Are you a soon-to-be grandparent with a goal of being able to lift your new grandchild? Or maybe you’ve been told by your doctor at a recent health check that you need to start “taking better care of your health”?
Perhaps you’ve noticed that trying to keep up with the younger folks when they go on walks leaves you huffing and puffing?
Whatever the case, the “golden years” should be a time you look back at with fond memories and joy rather than regret. After all, age is simply a number.
Due to societal and generational myths, many seniors scale back on exercise in fear that they will hurt themselves, that they are “too old”, and so on. At the same time, there’s a myriad of benefits when it comes to working out ESPECIALLY if you’re a senior. In this article, we’ll cover the benefits of exercise, break some common misconceptions, and provide some tips on how you can get moving with peace of mind.
Benefits of Exercise
We’re sure you’ve read about the various holistic benefits that exercise and keeping active have - from strengthening muscles and bones to weight management to a better ability to perform day-to-day tasks. Below, we’ll highlight some less-known benefits to add to that already long list:
Improved Quality of Life:
As cliché as it sounds, exercise does more than add years to your life, it adds life to your years. From strengthened bones to increased energy, regular physical activity has been shown to give seniors a sense of confidence to perform daily activities. This also means maintaining independence for longer - something increasingly important to seniors.
Increased Social Engagement:
Many seniors cut back on social activities as they age - “It’s boring, I rather stay and watch TV”, I’m tired of just sitting around eating!”, and “I don't have the energy to join them!”. While it’s perfectly fine to rest, maintaining social relationships is vital for seniors to avoid feeling lonely or purposeless.
With increased energy and a greater sense of well-being, you’ll be spoilt for choices in and out of the gym - whether you join a walking or tai-chi group, or it simply means you have more energy to join for those regular family meetups.
Studies have shown that depression is getting more and more common among seniors. The good news? A simple exercise session releases “happy endorphins” that provide drive and motivation. While exercise might not solve all your problems, it can help in keeping those feelings of sadness or anxiety at bay.
We’ve all heard the adage “prevention is better than cure”. Why wait till you are sick or injured before taking charge of your health? Aside from improving overall immune function (something often compromised for seniors), regular exercise has been proven to prevent many common diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
Decreased Risks of Falls
If you’re an older adult, you could be more prone to serious injuries after a fall. As seniors take longer to recover, avoiding such falls is critical. Improving balance, strength, and coordination, a well-rounded fitness regime will do just that - provide you with a stable base and stronger core.
So, with all those benefits… what prevents many seniors from taking that step? Myths, misconceptions, and the like:
Myth #1: “I’m too old"
Truth: It's never too late for exercise to make a difference!
In fact, staying inactive is much riskier and can speed up the ageing process. Studies have shown that inactive people are also more prone to diseases such as heart disease. While it can be daunting if you haven’t exercised in a long time or don’t move the way you used to, be kind to yourself and start slowly. Once again, age is simply a number. It doesn’t prevent you from working out - only the belief that it does, does.
Myth #2: “With all my health conditions, it’s not safe for me to exercise”
Truth: Many health conditions can be improved with proper diet and exercise.
There aren’t ANY chronic medical conditions that don’t benefit from exercise - the key is finding the right one! If you’re not sure what might work for you, approach a trained doctor or physiotherapist who can come up with a tailored program that works with your lifestyle and health condition. Even if you’re wheelchair or cane-bound, many tweaks can be done so you don’t have to do this alone!
Myth #3: “Exercise only benefits the body”
Truth: Exercise benefits all aspects of your life - from mental to emotional.
This age-old misconception prevents many from taking that initial step - after all, what if your physical body isn’t your top priority and you just want to “enjoy your golden years” rather than sweating it out?
Far from the truth. Even if that isn’t your priority, the benefits of exercise are holistic. Not only does it combat cognitive decline, but it also helps fight anxiety, and relieves stress due to the “feel good” endorphins released. Studies have underscored the link between exercise and improved sleep, which is something important for seniors who may suffer from insomnia. Other studies have also shown a link between a regular fitness regime and lowered risk of dementia. Trust us, the mental health benefits of exercise are nearly endless.
Myth #4: "I can't afford it."
Truth: With all the facilities out there, you don’t have to spend at all!
From using your body weight, to simply going for a brisk walk or jogging in the neighbourhood to spending an hour hiking at a new trail - the options are endless in our lovely garden city. If it’s not for you, you don’t have to spend a fortune on exercise equipment or a fancy gym membership. At the same time, if group classes or a gym-type setting is what works best for you, find out more about the senior discounts that most offer. Also, did you know that Active SG Gyms and Pools are free for seniors above 65?
Myth #5: “I’ll probably end up hurting myself”
Truth: You won’t, if you know what you’re doing and do what feels right for your body.
Regardless of your age, exercise for someone dealing with an injury will look different from someone who isn’t injured - and that’s perfectly okay. Once again, talk to a doctor or trained sports therapist who can give you tips on starting an exercise programme. Remember to explain your fears surrounding particular movements so they can work through these fears with you and come up with a programme with activities to try and ones to avoid. Additionally, as you get stronger and fitter, the less likely you are to hurt yourself.
At the end of the day - these myths are just that… myths.
Tips to get started:
First off, remember to incorporate all types of exercise into your routine if possible - balance, cardiovascular, resistance, and flexibility. The Singapore Physical Activity Guidelines (SPAG) recommends engaging in muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week, including multi-component physical activity that emphasizes strength and functional balance at least 3 days a week, limiting the amount of time spent being sedentary, and aiming for at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity.
Of course, if you have an existing medical condition such as diabetes or heart disease, make sure to consult and get clearance from your doctor before you start. It’s better to be safe rather than sorry. Come up with what works best for you. Remember, the perfect plan is one that you’ll follow through with, rather than one that looks “perfect on paper”.
If there’s just one takeaway from this article, make it that your age is just a number - it’s all a state of mind. Exercise is good for you - it’s simply a matter of making it a priority and part of your lifestyle. Instead of looking back at what you used to be able to do, embrace fitness as a tool to keep you healthy for the many golden years ahead.
Free entry to all ActiveSG gyms and swimming pools for Singaporeans aged 65 and above. Toa Payoh Sport Centre has closed on 31 October 2023 to make way for the construction of a new Regional Sport Centre, as part of the Toa Payoh Integrated Development project (TPID). Please click here for the location of the ActiveSG Sport Centres.