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The importance of moving in retirement

Published: 19 January 2016

With the globe’s population of those aged 60 and over having doubled since 1980, the need for retirees to indulge in regular exercise has never been greater

Too many adults aged 60 and over are overly sedentary, and those who persist with an inactive lifestyle are likely to pay the heaviest price in terms of ailing health, with higher rates of falls, obesity, heart disease and early death compared with the general population. Bones and muscles lose strength with age, the heart muscle weakens, and arteries become less elastic, meaning the effort of pumping blood around the body significantly increases.

However, evidence suggests that those who are active – with 150 minutes a week the recommended target by the UK’s chief medical officers – have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, some cancers, depression, mental illness and dementia. What’s more, those who get moving are likely enjoy independence well into old age.

Train to gain

Simon Snook is a London-based personal trainer whose company NXT Level Fitness has taken on an increased number of older clients. He’s pleased that awareness has greatly improved in the past decade.“Strength, mobility, flexibility and fitness are all important to quality of life and performance. The stronger someone is and the better their quality of movement, the healthier they will be. Nutrition also plays a key role,” he says.

“Handily, retired people tend to have more time to train, and most are very excited by the improvements to their everyday life it makes. “There are many exercises or sports which are fantastically beneficial to older people – although a good personal trainer, who can pinpoint the areas where most improvement is required and accelerate results, is worth the cost to extend a healthy life.”

A chance to dance

The good news is that many retirement homes now run extensive exercise programmes and keep-fit classes for residents, and some even have their own swimming pools. Yoga, pilates, swimming, tennis and Nordic walking (as well as regular walking) are recommended activities to ward off health issues, and dancing has become tremendously popular with retirees.

In 2009 Sue Gregson set up Wise Move Dance in the north west after being inspired by Sadlers Wells’ Company of Elders, the first established over-60s performance company. “It is a reawakening of that creative energy that most of us haven’t experienced since primary school, frankly,” she says. “The endorphins don’t half kick in, I can tell you; you feel terrific.”

“I had no dance background, and convinced Bethan Rhys Wiliam, from the Royal Northern College of Music, to choreograph various interpretive dance performances for we retirees to enjoy,” says Ms Gregson, now 70. “It’s about having fun, using your imagination, learning something new, and there are so many fringe benefits, not least the social life it provides.

“It has transformed my life. I’m a very unlikely candidate as a dancer, I’ve had both my kneecaps replaced, I suffer from Ménière’s Disease (making balancing difficult) but the dancing has improved everything. Why? Because I have had a reason to balance, I have had a reason to do something quite far out of my comfort zone. I’m fitter, I’m better, all of those things.”

And it’s not just the physical exercise that’s good for you. Rachel Drazek, a professional dancer who encourages older people to participate in classes designed by Create, a charity that promotes the arts in vulnerable communities, says: “Dance has an incredible way of challenging people’s own perceptions about what they do – but hopefully in gentle, subtle and fun ways.

“Dance asks people to engage in a collective act and to participate in a response to others. This is crucial if your experience of life has become a little isolated.”

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