There is one thing that is certain in life, and that is that each and every one of us ages a little bit, every day. In your 20’s and 30’s ageing is probably not even noticed, as life is so busy and exciting. By the time you are 40, some hints start creeping in, but these are minor symptoms of ageing – slight crow’s feet around your eyes, or somewhat less vigour and energy compared to when you were in your youth, for example. When you are in your mid 50’s all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you have developed several aches and pains, body stiffness, and you may have to take a handful of pills every day for a list of chronic conditions that you have somehow managed to accumulate. What about when you are 70 or 80 years old, then what? Considering that life expectancy has increased substantially, and that people are living much longer than a few decades ago, it’s certainly becoming a realistic question to ask, “When I am in my mid-80’s, how will I have aged and how functional will I be?”
Ageing seems to be relative, as some people approach ageing with the attitude of “70 is the new 60”. How old are you really? Your biological age is simply how long you have been alive, but a much more important question is, “What is your body age?” In other words, how well does your body work and function? Is your body old, stiff, weak, unable to carry out functional activities because of pain, disease, chronic conditions and poor lifestyle habits? Or are you mobile, functional, able and fit? Although we are all getting “older” every day, exercise has been shown to challenge the concept of biological ageing, as it significantly reduces the risk of disease development and other chronic conditions that are so often associated with old age.
Active ageing, which is becoming a buzz word in the health and fitness industry, is simply ensuring that exercise and movement are integral parts of one’s daily life, especially in the golden years. According to the American College of Sports Medicine it is recommended that older adults achieve 150 minutes of exercise per week, and this needs to include aerobic (cardiovascular), strength and flexibility. Hannah Raath, an exercise specialist with a keen interest in active ageing, adds that “balance and mobility exercises are a must for all older adults. Unfortunately, according to statistics, 1 in 3 older adults over the age of 65 years, and 1 in 2 over the age of 80 fall each year. Some falls can have devastating consequences such as hip fractures, and recovery after a fall is a lengthy and extremely expensive process. Many older adults are never quite the same after a fall; often confidence and independence are lost and the ability to carry out one’s day to day activities is reduced. Specific balance and mobility exercises have been shown to greatly reduce fall rates in older adults, allowing seniors to continue to live functional and independent lives”.
Research shows that physical activity and exercise rates decrease with age, with older adults achieving the least amount of exercise compared to younger adults. Inactivity is linked to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and many other chronic conditions such as diabetes and certain cancers. Depression is more prevalent in older adults who do not exercise.
Many older people are not sure where to start when it comes to embarking on a new exercise routine. Commercial gyms can sometimes be intimidating, especially if they do not offer specialised programs that suit the needs of older adults. Silver Fit is a new and exciting community-based exercise program that has recently been launched in Gauteng, and will soon be available in other provinces. The program is specially designed to keep people 60 years and older, mobile and strong. Hannah Raath, the founder of the program, says that “While working with older folk in various exercise settings, we notice so often that many people neglect exercise and physical activity until they find themselves in a position where frailty, falling and dependence are a reality. Although it is never too late to start an exercise program, if one adopts an active lifestyle throughout life, the ageing process is much kinder on one’s body”.