How much exercise should you do?

In their book Sod 60, Claire Parker and Muir Gray write ‘getting older doesn’t matter: getting active and getting attitude does’.  The links between physical and mental fitness are well known, but how much exercise should you be doing in your 50’s, 60’s and beyond?

The fitter you are, the better you will cope with the physical and mental challenges life throws at you.  Evidence suggests getting fitter and staying fit leads to better outcomes in many common diseases of age, including cancer, diabetes and heart failure.  The sooner you start, the more you lower the risk of getting these diseases in the first place.

British Academy of Medical Royal Colleges recommendation

In 2015 the British Academy of Medical Royal Colleges announced they had found a ‘miracle cure’ for many common diseases often associated with getting older.  That cure was exercise.  They suggested that 30 minutes of exercise that makes you hot and sweaty, five times a week, brings the best results.

Since then there have been a number of campaigns that suggest different ‘targets’ for exercise, for example, that you should aim to walk 10,000 steps a day (about the equivalent of 5 miles).  

Others argue that it is not ‘how much’ exercise you do that is important, rather the quality of that exercise, in terms of the impact on your health.  Variety also seems to be important. If you just repeat the same exercise pattern, time after time, the health benefits lessen. Plus it becomes very boring and not mentally stimulating either.

What is important, is the type and range of exercise you do and none of this needs to be in a gym if that’s not your thing.  The range of exercise needs to include:-

Cardiovascular (heart) health

That is exercise that increases you heart rate and makes you hot and sweaty!  Dancing, aerobic classes, fast walking and games such as tennis, badminton etc. Stretching after exercise is important for muscle recovery and repair.

Strength building

That is weight-bearing exercise, either your own body weight or resistance training or lifting weights. See our blog on 5 exercises that increase bone strength. Another bonus of strength work is you continue to burn calories after the exercise period has finished.

Gaining and maintaining flexibility

Being supple and flexible helps you move well.  Stretching and exercises that support flexibility such as Yoga and Pilates also help improve your balance, which in turn reduces the risk of falls.

Also important if you are starting a new exercise programme, or just starting to be more active generally, is to start slowly and increase the pace and duration as your body gets used to the new movement.  

Seeking the advice of your GP/physician is also recommended if you are recovering from illness or managing a long-term condition.  Rest and recovery days and a good sleep pattern, along with a nutritious healthy diet will also support your body to exercise well. 

So the answer to how much exercise you should do in your 50’s, 60’s and beyond is perhaps ‘more than you did in your last decade’ if you want to remain as fit as possible.  The general consensus is you should try and be active every day and exercise (across the range) for around 30 minutes five times a week.