Keep fit in later life – by Dr David Delvin

Do you really NEED exercise?

Well, the short answer is yes! Really, we all need a certain amount of exercise, in order to keep healthy. If we don't get it then it's likely that our health will deteriorate.

In particular, you are much more likely to get heart disease if you don't exercise regularly. Experts recommend exercising at least three times a week in order to try to keep coronary heart trouble away.

But you need to be careful about the type and amount of exercise you go in for. It's very easy to overdo things - particularly if you're past the age of 50 or so.

Indeed, I very frequently see patients aged 55 or 65 who come into the surgery on a Monday morning, moaning and groaning because they went in for some unaccustomed activity on Saturday - and are now in agony!

Remember: sport isn't necessarily good for you. Anybody who's done a lot of it knows that sporting activities carry a very high risk of injury, particularly if you're no longer a 'Spring Chicken...'

So take it easy, particularly when you're starting out on some new form of exercise. Don't take the risk of doing yourself more harm than good, and check with your GP if in doubt!

What type of exercise?

Almost any kind of exercise can help you keep fit. Here are some good examples:

Swimming :  Swimming is great - provided it doesn't make you too cold. Avoid chilly pools in winter! One word of caution: breaststroke swimming is actually not very good for the neck. So if you have any rheumatism in that region, stick to other strokes, like the backstroke, the sidestroke, or even the crawl.

Jogging :  Gentle running is very good for the heart and lungs, and has probably helped countless older people avoid a heart attack by keeping them fit. However, there's no need to try and break world records.
Furthermore, it's now clear that prolonged running on hard surfaces can damage the knees and hips - and so cause arthritis. So, if possible, jog on grass, and make sure you wear the correct shoes as with all exercise.

Walking :  Walking is really excellent exercise - provided that it's fairly brisk. I find that quite a few people regard a slow stroll to the Post Office as 'exercise' - but this hardly qualifies! Taking a dog with you is good, especially if it means that you use your arms to throw sticks.

Working out : These days, it's much more common than it used to be for middle-aged and retired folk to go to the gym regularly. If used sensibly, gym machines can do you a lot of good. At well-run gyms, the staff will show you how to use these machines - and even give you a personal exercise programme that will help you get fit.

Golf :  Someone once described golf as 'A good walk - spoiled!'. I have to say that, fascinating as the game is, it isn't the world's greatest exercise. And a lot of golfers do manage to strain their backs and wrists.

Nonetheless, a round of golf does mean that you do walk at least four miles - more if you keep hitting them off the fairway. So it's better than nothing.

Aerobics and dancing :  These are really good forms of exercise, because they get your heart going faster, and push up your rate of breathing.

What amount of exercise?  Experts say that to benefit your heart and lungs, you need to do at least twenty minutes - at least three times a week - of any sensible exercise which pushes the pulse rate up, and makes you breathe faster.

If you want to exercise every single day, then that's fine - since it will help keep your joints mobile, and prevent your body from getting stiff.

But, it's doubtful if there's any point in exercising for hours and hours on end, particularly if you're over 50. There's a danger that doing too much will simply wear your joints out!

© 2000, 2001 Dr David Delvin / Retirement Matters Ltd. All rights reserved.