I regularly meet an older man when I'm out walking my dog in the morning. He's at least 70, with white hair, a wiry frame, and a face shaped by the wrinkles of a well-lived life.
But does he drag himself along using a stick or a walker? No! He jogs!
When I see him, I always ask myself: How does he manage that? Has he always been sporty? Or did he get into fitness at a later age? Did a severe illness lead him to a new health kick?
One day, I'll ask him. If I can catch up with him, that is.
Is age really an excuse?
My point is, age shouldn't get us down. Even if you've led a less active life, it's never too late to pump a little fitness into yourself.
Of course, as we age, our bodies are no longer what they used to be. But that doesn't mean only moving our thumb on the TV remote. Life is motion. It's essential to do a little more than simply breathe, eat and sleep – even when pain plagues our ageing joints and bones.
I'm not saying you have to qualify for the Olympics. But you can give yourself a medal, even on a small scale. All you have to do is to face old age's unloved, painful side effects with your head held high. And there are lots of plusses to doing so – research shows sporting activities activate your happiness hormones while burning excess calories.
Do it for the bones.
You can exercise even if you have a joint disease like arthrosis, one of the most common signs of ageing, alongside cardiovascular disease and dementia. The gradual wear and tear of the cartilage between the bone joints is a disease that usually appears painfully in our later years. Knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and hands: wherever arthrosis eats up cartilage, pain and movement restrictions become part of everyday life.
Exercise can help alleviate osteoarthrosis symptoms and even slow down cartilage wear. Sufficient exercise causes our body to produce synovial fluid, its own lubricant. This supplies the cartilage with nutrients and acts as a shock absorber for worn joint surfaces.
Regular training also strengthens muscles and stabilises your joint support system. However, you should avoid high-impact sports, such as tennis and other ball sports, that require fast starting and stopping. Skiing and strength training aren't a good idea either.
Experts recommend activities that relieve joint strain and avoid vibration to support your fight against the dark side of osteoarthrosis:
- Swimming is number one! Water makes you weightless and relieves all your joints. It also has a massaging effect, lowers your heart rate, and promotes coordination, endurance and muscle building. Be aware that the leg-paddling movements in crawl and backstroke are better for you, while the leg movements in breaststroke can be counterproductive, especially if you suffer from arthrosis of the knee.
Aqua jogging is also a good exercise choice. You can burn up to 400 calories in 30 minutes with the right technique:
• Stand in the water upright with your head, chest and hips forming a straight line.
• Tense your stomach and pump your elbows at a 90-degree angle to your torso, as if you're jogging.
• Walk through the pool using short steps.
- On ya bike for knee arthritis. Whether you do it in fresh air or on the home trainer, cycling ensures your joints move evenly without carrying your bodyweight. It's essential to maintain an optimum sitting position – keep your upper body upright while your stretched leg should reach the pedal easily. Set your handlebars higher than the saddle and only use lower gears when riding.
- Jogging and Nordic Walking are enjoyable but do them right. Wear well-cushioned shoes and use grass and bush paths rather than asphalt, avoiding uphill or downhill stretches. Nordic Walking is an even better alternative because it uses special poles to distribute your body weight and reduce stress on the joints. Always maintain an upright posture and adapt your stride length. The poles allow you to glide out backwards in a relaxed manner and avoid tension in the shoulders.
Easy going can make going easy.
If you suffer from a rheumatic disease like gout, exercise should also be part of your daily programme, alongside an optimised diet and drinking plenty of water to relieve your joints.
Health experts also recommend land activities to counteract any restrictions of movement actively. Gentle, low intensity stretching like Yoga, Thai Chi or Qigong protect joints and strengthen your tendons, ligaments and muscles. Their age-old teachings also do your soul good – a significant advantage in this fast-paced world because inner balance supports a healthy body.
Even those with loss of bone density from osteoporosis need not spare themselves from exercise. A little each day can strengthen bones and muscles and reduce your risk of fractures. When you strain your muscles, it stimulates bone growth and density, making them more stable. In addition to a calcium-rich diet and avoiding cigarettes, here's how not to surrender to osteoporosis:
- Integrate exercise into your everyday life. Try simple exercises in front of the TV to strengthen your back and make you feel more stable.
• Stand up straight on your tippy-toes. Stretch both arms forward and bend until your hands point upwards. Now pull your elbows back and tighten your buttocks at the same time. Stay like this for about ten seconds, let go and repeat two or three times.
• Push-ups use a variety of muscle groups. Kneel on all fours with your back parallel with the floor. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart with your fingers pointing forwards and your thumb slightly inwards. With your head perpendicular to the floor, tighten your abdomen and try to pull your navel inwards towards your spine. Hold this tension, bend your arms and slowly stretch again. Two to three runs with ten repetitions each are a good start for active muscle building.
- Train regularly. A routine of three to four training sessions per week can stimulate bone regrowth. Balance, dexterity, coordination and mobility might also improve after just a few consecutive weeks of training.
- Don't be afraid of the gym. Physiotherapists and fitness trainers can show you stimulating exercises for your bones you can do inside or out. Outdoor workouts also cause your skin to produce vitamin D, which is a bonus for bone metabolism.
If you are unsure how to cope with osteoporosis, seek medical advice. Then, when your doctor says it's OK, it's time to kick muscle loss and bone resorption in the arse!
Of course, our tips also work if you don't have osteoarthritis or osteoporosis. Fitness is a great way to prevent the signs of age particularly if they’re getting you down in later life. As the saying goes: "Healthy mind, healthy body." I'm sure the older man who jogs past me every day would agree.
Discover exercises to fit you to support your fitness goals, check out our Living Room Workout here.
Editorial office for fitness: ds