Our guest writer and mindfulness, yoga and stress management consultant, Bev Alderson, talks about the importance of continuing to move our bodies as we get older.
Maintaining an active lifestyle throughout our lives can support health and wellbeing and quality of life.
However, starting or maintaining an exercise routine can be a challenge at any age and, let’s face it, one that doesn’t get any easier as we get older.
We may find ourselves too busy, too tired, or disheartened by the aches and pains that can accompany an ageing body, or simply find putting our feet up so much more appealing.
Yet, when it comes to movement, there is much truth in the phrase ‘use it or lose it’.
My desire in writing this blog is to get you or to keep you moving – knowing the benefits it can bring. To share with you the what, the why, and the how, along with the motivation to start and keep going.
It has been written with women around their 50’s, and beyond, in mind. It is also relevant to a younger audience, looking to future proof themselves against the perils and pitfalls of a sedentary lifestyle.
The ageing body
Whilst getting older can come with many benefits, it seldom comes alone.
I doubt too many of Cytoplan’s readers and followers believe that their biggest concerns, with regard to the ageing process, is grey hair and wrinkles!
However, for a sober look at what could potentially be instore, you might like to check out a comprehensive article by Medline Plus – Ageing changes in the bones – muscles – joints.
Let me call out a few gems:
- Loss of bone mass or density
- Stiff and painful joints
- Decrease in muscle mass
- Changes in posture
- Reduction in energy and increase in tiredness
- Loss of stability and balance
All of which can be exacerbated when we throw in menopause and the accompanying fluctuating and diminishing hormones.
One of these, estrogen, plays a key role in protecting the heart, and as it diminishes so does its supporting role in heart health.
It is also widely recognised that, post menopause, women are more susceptible to weakening bones and osteoporosis.
And then there is of course menopausal weight gain that can put a strain on the physical body overall.
Aren’t I just a beacon of joy!
Whilst the process of ageing can seem daunting and confronting, the good news is that all of these symptoms can be positively influenced by an active lifestyle.
There are many pillars to wellbeing that are supportive of health and wellbeing, but this blog is focussed on just one – movement.
So, let’s take a look at 10 reasons to keep moving, summarised from Healthline’s ‘The Top 10 Benefits of Regular Exercise’:
- Improves mood and decreases feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.
- Helps to attain or maintain a healthy weight.
- Plays a vital role in building and maintaining strong muscles and bones.
- Boosts energy and reduces feelings of fatigue.
- Reduces the risk of some chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes 2.
- Supports skin health and can delay the appearance of skin ageing.
- Helps brain health and cognitive functioning.
- Supports relaxation and improves sleep onset and quality.
- Can help with chronic pain and pain tolerance.
- Helps to improve sexual desire, function, and performance.
Aren’t I just a beacon of joy!
So, there are seemingly many sound reasons to keep active but what happens when we won’t or don’t – is it really a case of use it or lose it?
A somewhat ‘tongue in cheek’ named article, by business insider ‘what would happen if you never got out of bed’, shows the extremes of being immobile.
Evidently, within a week we would lose 1% of bone density and muscle mass and in two weeks 10% of your muscle mass. Give it six months to a year and your muscles and bones may have deteriorated to a point where you are unable to bear your own weight.
Whilst this is an extreme example, many people today are living more of a sedentary lifestyle than the body was designed to do.
In fact, according to an NHS article ‘why we should sit less, the average person in the UK sits for around 9 hours per day. That is more than the average person sleeps!
Whilst this might sound like a lot, watching TV, eating, driving, commuting, and using a computer etc – can soon all add up.
Whilst the effects on the human body may be slower than if we decided to stay in bed, it makes sense that inactivity will eventually take its toll.
If you are someone who is required to sit a lot and would like to consider ways of reducing or counteracting this, you might like to check out a previous blog ‘the practice of sitting’.
Ready to get moving?
There are many ways to stay active, fit, and strong – throughout our lives.
The general consensus seems to be that us adults should be doing about 150 minutes of exercise a week. Break that down and we are looking at about 30 minutes a day, with a couple of days off.
Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
When it comes to achieving your minimum weekly quota, there is no one size fits all and it really is a case of finding what works for you, your budget, your personal health circumstances, and your lifestyle.
So, whether you are just starting out or being active is second nature to you, there is something for everyone. Regardless of age, weight, or whatever physical shape you may find yourself in.
A word to the wise
If you have been diagnosed with or are concerned about osteoporosis, I would recommend checking out the Royal Osteoporosis Society website where you will find a whole host of supportive information including factsheets, booklets and information films.
Also, if you are new to exercise or are looking at changing your exercise routine, I would of course recommend that you start slowly and under the guidance of a medical practitioner.
Otherwise, on your marks – get set – let’s go!
Let’s get moving
Unsurprisingly, there are mixed views as to which form of activity or exercise yields the biggest benefit.
What most experts do seem to agree on is that mixing it up will see the benefits overlap. As well as give the body time to recover and reduce the risk of injury.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types, that are beneficial to us women of a certain age. The what and more importantly the why…
Activities such as walking, swimming, and gentle yoga can be appealing as we age and absolutely have their place.
Keeping moving through lighter exercise will undoubtedly yield many benefits to our overall health and wellbeing.
Along with formal exercise we can look to day-to-day activities. Think cleaning the house, washing the car, shopping, gardening, and walking the dog – natural ways to build more movement into the day.
There is a plethora of types of cardio exercise styles that will get your heart pumping, increase respiration, and give the circulatory and lymphatic systems a boost.
Moderate intensity exercises such as brisk or power walking, jogging, cycling, rowing, and more dynamic yoga styles – all fall into this category. As do the more intense choices such as HIT, tabata, and plyometric training.
The aim is to up the exercise ante but you do not need to run a marathon, unless that is your thing, to obtain the benefits.
At home you might like to put the music on and dance like no one is watching, or to increase the intensity of your everyday chores and activities.
Unsurprisingly cardio can be supportive of weight management, which can creep in during the menopause years, along with boosting mood, clearing brain fog and be helpful in getting a good night’s sleep.
Additionally, according to the British Heart Foundation, regular exercise can lower the risk of heart and circulatory disease by 35%. In their short animation ‘What happens inside the body when you exercise’, the BHF go on to describe the benefits of exercise to heart health and more.
Strength training is the best way to build and/or maintain muscle mass that will otherwise diminish as we age.
Yet head to the weight section of any gym and you might have to play spot the female.
Whilst there are many reasons for this, weight training isn’t always high up there on the list for many women. However, it absolutely should be – if we are going to maintain physical strength and stability.
According to webmd, inactive people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of muscle mass each decade after the age of 30, due to age related sarcopenia – loss of muscle mass and function.
Strong muscles support our bones and joints. Collectively this helps to maintain the structural stability of the body which, for example, can help to reduce the risk of falling.
You can head to the gym and pump iron or join classes such as kettle bells and body pump, or turn to your everyday activities, to work and load your muscles.
Or you might like to invest in a few weights and follow one of the many online classes and tutorials available on YouTube.
Rather like with muscles, bones can be strengthened with targeted activity.
Think activities like pounding the pavement, skipping, aerobics, dancing and jumping. Or simply stomping, marching, or jumping up and down on the spot will do the trick.
The intention is to build load bearing activities into your regime, to help ward off bone loss, increase bone density and to strengthen ligaments and joints.
An article in the National Library of Medicine, describes a study conducted on pre-menopausal women aged 25 to 50. The study found that jumping, 10 to 20 times, twice daily, yielded an increase to hip bone density – in just 16 weeks.
Target your weak spots
I would imagine that many of you reading this will have sustained a few injuries over the years. Some of which may have come back to haunt you as you have got older or as a result of the menopause.
As a yoga teacher, I have met many people on the mat who share with me their niggle points and when I ask them what they are doing about it, they look at me blankly.
Whilst not everything can be fixed, there are many things than can be.
Personal Trainers, Physiotherapists and Osteopaths, or practices such as yoga, pilates, and somatics, can be of great support in targeting and supporting pain points that may have become more cumbersome as we have got older.
Don’t ignore your pelvic floor
Similarly, one we all should be focusing on is of course the pelvic floor. Targeted exercises can support the muscles of the pelvic floor, ward off urinary dysfunction and maintain sexual arousal and satisfaction.
If you are unsure of how to do these correctly, there are plenty of resources online including one from the Mayo Clinic ‘Kegel Exercises: A how to guide for women’.
And of course, if you have any symptoms you are concerned about, your GP is a good place to start.
Be kind to your joints
Stiff, painful, and aching joints, that can again come as part of the menopause package, can hinder our exercise endeavors as well as the quality of our daily life.
Yet how often do we give our joints any direct attention?
Building activities into your regular routine, that mobilise and lubricate the joints, can help to keep them healthy and functioning at their best.
For some inspiration or as a starting point, the YouTube video ‘how to keep your joints healthy – Yoga for Mobility and Flexibility’ may give you some ideas or a routine you can utilise.
Whilst this blog is centered on movement, it is worth noting that a key culprit to joint discomfort can be dehydration – not helped by diminishing estrogen which plays a key role in fluid regulation.
Water is also a natural part of synovial fluid which lubricates and helps the joints to move without friction.
Additionally, if you are sweating, as a result of hot flushes, night sweats, and/or exercise, you are going to need to replace lost fluids.
So, if you are going to tend to your joints, don’t forget to water them with adequate hydration.
Practices such as stretching, yoga, and tai chi are all well known for maintaining the flexibility and mobility of the body.
The tools, if you like, for being able to put our own socks on and get things out of the back of the car – for as long as is humanly possible.
They are also powerful allies in supporting the nervous system that can go haywire as we navigate the choppy seas of the menopause years.
This style of exercise can also help to reign in fluctuating hormones, spiking cortisol and the accompanying mood swings and sleepless nights.
There are lots of styles and classes available for you to choose from – both online and most likely in your local area too.
Tips for staying motivated
If you recall, my intention in writing this blog is to encourage us all to move a little more.
To use our bodies, as designed, and gain the many benefits in doing so. In some ways this is our carrot.
And of course, the stick is what can happen when we spend too much time sitting on our derrieres.
Love it or hate it exercise is good for us, and it should become a natural part of our self-care routine.
For some of us this will be as easy as brushing our teeth and for others it will feel like we are pulling teeth!
So, here are some thoughts and ideas on getting and staying motivated:
- Do what you enjoy
If you don’t enjoy the gym then it is always going to be a struggle to get there.
Instead find a class or activity that you enjoy and that will be half the battle.
- Consider your routine
Personally, I am a morning person and couldn’t even contemplate going to an 8pm exercise class.
Whether you are a morning, middle of the day, or evening person, find a time to exercise that works with you and your life shape.
This will give you a much better chance of starting and sticking to an activity.
- Start small
It might be tempting to fill your calendar with exercise classes but it is much better to start small and build up.
This is likely to see you keep it up and to incorporate movement safely and progressively.
- Enlist a friend
Exercising with a friend, or friends, can not only make it more fun but can help us to stay committed. Even if you are tempted to let yourself down, you might be less likely to let others down.
Mind you it can also work the opposite way and you can lead each other astray – I guess the moral is to choose an exercise buddy wisely!
- Sign up for an event
For example, a sponsored walk or run that will see you committing to a cause, having fun, and keeping fit along the way.
Or, if funds allow, joining and paying for a series of exercise classes or a gym membership may be all the incentive you need.
- Monitor your activity
There are a whole host of watches and devices that enable you to set goals and monitor your physical activity throughout the day.
Technet have reviewed these in their article ‘the best fitness trackers of 2022’ should you wish to explore using one for yourself.
- Do what you do naturally
Cleaning, gardening, and whizzing around doing chores all fall under the umbrella of exercise.
Don’t discount these and build them into your exercise quota.
If you are looking for some inspiration on everyday ways to move more, you might like to check out an article by a womans health ‘101 ways to exercise without going to the gym’.
Movement really can be magical at supporting the ageing process and helping to navigate the, at times, choppy seas of the menopause years. What we can achieve is a strong, stable, and mobile body that can support us throughout the years – we just need to get moving. So, time to stop reading and get a wriggle on!
Bev Alderson is a Mindfulness, Yoga and Stress Management Consultant who works with individuals, groups and workplaces.
Having spent 18+ years in management in the IT industry, in both the UK and Australia, Bev learnt first-hand the impacts of a high-pressure environment and lifestyle and how, left unchecked, this can negatively impact performance and health.
Today, through her business Practically Balanced, Bev brings authenticity to the work she does, drawing upon her personal experiences, management capabilities and expertise in mindfulness, stress resilience, yoga and more.
Bev completed a Diploma in Yoga with the highly respected Qi Yoga School in Sydney in 2012 and with Sivananda in India in 2015. She also completed a Certificate in Stress Management with the London Centre for Coaching and Counselling in 2014, an ILM with the Stress Management Society in 2014 and a Diploma in Meditation with the British School of Meditation in 2016.
With many thanks to Bev for this blog. If you have any questions regarding the health topics that have been raised, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via e-mail or phone:
Amanda Williams and the Cytoplan Editorial Team
Last updated on 20th April 2023 by cytoffice