Fit at 50 and beyond
You can't turn back time, but you can slow it down - or, at least, that's what the latest science on exercise and diet is showing. With that in mind, we've teamed up with Galway-based personal trainer Pat Divilly and marathon runner and co-author of The Ageless Body, Peta Bee, to put together a fitness programme exclusively designed for the Sunday Independent reader who wants to stay healthy and happy into their 70s and beyond. Over the following pages, you will find three workouts designed to suit your body's changing needs in your 50s, 60s and 70s, as well as the lowdown on how your body is changing as you age.
How the plan works
Each workout is a different length and each has a slightly different focus: the 50s workout is focused on core strength; 60s on mobility; 70s on balance.
"I'd encourage you to complete the workout three-four times each week along with a minimum of 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise daily, such as a walk or jog to support cardiovascular health," says Pat. Space your workouts, if possible, on alternate days so you have a rest day in between.
As a general rule, the chest, biceps, hip flexors, hamstrings and calves are tonic muscles and get tighter as we get older. Our back, triceps (the back of the arms), glutes or bum, deep abdominals and shoulders, which are all 'phasic' muscles, tend to get weaker.
As a result, says Pat, as we age our posture suffers. Tighter chest muscles and weakened back and shoulders lead to rounded shoulders and a forward head tilt, all of which increases the risk of a fall. The right type of strength and flexibility training can reverse this effect.
"With that in mind our workouts focus on strengthening those areas that tend to weaken with age, while improving flexibility and mobility in the areas that tend to tighten."
There are balance drills to lessen the risk of future falls too. "Balance is an often neglected aspect of training but it's so important in preventing injuries," says Pat.
Follow the programme for four to eight weeks and, says Pat, "you should expect to see significant improvements to your strength, mobility and balance".
Pat hasn't included weights such as kettlebells or dumbells in his workouts, even though maintaining muscle mass as you age is crucial. There's a reason for this. "Strength training (also known as resistance training) carries benefits for all ages," says Pat, "but is particularly important as we get older and begin to lose muscle and bone density. When we hear the words 'strength training', many of us end up rushing for the weights room or fancy machines and equipment.
"But I believe that if we don't first practice 'bodyweight' movements, we have no business adding additional resistance. If we have dysfunctional movement patterns due to poor mobility or inexperience with strength training, adding more resistance from weights will only cause injuries. So our workouts focus on exercises just using our own body weight."
If you want to take strength training further, it's best to book a one-to-one session with a personal trainer who can design a programme suited to your level of fitness.
If you're finding your workout has become easy, then change it up. "Pick the workout you feel is best suited to you," says Pat. "It doesn't have to be the same one all the time."
Eat right for your age
Every decade that passes makes different demands on your body, and while exercise is important, what and when you eat is also crucial. Peta Bee has dietary advice on how to offset changing hormone levels as well as how to improve your metabolism, fight that spare tyre and increase muscle mass.
Before you start
Before you begin any fitness or dietary programme, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider, especially if you are on medication, and get the all clear to proceed.
Then all you need is a good pair of runners (see right), a space to exercise and roughly half an hour three or four times a week to workout.
Set a specific daily or weekly goal, nothing too overwhelming, and your motivation will come from seeing results.
As sports psychologist Créde Sheehy Kelly says, "It's the mind, not the age or the body that can be your biggest stumbling block." Pat agrees, "Imagine getting into your car and driving around for days with no idea where you are trying to go."
"Completing these workouts three-four times a week," points out Pat, "will add up to 12-16 workouts a month.
"Consider the changes you could make by simply making a 1pc improvement to your routine each time you workout."
Some people stay more motivated if they work out with a buddy, others prefer to exercise alone.
Either way, remember the only person you are competing with is yourself.
As Pat says, "comparison is the thief of joy. The only person we should ever compete with is ourselves. Get into the habit of reminding yourself every day that all you've got to do is make tiny improvements daily to become healthier. I remind myself that the only person I need to be 'better' than is the person I was yesterday."
And remember, getting healthier doesn't need to feel like hard work, you just need to find something you really enjoy doing and keep doing it - like Joan Neill (see page 8), who at 71, takes two strenuous five or six hour hikes a week and draws strength from being out in nature with friends. She doesn't think of it as getting fit, she just enjoys the experience.
Take the first step today on your journey towards health and fitness, and within a few short weeks, you should notice the difference.