt and walking up and down the pool, much like walking outside, but low impact, and wonderful for toning the legs and abdomen. It can also help to improve balance and prevent falls. Check with your local pool about swimming times and groups exercise schedules.
Get the heart rate up, laugh at yourself and your friends, and develop a greater sense of bodily awareness and confidence in movement. An excellent cardio workout to maintain heart health, strengthening and toning for the body, and an inevitable mood lifter – try a zumba class at your local community centre. Dance and aerobics develops rhythm, and core strength which helps to maintain balance.
Throwing or rolling big balls to hit little balls. Boules is a wide category, including games such as lawn bowling and petanque. Beyond the concentration, skill and tactics required, boules forces all the muscles to work against resistance in order to ensure the balance and stability of the lower body. And despite a laid-back rhythm, and the preconceived idea that boules is only for the over-60s, you can burn up to 180 calories in an hour, making it a solid workout. A fun, social game, with a little heat of competition to keep you on your toes.
A mentally challenging game involving memory, visualisation and concentration, which is discovered to be effective in preventing the onset of mental disorders such as depression and Alzheimer’s. Much like the satisfaction of completing a cryptic crossword, bridge provides an intellectual challenge and problem-solving satisfaction, leaving the player on a mental high with a sense of achievement. Even better if it is repeated regularly on a weekly basis, providing social and intellectual stimulation.
Get out of the house and into the community. Volunteering is a good way to get involved in a project or cause close to your heart, develop your sense of purpose and self worth, and meet new people. Helping at an animal shelter, organising community events, or helping people in need, are just a selection of volunteer projects. Think about something you feel passionately about, and get involved in something you can call your “passion project”.
This is just a selection of ideas – check with your local community organisers and fitness centres and see what they have to offer. If all else fails, taking a regular walk in the fresh air and taking on the challenge of a crossword or sudoku in the daily newspaper is a simple and effective way to stimulate your mental and physical body.