LIFE

Why Exercise Is So Crucial As We Get Older

You'll help yourself if you start when you're young.

01/02/2017 7:00 PM AEDT | Updated 03/02/2017 8:22 AM AEDT

If you're young and searching for a reason to actually stick to that fitness regime, look no further than your mum who can lift more dumbbells than you, or your grandfather who walks for an hour every morning.

Gone are the days where physical activity, performed to move a person from one day to the next, were enough to sustain our minds and our bodies.

"We live in a different world today, where we have engineered physical activity out of our lives," exercise physiologist Dr Bill Sukala told The Huffington Post Australia.

"As easy as technology has made them, it is actually working against us from a health perspective."

And if we sit back into our old age, we'll lose it.

The body in itself doesn't really know age, but it certainly knows neglect.

We all know the benefits of exercise. In the face of an ageing population and a population where 70 percent of Australian adults are inactive, these are particularly relevant.

"When we age, anything ending in 'itis' starts to creep in from age 40 and above -- and we've had more time to accumulate disease risk and wear and tear on the body," Sukala said.

"We know that regular activity has a positive impact on reducing pain, maintaining and improving a person's balance as well as their quality and length of life."

For Dr Sukala, the benefits extend beyond the individual. He calls it the 'health footprint'.

"One of the more important benefits of exercise for older individuals is maintaining their independence. A person's individual health also affects their family members, their co-workers and their friends who are supporting them. This is something that comes up regularly in clinical practice."

More older Australians are getting active.

A new study conducted by Galaxy Research of more than 1,200 people has found that Australians aged 50 and over were engaged in an average of 14 hours of activity per week -- almost on par with that of 18-24 year olds.

Of those respondents who reported pain in their joints, 40 percent did not let their pain intervene and 22 percent reported reduced pain with exercise and activity.

How are older Australians keeping fit?

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Go team!

The study broke down physical activity into 3 categories: planned exercise, play and incidental movement.

Unsurprisingly, young Australians on average performed 7.72 hours of planned exercise each week (we're talking stuctured workouts and gym visits) -- almost double that of older adults who performed 3.36 hours.

Incidental movement (think everyday activities such as shopping, gardening and housework) was the opposite.

"This was a surprising trend, and one that is certainly backed by more awareness and updated research around the effects of incidental activity," Sukala said.

Hinterhaus Productions via Getty Images
A viable workout.

The power of incidental activity

"When a person gets up and out of a chair, just by virtue of being upright and gravity-bearing, the load on our postural muscles activates structures and enzymes in the muscle that help them to work as sugar and fat sponges," Sukala said.

"They become active independent of insulin and help to siphon fat and sugar out of the bloodstream which reduces risk. So whilst incidental movements aren't going to make you fit, they certainly contribute to positive health outcomes."

Start young (your body will thank you later)

This is relevant not only for older adults bearing the brunt of age-related decline but also for younger people whose lives are becoming increasingly sedentary.

"It is of course important for them to be incorporating structured exercise into their routine, but also to be aware that incidental movement is very valuable."

And so Sukalas's message is to start young -- and introduce long-term habits.

"The body doesn't always know age, but it certainly knows neglect."

Here are a few tips to lead you in the right direction:

  • Do something over nothing: "On those days where you don't feel like doing anything, a litle bit of something is better than nothing."
  • Seek joy: "If you don't enjoy it, it is highly unlikely that you're going to stick with it."
  • Work within your pain-free range of motion: "Find out what you can do, figure out what your pain threshold is and try to work up to that easily. A little bit of discomfort is okay, but it should never be agonising."
  • Social connections are key: "Go out and find people that you enjoy spending time with and be active with them."
  • Warm ups and recovery time are important: "Always include a gradual warm up to ease your body into exercise and remember that recovery time allows you body to be ready."

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