Much is written about what it means to be physically fit. But what does it mean for you? I’m guessing it might include things like:
- Walking with friends and family/ up stairs without feeling puffed.
- Being able to put your coat on/do your bra strap up/reach for your car seatbelt strap easily.
- Standing on one leg to put your socks on/wash your feet in the shower.
- Reaching down to tie your shoe-laces/cut your toenails.
- Carrying a bag/bags of heavy shopping with minimal effort.
- Having the stamina to party all night long (that one’s for Ros).
There’s some non-specific turning point in our lives where this list morphs from being straightforward to becoming increasingly challenging. If this resonates with you, you’ll probably be asking when and how did this happen and can I reverse it? If you’re not yet at that point, is it an inevitable decline or can you do something about it?
Most of everything we read says it’s never too late to start exercising and that improvements in cardio, joint mobility, muscle strength, balance and flexibility are possible at any age. Obviously you can't, for instance, reverse an osteo-arthritic joint. But you can keep that joint moving, build up your strength in the supporting muscles, and ensure that your circulation is delivering as many nutrients to that area as possible.
Recently the Independent published an article ‘Why it’s never too late to get yourself active’ which quotes multiple research on how it’s possible to make fitness gains at any age. I was particularly taken by an American Heart Association study published in 2018. It took a group of 61 healthy but inactive adults aged 45-64 and started them on an exercise regime. The previously inactive adults were able to reverse the cardiac effects of sedentary aging and increase their heart elasticity by 25%. Heart elasticity prevents an increase in cardiac stiffness which starts in late middle-age (around age 65) and is a cause of heart failure. There’s no medication that treats the problem - prevention through exercise is the key.
Not only that, but scientists increasingly think that how old we feel is key to how well we age. There was an interesting article on this in the Times last week. We all have three ages:
- Our chronological age – the number of years that have elapsed since we were born.
- Our biological age – how old our bodies are. Scientists can measure this by examining age-related biomarkers such as blood pressure and lung capacity.
- Our subjective age – how old we feel we are.
Scientists are discovering that our subjective view of how old we feel crucially influences our biological age. So it’s possible to think ourselves young – yippee.