Fitness for over 50s
Heather Kinnin

Sport, exercise and fitness are things we tend to associate with younger people. This is just one of the factors that put older people off getting active. But the rewards can be great - for your health and your social life!

Statistics show we take less and less exercise as we get older. By the time we reach our 50s, few of us take regular exercise.

In England, only 32 per cent of men and 21 per cent of women aged 55 to 64 take the recommended 30 minutes' exercise most days (in Scotland it's even lower, at 26 and 19 per cent respectively). For 65- to 74-year-olds the figures drop even lower to 17 per cent of men (14 per cent in Scotland) and 12 per cent of women (eight per cent in Scotland).

It's never too late

It's tempting to think of excuses to do nothing - whatever age you are. But it doesn't matter if you've had an active life up to now or if you've always put exercise on the back burner; it's really never too late to get started.

Male or female, single or with a partner, with or without the grandchildren - you can do it. The things you'll get out of it can be obvious, such as improved health, but there are things you might not have thought of too. Mentally tick off all the things in the list below that would be positive for you - then start planning.

The health rewards
  • More energy. It's odd, but exercise actually makes you feel more energetic. Sitting around not doing much, on the other hand, makes you feel sluggish and unable to do anything.
  • Improved sleep. The other side of this is that your body and mind feel as though they've done something and are ready for rest at night.
  • Stable weight. Regular exercise helps to offset the slowing down of your metabolism as you get older, keeping you at a healthy weight.
  • Protection against heart disease. Not smoking, sensible eating and taking regular exercise put you in line for a healthy later life.
  • Improved circulation. Exercise can also lower blood pressure and help with other conditions, even clinical depression.
  • Delayed ageing. Keeping active strengthens your muscles, joints and bones as well as helping with mobility and balance. This is more important the older you get, as it helps to prevent falls, which are among the most common reasons older people have to go into hospital.
Other rewards
  • You'll meet and make new friends. Taking exercise with others is great for your social life.
  • It's time for you. Work, family or friends all take up time. Sometimes doing something that's yours alone is just what's needed.
  • You'll get a sense of achievement. There's nothing like completing an exercise activity to give you a lift.
  • You'll reach your goals. Aim for something specific. Run a marathon, enter a dance competition, walk to a friend's house across town - something you can be proud of.
  • It relieves stress. Bad day, bad week or annoying relatives? Exercise helps you to calm down and put things in perspective.
  • You'll feel and look better. Many people who exercise regularly look younger than people of the same age who aren't so active.
  • It's fun. What better reason is there?

This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks in September 2005.
First published in May 2001.

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Fitness for over 50s