The secret to getting fit - at any age
From your 20s to midlife and beyond, there's a sport and exercise to suit everyone, writes Anna Magee
The sun is out, and between Wimbledon and the Women's World Cup, our screens are filled with perfectly toned bodies achieving impossible feats of fitness and sporting finesse.
If all this is inspiring you to get fit, or get fitter, but the task feels daunting and the sofa rather more appealing, have faith: it's all about finding the right activity for you and your lifestyle. Here leading experts reveal the best sports to try for your age group.
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Try: Sprinting, circuits, rowing
For many, these are the years for partying, eating what you want and still looking and feeling fine - but it should be about building foundations for future health and fitness, says sports scientist Professor Greg Whyte.
"In your 20s you are at the peak of your powers, whether you're female or male. This age needs to be about building strength and muscle - because this will biologically start to decline when you hit 35 - as well as building cardiovascular fitness."
Building muscle now helps develop a good metabolic rate, protecting against weight gain, and will also protect your bones, joints and posture as you age, says Matt Roberts, author of new book Younger, Fitter, Stronger. "A fair amount of research shows collagen is more readily produced when you have more activated muscle mass, so it's anti-ageing."
Prof Whyte recommends 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week, including strength endurance classes, such as circuits, and cardiovascular activities such as swimming, running, cycling or rowing.
Try: Squash, tennis, pelvic floor exercises
Busy, time-poor and likely to be spending more time in a sedentary job, this is a time to integrate energetic, multi-tasking sports into your routine, says Roberts.
"Tennis or squash played at high intensity is good for getting a muscular, cardiovascular, flexibility and co-ordination workout along with a stress release within one 45-60 minute commitment weekly." He also advises 'exercise snacking' - running home or doing a short, 25-minute run in your lunch hour.
This is the decade that children are most likely to come along, so women should be paying attention to pelvic floors with planks, side planks, Pilates and yoga.
Muscle naturally starts to decline at this stage, while circulation reduces and we start to lose flexibility and elasticity in the soft tissues - so your weekly rugby or five-a-side game may start to produce more injuries. Leave longer recovery times after exercising, and incorporate recovery workouts such as yoga into your weekly routine.
Try: Marathons, weights, Pilates
For the sandwich generation, hectic lifestyles can get in the way of exercise, and stress can trigger the start of the middle-aged spread.
"The stress hormone cortisol forces the body to access its sugar resources so it doesn't burn away as much fat," Roberts explains. "This can accumulate as visceral fat around your belly and organs, which can then increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol."
To bust stress, try brisk walking, spin classes, jogging and swimming. Women in their 40s may be approaching the perimenopause and menopause, and fluctuations in oestrogen may already be affecting bone density, says Prof Whyte, so try racket games such as squash, tennis and badminton.
As for the ever-expanding spare tyre, Roberts recommends lifting heavy weights three times a week to really elevate metabolism: think weighted squats, lunges, bench presses and dead lifts. "Combine that with high intensity interval training [HIIT] three times a week with long rest intervals." Core development work is important now too, he adds: try Pilates, or anything that works the internal abdominals.
Try: Boxing, golf, circuit training
"A lot of people think they need to slow down in their 50s, but we need the opposite," says Prof Whyte. "Of course you need to be careful and build up gradually, but if you haven't started yet, this is your last chance to ensure someone isn't wiping your backside, aged 70 - I usually find that's a great motivator." Take a leaf out of Carol Vorderman's book - last week the 58-year-old revealed she does 400 squats a week.
To keep up muscle mass and heart health, try cardio activity such as walking and swimming three times a week, fitting in functional training, too, such as squats, deadlifts, bench and chest presses and push-ups. A weekly session of yoga or Pilates is an excellent way to protect against falls in older age.
Look for exercises that increase mobility and co-ordination, to work the brain and also your balance, Roberts advises. "Anything that involves throwing, catching or hitting, such as golf or tennis as well as boxing with pads, is great for making the brain work."
Try: Power walking, gardening, swimming
Health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease or a previous heart attack are more common at this time of life, and it's natural to worry about exercising, says Roberts. "Take your doctor's advice. What we do know is doing nothing makes you get worse, and exercise can help increase the strength of the heart after an attack."
You may be offered an exercise ECG or stress test, involving walking on a treadmill while your heart rate is monitored, to allow your doctor to set some boundaries.
"This time of life is really all about keeping mobile and on your feet," says Roberts. "Keeping your cardiovascular system conditioned at this time is crucial, alongside building stability in the hips and lower back and mobility in the shoulders and knees, to help keep problems at bay."
Moderate intensity cardiovascular work such as jogging, power walking, gardening, dancing or swimming a few times a week is important, he advises. "But you also need to do some interval training to condition the heart and lungs. So that could be walking fast up a relatively steep hill for 45 seconds and then strolling back down again."
70s and beyond
Try: Ballroom dancing, table tennis, yoga
Retirement from work means this is a great time to start social exercise such as ballroom dancing, says Roberts. "Anything involving numbers is great for coordination, and the social factor helps keep the mind young too."
Back pain can be common at this age, and mobility and strength work is important to ensure flexibility and maintain posture. Hatha yoga delivers stretching work in the hips, quads, hamstrings, and back, with a low risk of injury.
Consider simple stretches and balances at home, too. Helen Mirren (73) is said to be a fan of a 12-minute exercise plan devised for the Royal Canadian Air Force, which includes arm circles and hopping on one leg.