According to new research, doing moderate exercise several times a week is the best way to keep the mind sharp if you're over 50. We asked the exercise pros for their top fitness tips
We all know about the physical benefits of exercise, but what about the mental ones? According to a new study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine , thinking and memory skills are most improved for those over fifty when they incorporate both aerobic and resistance exercise of at least moderate intensity on a regular basis - findings that are particular important to take into account as we age and our cognitive abilities start to decline. The thinking behind this? Greater activity leads to a greater supply of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the brain in addition to a growth hormone that helps build new neurons and connections.
Want to improve your fitness? From starting blocks to more specialist advice, we asked the pros for their top tips. Here's what they recommend.
Focus on functional training
As a starting point, fine-tune your aims to address functionality for everyday tasks. Linda Jones , Performance Coach at Twenty Two Training says: “People should be thinking about the movements that they perform in everyday life such as lifting, reaching, kneeling, getting up and down as well as climbing stairs. They should look to replicate those movements in their training sessions so they become functionality fit for everyday life."
How to increase mobility
If this is one of your main objectives, Linda advises focusing on strengthening and stretching muscles, as the hips and thoracic spine can get easily locked up. She also suggests developing a strong core by doing exercises such as the yoga position the plank and reverse crunches. Performing wall sits, cable pulls and hip extensions will also increase strength and mobility through the hips and core too. She adds: “The body moves in many ways, not just forwards and backwards, so it’s very important this is considered when exercising. Side lunges are great for encouraging joints to stabilise and support bodyweight and also improve body awareness.”
Boost your metabolic rate
The main obstacle to fitness as we get older is a lower basal metabolic rate which makes it harder to lose weight. When choosing the best exercises though, consider ability as a driving factor over age. According to fitness expert James Osborn, “Recommendations need to be given with the individual’s background in mind. If someone has been active all his or her life, there is no huge need to ‘slow down’ or lower the intensity.”
Resistance-based circuits: "Add exercises such as squats, lunges, step-ups and press-ups to your workout," James recommends. "This is a highly effective way to raise metabolism, build strong muscles and become leaner."
Strength training and resistance-based exercises are recommended by James to produce more calcium through cells called osteoblasts. Not only will this increase bone density, but it will also make joints stronger and more flexible too.
Interval sessions: James also recommends incorporating high-intensity bursts of activity into your sessions to rev up your metabolism, improve the body’s muscle-to-fat ratio and boost cardiovascular health.
Long, steady runs, cycling and swimming: These exercises are hugely beneficial for the heart and lungs as well as being perfect for those who want to add a less intense variation to their workouts. According to James: “Swimming and cycling in particular are extremely good as they are low impact on joints which are often slightly worn, sore or arthritic."
T'ai Chi: According to the study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine , this is particularly effective for those who aren't able to do more challenging forms of exercise.
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How to fit fitness in
Rather than drawing up a strict workout schedule, Linda suggests incorporating exercise into your everyday life where possible. Aim to have around 20-30 minutes of movement a day simply by cycling to work, going for a brisk walk at lunchtime or taking the stairs instead of the lift – all of these will make a big difference.
Always consult a specialist before embarking on a new fitness regime in order to prevent injury. As James warns: “It’s likely that by this age the body will have imbalances, perhaps due to repetitive actions at work, surgery, injury or illnesses. It’s key that any programme takes these into account. These imbalances need to be addressed before the individual can take on more intense sessions such as circuits and interval runs.” Linda emphasises the importance of never forgetting the all-important warm-up and stretches that need to be done before any exercise, no matter how light the routine.
Exercise and the menopause
It is probably the last thing on the mind of any woman going through the menopause, yet exercise is great for alleviating some of the unpleasant side-effects. Linda warns that women are more susceptible to weight gain during this stage because oestrogen levels have fallen and so it is key that good habits are maintained. She recommends a mix of resistance training to improve bone density and aerobic training to help encourage hormone regulation and improve mood. James also recommends high-intensity exercise to relieve tension and anxiety. The rise in oestrogen levels post-workout can also help relieve hot flushes.
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Joint and muscle pain
If you suffer from joint pain or muscle soreness during or post-workout, Linda stresses the importance of carrying on moving, as slowing down or stopping completely can in fact increase painful symptoms. “Reduce any high-impact training such as running or jumping and keep joints mobile in every pain-free range - that is every way or direction a joint can move naturally."
James points out that exercise has been shown to relieve arthritis and arthritic symptoms. It prevents joints from becoming too stiff and strengthens muscles around the joints too, giving them more support. He recommends cycling and swimming, as they are lower impact activities and impose less stress on joints.
Follow us @getthegloss and Linda Jones @lindajones84 .