When it comes to getting fit, new research has shown that it is never too late to start.
Indeed, a recent study from Oslo University Hospital found that getting fit in middle age halves the risk of stroke.
“If you’re 50 and not fit, over the next years you can become fit and lower your risk. It’s never too late to start,” says Dr Erik Prestgaard from the Norwegian hospital’s cardiology department.
Swimming is fantastic low-impact exercise
Interestingly, no difference was found between people who had always been fit and those who decided to become active in later life.
“People think it’s too late for them but that’s not true,” says personal trainer Chris Zaremba (fitnessoverfifty.co.uk).
At 50, Chris was pre-diabetic, overweight and unfit. Now 10 years on he is a fitness expert and gives talks all over the world.
“I am living proof you can go from couch potato and fitness-phobe to healthy and active. It will add years to your life and life to your years,” he says. Yet research shows that exercise levels among the middle-aged are lower than ever.
New research shows it’s never too late to start exercising
Last month Public Health England announced there has been a 20 per cent drop in exercise levels since the 1960s.
Shockingly, 41 per cent of people aged 40 to 60 don’t even manage a brisk 10-minute walk once a month. Furthermore, a recent study by DW Fitness revealed that 53 per cent of people aged over 45 haven’t played sport for more than 20 years. And yet the benefits of being active are endless.
According to a new study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, thinking and memory skills are most improved for people over 50 when they undergo moderate aerobic and resistance exercise on a regular basis.
Regular exercise will also help with weight loss and has been shown to relieve anxiety and boost mood. And thankfully it is easier than you think to get started.
“It’s all down to a positive attitude,” adds Chris. “Once you start creating those healthy habits they will soon become entrenched.”
We asked the experts how to get fit at 50 and beyond.
Start slowly to avoid injuries
SLOWLY DOES IT
To avoid injury to the joints, it is important to start slowly. “Don’t start by trying to run a marathon, begin by gently increasing your activity levels and progressively overload your muscles in tiny increments,” says Anya Lahiri, Barry’s Bootcamp master trainer and Nike Training Club elite trainer.
“Take a light jog to the shops, do some gentle cycling or spend several minutes on a cross trainer.”
Instead of hand weights, try the weights machines in the gym as they are much safer for beginners if you are shown how to use them.
“It can be great to enlist a qualified personal trainer when you begin your exercise journey,” she says.
Swimming is one the best activities to burn calories
IN THE SWIM
“Swimming is fantastic low-impact exercise,” says Fitness First personal trainer Graeme Crick. “It’s one of the best activities to burn calories as it stimulates all the big muscle groups. Also, because the pool creates a weightless environment, it is gentle on your joints.”
Backstroke is great for toning the back, arms and bingo wings while the kicking leg movement works the glutes, quads and hamstrings. Breaststroke is perfect for toning up your chest, shoulders, arms and legs, while doing butterfly can burn around 900 calories per hour.
ENLIST A FRIEND
A great way to motivate yourself to exercise is by roping in a friend.
“When you make a plan to exercise with a friend you are accountable,” says celebrity personal trainer James Crossley (mrjamescrossley.com).
“If not going means letting someone down, you’ll be far less likely to have a lie-in instead.”
Instead of arranging to meet a friend for drinks in the pub, go for a walk instead.
“The same principle applies when you book a fitness session, be it a yoga workshop or gym class,” says James. “If you’ve booked and committed in advance, you’re more likely to actually go to the workout.”
FIT IT IN
No time? No problem. There are hidden ways to work out every day.
“Any movement counts,” says Chris. “So walk up and down escalators and always take the stairs.”
Housework counts too. Research has shown that people who are active at home often burn more calories than people who go to the gym and spend the rest of the time being sedentary.
“Cutting the grass with a manual lawnmower will give you a core and upper body workout, while hanging the washing out and ironing will tone your arms,” says Chris. “And if you’re in an office, go to talk to colleagues instead of emailing them and walk about when you’re on the phone.”
Set short and long-term goals
SET A GOAL
Setting both long and short-term goals is a good way to help motivate you. James recommends using the acronym SMART to set your goals.
Specific: A goal needs to be as specific as possible so you can work towards it and achieve it.
“Lose weight” is too vague. Instead try: “I want to improve my health by changing bad habits and commit to a new gym and nutrition plan.”
Measurable: Make the goals measurable. This could be pounds or inches lost or deciding to drop a dress or trouser size.
Attainable: It must be a realistic goal that challenges you. For example: “I will go to the gym three days a week, cut my alcohol by half and eat only three meals a day.”
Relevant: Make sure the goal is consistent with other targets and will help you reach your long-term aim.
Time frame: Create a time frame so you have a target in sight, for example: “I will hit my ideal weight by Christmas Day.”
ALL IN THE MIND
Mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness, according to personal trainer Emily Skye (emilyskye.com).
“It’s not just about being as lean as you can be or building as much muscle as you can, it’s about mental fitness too,” says Emily. “Exercise is a great way to stay sharp and has also been found to combat depression and anxiety.”
This is because when you exercise, endorphins are released. These happy hormones make you feel exhilarated and have even been found to block pain.
“Notice how good you feel after working out,” says Emily. “This feeling will spur you on to do it again. But don’t be obsessive, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage very much one day. See every step you take towards fitness as a positive.”
Exercise will also help combat anxiety and depression
GET THE KIT
“Having the correct kit for your workouts not only supports optimal performance but gives you the confidence and comfort to smash your fitness goals,” says personal trainer Zanna Van Dijk (zannavandijk.co.uk).
“Fitness trackers are a great way to ensure you’re pushing yourself hard enough in your workouts and give a boost to motivation.”
The Fitbit Alta HR, £129.99 (fitbit.com) tracks steps, calories burned, distance travelled and heart rate. You can also set it to remind you to move.
Ensure your feet and ankles are protected by wearing a well-fitting running shoe.
Saucony Ride 10 trainers, £120 (saucony.com) are lightweight and breathable with cushioning for the soles. Ill-fitting headphones can fall out when you move so try the new Panasonic RP-BTS10, £49.99 (very.co.uk) which are waterproof, sweat-proof and sit comfortably over the ears.