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Exercise habits in your 60s & 70s are best approached with a view to keeping activity fun and engaging whilst not overly taxing your muscles and central nervous system. By the time we reach our 60’s we really have to begin to make a shift away from the aesthetic side of fitness and consider current (and future) health maintenance as a priority.
This is the time in life where we may be head-to-head with the law of entropy, i.e. that which we don’t use, will be taken away. What I mean by that, is that many health issues are exacerbated or even invited by a lack of activity and a poor diet.
If you lead an inactive lifestyle, you are sending the signals to your body that you are not interested in keeping your fitness levels, your muscle mass, your suppleness and indeed your health. Remember moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone.
This doesn’t mean you have to be in a full-on training program, but I would highly suggest that throughout your 60’s and 70’s you try to build activity into your daily routine and establish it as a non-negotiable, just like brushing your teeth.
To highlight my point let’s highlight how exercise can impact some of the most common health ailments we might experience with advancing age:
Brain health: Studies show that people who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in their mental function and have a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Certain forms of exercise like balance training can help you improve your coordination and proprioception and can help make slips and falls far less likely.
Osteoporosis: Resistance training benefits those suffering with osteoporosis by reducing bone loss and making bones denser. Incidentally alongside resistance training, the use of a mini trampoline has been shown to be particularly beneficial for those with osteoporosis.
High Blood Pressure: Consistent exercise whether aerobic or anaerobic has been shown to be beneficial for high blood pressure of course alongside a healthy nutrition program, this is one of the more easily demonstrable benefits of exercise. Incidentally, while your blood pressure is still high, avoid extreme short bursts of cardio like sprints and exercises where you have to hold isometric holds for a period of time, like the plank and wall-sit. Consult a doctor before starting out an exercise regime with high blood pressure.
Diabetes: Exercise encourages your body to be more sensitive to insulin which helps improve diabetic symptoms. Regular activity is also going to lower your blood sugar and decrease your risk factors for health issues often encountered downstream of diabetes such as heart disease and nerve damage. Be assured diabetes can be managed and reversed if lifestyle measures are taken early enough. I can personally attest to this because at the time of writing, my father has reversed his.
Arthritis: Exercise is useful for those suffering with arthritis, as it increases strength, mobility and can lower joint pain. Light exercise can be used as a way to generate energy, which we might term a ‘work-in’ (as opposed to a workout), this additional energy can help offset the fatigue commonly experienced with inflammation.
I would recommend that you approach your health & fitness efforts in your 60’s and 70’s along the 4-step plan I outline below:
- 1. Get a base level of fitness: Firstly I recommend cultivating a baseline level of fitness via light aerobic training. This is going to make multiple systems in your body more efficient, give you greater energy levels and kickstart a positive cycle where you’ll be more likely to make healthy choices. Aim for 20 minutes cardiovascular exercise at a moderate level 3 times per week and gradually take up the intensity and duration over time.
- 2. Develop Mobility & Balance: Once you have your base level of fitness, I suggest that the next thing you approach be to develop your balance and mobility, this helps enhance your functional movement making everyday activities a breeze easier and significantly reduces your risk of injury. You can start this in a formal way via a mobility practice or adopting movement-based disciplines like yoga, dance or Pilates alongside taking every day opportunities to work on your balance, for example brushing your teeth on one leg or practising walking heel to toe.
- 3. Introduce resistance training: The next step is to introduce resistance training, this will help you gain strength and muscle tone, whilst drawing on your base level of fitness and improved coordination to make things safe and easy to execute. Short total body workouts performed a couple of times per week with increasing weight, but moderate volume will provide an excellent framework. Consider switching up your workouts every 4-6 weeks to sustain your body’s need to adapt and keep getting stronger.
- 4. Be active every day: Now that you have all of the core facets of fitness in place the goal is to stay active every day, a great idea would be to rotate the three types of exercise, don’t double up on training sessions, and allow plenty of active downtime by way of activity pursuits like hiking, cycling and swimming etc. Get accustomed to using activity as a frequent contrasting alternative to actually working out.
Nutrition: Focus on nutrient diversity (because you’ll eat less)
As we get older, we naturally need less calories, which means you’ll be less hungry overall and will generally eat less food. I don’t think this period of life is the time to be worrying about diet programs and calorie counting but do bear in mind that if you’ll be eating less food, that might force a focus on the nutrient content on the foods you are consuming.
To labour the point a little, if we accept you’ll be progressively less hungry over time, and one of the regular meals that is jettisoned, is an afternoon snack that you used to take in as a bowl of fruit, containing let’s say, plenty of berries, are you now losing and not replacing all of those antioxidants and flavonoids? What downstream effects would that have? More oxidative stress? Lowered immunity? You don’t necessarily have to get that granular, I include the consideration only to highlight the need to cover your bases.
Focus on inflammation
I think sometimes in life it’s useful to think of developing a concerted focus on certain concepts and develop what we might consider a ‘consciousness’, for example if you want to improve your finances, you might develop a ‘money consciousness’ you would then strategize and see opportunities to both save and make money to improve your situation, i.e you’d see things you weren't previously attuned to noticing.
Using this mental model, I suggest that you adopt an ‘inflammation consciousness’. I think this should be a priority because almost all of our big health diseases in the modern world are diseases of inflammation, unchecked inflammation is essentially an open invitation to illness and disease and we can gain some control of our level of inflammation by monitoring various potential sources of inflammation, including the food we eat.
Below are some of the frequent causes of inflammation:
- Work Pressure
- Environmental Stressors
- Temperature Stressors
- Relationship Troubles
- Poor Digestion
- Inflammatory Foods
- Bad Posture
- Lack of Sleep
- Emotional Stress
Of course, to truly know your current level of inflammation in your body you would need to do your bloodwork, which is something you could consider to be an excellent health initiative every 6 months to a year, if you do perhaps seek out a local practitioner who can offer you a C-reactive protein (CRP) test.
In the absence of bloodwork, this simple mental model of an ‘inflammation consciousness’ may help you take steps to keep your level of inflammation at a point below the threshold at which you might start to see common symptoms, i.e. frequent illness, rashes, digestive issues, fatigue, stiff joints etc.
One of the most influential factors listed above and also one of the easiest to control is avoiding an inflammatory diet.
As I advise my online personal training clients of all ages, you’ll want to ensure that you are on an anti-inflammatory diet, and this is particularly important as we get older. This contributes to a reduction in systemic inflammation mentioned above and from an aesthetic standpoint, helps reduce your body’s tendency to retain water or store body fat.
Bear in mind that certain cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes and arthritis are all diseases linked with inflammation. Both fish oil and Turmeric may help here as both have been shown to have impressive anti-inflammatory properties.
Inflammatory foods to avoid may include:
- - Refined sugars
- - Processed meats
- - Fizzy drinks
- - Processed milk
- - Gluten
- - Dairy
- - Alcohol
Another important point here is to keep your protein intake adequate to preserve your existing muscle mass (and, along with resistance training, fight off the nefarious though overestimated villain of sarcopenia). This doesn't mean going overboard and eating like a bodybuilder; just make sure you have adequate amounts of quality high protein foods such as lean meat, eggs, nuts, and seeds.
You may also want to start thinking about your ratios of fat to carbs. Many of us vastly overeat carbohydrates, especially in the evening, which gives our body a surplus of energy that we may fail to burn off.
As a result, the body converts the carbs into fat and stores it away for a rainy day (where you don’t have access to food) a great evolutionary function but unlikely to ever happen in the modern day.
Eat for joint health: Both the omega 3 fats in fish oil and Turmeric may help here as both have been shown to have impressive anti-inflammatory properties which can aid joint health and reduce tightness and pain. Foods like nuts and seeds, cold water fish, olive oil and certain root vegetables can also contribute to overall joint health
Medicinal foods: Keep an eye out for the addition of certain herbs and spices that might be good for your overall health, either to address a specific problem or to generally just make incremental improvements. These small enhancements to your culinary repertoire may yield big benefits when it comes to your health.
Let’s take a look at a few examples:
Thyme - Powerful antioxidant, supports immune health
Oregano - Anti bacterial properties to help fight infections
Ginger - Helps lower blood sugars and may be useful in the battle against osteoporosis
Garlic - Antifungal, Antibacterial and anti-viral properties make this popular flavour enhancer a powerful ally for all around immune function
And there are many, many more…. Remember nutrition is more than just making macros work, sourcing quality ingredients and foods with medicinal or adaptogenic properties could really change what cooking and meal preparation means to you and your loved ones.
Your relationship to health and fitness in your 60’s and 70’s should be one of ease and enjoyment. Many of the pressures of earlier life to show up a certain way are likely not so pressing anymore, I suggest the greatest priority should be cultivating an active lifestyle that naturally lends itself to mitigating your health risks and helping you enjoy good health and unrestricted movement well into the second half of life.