My inbox has been inundated with readers over the age of 70 asking for advice on how to stay fit and healthy during lockdown. And with good reason: pre-pandemic studies that looked into the negative effects of prolonged home confinement, like muscle loss and decreased bone density, found they hit older people hardest, and speed up the onset of frailty.
Earlier this year, Sport England published uplifting research that found 55- to 74-year-olds were increasing their activity levels. However, since lockdown began, the over-70s have been advised to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures so many are staying home, and a lengthier lockdown for older people is likely.
But it’s not all bad news, according to personal trainer Annie Deadman, author of The 21-Day Blast Plan, who specialises in later-life fitness. “I’m 60 and I’ve been running online classes for people in their 60s and 70s during lockdown,” she says. “One of the main things older people are talking to me about is cardio in lockdown – i.e. walking, jogging – but the best way to stay fit over 60 is with resistance training.”
Resistance training – which can include lifting soup cans or water bottles, if you don’t have hand-held weights, or doing squats or press-ups – strengthens your muscle fibres, leading to denser muscles.
“Dense muscles require more calories at rest, so resistance training speeds up your metabolism and you lose excess fat more easily.
“From your early 40s, you lose 1 per cent of lean muscle per year, so resistance training keeps your weight down in later life. Dense muscles also support joints more effectively. And remember to feed your muscles with protein at every meal, to make them denser still.”
It is good for bones, too; scientists at the universities of Exeter and Leicester recently found a strong link between just a few minutes of weight-bearing exercise a day and improved bone density.
Deadman suggests focusing on the small, often weak, muscles: “f you have bad knees, when you’re sitting down, place a small cushion under your right knee and lift your lower right leg up so your leg is straight out in front of you. Briefly tense your quad, the big muscle at the front of your thighs, and then return your leg to the start position. Do lots of tiny reps and then switch to the other leg.”
This exercise strengthens your quad muscles, which support your knees, reducing injury risk. Sit up straight while you do it, to work core muscles, which support your spine.
If you have weak wrists, Deadman suggests chest flys, where you lie on your back with a weight in each hand, hands on the floor, and you slowly bring your hands up to meet above your chest, before slowly returning them to the floor.
Working these muscles will ensure things like getting out of a chair, and turning your head to look over your shoulder as you reverse your car, remain easy as you get older.
Pilates is also particularly good for older joints and spines, Deadman adds, and suggests searching for senior-specific workouts on YouTube. Joe Wicks, the personal trainer who began live-streaming daily PE lessons on his YouTube channel, The Body Coach, when schools shut, has now turned his attention to older people. He recently launched an online workout series, including 10-Minute Home Chair Workout for Seniors and 10-Minute Full Body Home Workout for Seniors, which include marching and low-impact squats, after requests from older people whose grandchildren were taking part in his daily routines.
Research recently published from Abertay University in Dundee found that short periods of exercise can dramatically improve health and fitness in the over-60s, reducing blood pressure and making everyday tasks easier. Sport England has launched 10 Today, a 10-minute audio exercise routine for older people, which has already been shown to improve sleep, balance and joint problems. They can be accessed via BBC Sounds.
As well as targeted workouts, Deadman also suggests building movement into your daily life with pottering, walking, gardening and cycling, if you can. “Lockdown isn’t the time to take up running if you’re not a runner, because of the increased risk of injury and strain on your joints. But do keep moving.”
The Daily Telegraph
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