Don’t fall into the trap of taking less and less care of yourself, otherwise your muscles will get slacker, and your heart and lungs will be less able to deal with exertion.
Exercise as a Mental Tonic
Regular exercise may also have a significant effect on our mental agility by increasing the amount of oxygen supplied to the brain. In a comparison between sedentary older women and older women who took regular exercise, after four months the latter group processed information faster in tests. This effect of exercise is particularly marked in older people.
Apart from increasing the oxygen supply to the brain, exercise may also slow down the loss of dopamine in the brain.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps to prevent the shaking and stiffness that can come with old age. A severe shortage of dopamine results in the exaggerated tremors of Parkinson’s disease. Dopamine decreases in the brain by about one percent a year from our mid-20s, and if we lived to be 100, we would all appear to have Parkinson’s disease. Since exercise can slow down dopamine loss, it is particularly beneficial as we grow older. Exercise can also prevent our reaction times from slowing down.
Like other good habits, exercise should be undertaken regularly and be a lifelong habit. Doing a reasonable amount of walking – 20 or 30 minutes or so each day – is a good habit to develop, and you can build this up over a period of months. This kind of routine becomes important after retirement, when most people use up less energy but carry on eating and drinking the same amounts they did before.
Tips for walking
• Do some gentle flexibility exercises before you go out.
• Begin by walking on level ground and progress to hill-walking as you become fitter.
• Walk at a speed that makes you slightly short of breath but don’t get too out of breath to talk.
• Never push yourself farther than you feel you can comfortably go.
• Try to increase the distance or the time you spend walking, rather than the speed at which you walk.
• Don’t walk into the wind as this requires more effort. If you suffer from heart disease, you should be able to walk quite comfortably in calm weather, but walking into the wind may cause angina pains.
The Benefits of Regular Exercise
Exercise is vital throughout your life, but as you get older these benefits are particularly valuable:
- a reduced risk of heart disease
- a lower chance of developing
- maintenance of muscle strength
- higher levels of the healthy type of cholesterol in the blood
- better bone health and less chance of developing osteoporosis (if you do weight-bearing exercise)
- a more efficient immune system
- reduced body fat
- better appetite control
- reduced risk of constipation
- increased mental agility
- fewer headaches
- improved sleep quality
- flexible joints.
The type of exercise you take will obviously depend largely on resources, how much time is available and personal preference. To gain the best effects from exercise, try to find a form that you enjoy. There is a wide range of opportunities available in sports centres and fitness classes and, for those who need or prefer to exercise in their own home, there are lots of books, videos and tapes on the market.
You may prefer a sport such as tennis or squash, which offers the added attraction of meeting people. Likewise, joining a class may encourage you to exercise regularly. Less rigorous, more traditional forms of exercise such as brisk walking and swimming offer a viable alternative and keep the body fit and supple.
Recently, there has been a move away from aerobic training towards strength-training and weight-bearing exercise. Research suggests that any form of exercise involving weights can
delay foss of bone and muscle tissue, which is a natural consequence of ageing. Weight-bearing exercise also helps to normalize the flow of sugar from the blood into muscle tissue,
where it can be properly metabolized. This may lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
Almost all women who’ve had children notice slight leakage when they cough or lift a heavy weight. But regular pelvic floor exercises will do much to put things right. Here’s how to do your pelvic floor exercises.
- The first step is to find the group of muscles that form a figure of eight around the vagina, urethra and anus. You can do this by stopping the flow several times while you’re urinating.
- Tighten the muscles for five seconds, relax them for five seconds, then tense them again. Make sure you’re not just tightening your buttocks and try not to tighten your tummy muscles at the
same time. You may not be able to hold the tension for the full five seconds at first, but you are likely to develop this ability once your pelvic floor muscles grow stronger.
- The next stage is to tighten and relax the muscles 10 times, as quickly as you can so that they seem to “flutter”. You will probably need to practise for a while to control the muscles in this way.
- Next, contract the muscles long and steadily as though you were trying to draw an object into your vagina. Hold the contraction for five seconds.
- The final step is to bear down, as if emptying the bowels, but pushing more
through the vagina than the anus.
Hold the tension for five seconds.
Gradually build up to 10 contractions, 10 times daily or more, spaced over several hours, and check your progress once or twice a week by stopping the flow when you urinate. After about six weeks of these exercises you should find stopping the flow is much easier than it was in the beginning. The beauty of pelvic floor exercises is that, once you’ve mastered the technique, you can do them anywhere, any time – lying down, watching television, even when you’re washing up or waiting for the bus!