Maximise your chances of ageing well.
How did I get to be an expert on ageing? Well, like all of us, I’m ageing myself, but I’m also the daughter of a 90-something-year-old mother and I’ve worked with older people for most of my 35-year career. For the past 15 years, I’ve researched ageing and how we can age well. Ensuring that older people have the best opportunities to age well is about what we need to do ourselves and as a community.
Why moving is #1
Physical activity is important at every age, but even more important as we get older. Research tells us that regular exercise is protective against a range of health problems. The cardiovascular benefits are well known but exercise also helps to prevent cognitive decline and depression.
Experts agree that it’s best to be active every day (or at least five days a week) in as many ways as possible and for at least 30 minutes. It should be at a moderate intensity, so you feel slightly puffed but can still talk. If you’ve stopped physical activity or are starting something new, begin at a level that you can do easily, then build up slowly and increase your frequency. If you’ve always enjoyed vigorous physical activity, continue doing so. There’s no need to stop because of your age.
What you can do today
It doesn’t matter what activity you do, whether it’s gardening, walking, swimming, riding a bike or 30 minutes a day of all of them combined. It can be something in the course of your day: housework, walking to the letterbox or to the shops to pick up milk. It’s good to include strength training such as using small hand weights. Flexibility or stretching exercises such as yoga are also important, as are activities that increase your heart rate.
My main message is “use it or lose it”, but we also need to think about the changes required at a community level, to ensure all ages feel welcome in places of physical activity, and our environment is accessible and age-friendly – it’s hard to be active if there are no footpaths to walk on!
The six steps to ageing well
There are six main things we all need to do to maximise our chances of ageing well. These are:
1. Be physically active
2. Don’t smoke
3. Keep socially active
4. Eat well
5. Keep your brain active
6. Maintain a positive outlook
Over the next few months, I’ll cover each of these, in turn, and provide practical advice about how to achieve each one.
Briony is president of the Australian Association of Gerontology and the director of health promotion for the National Ageing Research Institute. Her work helps improve the health of older people, and guides public policy and aged care practices
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