How to stay fit/active as you age

As the adage goes, ‘Move it or lose it!”. But what does that mean? What do we lose? How should we move? And how often must we move before it all disappears!?

Anyone who has now crossed the imaginary halfway line of life (and by the way that line is getting much later as our life expectancies continue to increase), would know that with all the wonderful perks that come with aging, such as insight, children, grandchildren and a decline in the size of one’s mortgage, there are also some pitfalls, namely the middle-aged spread!

Where in our former years one or two weeks of rigid dieting, followed by a committed exercise routine shaped by lougeroom aerobics (think the Jane Fonda workout) would lead to the desired change in one’s body shape in preparation for an impending wedding, school reunion or summer holiday, this is now no longer the case. In more recent years you have perhaps found it more and more difficult to achieve such immediate results and what’s more, one of the aforementioned perks of life that is your children, have now taken away what precious little time you once had to sweat it out on the lounge room floor!

But what have we lost exactly and how/why did we lose it!?

Put simply, as we age our metabolic rates (think the internal furnace that burns all the food we eat and maintains our body composition) start to slow and dwindle. This is because as we age we start to lose a little bit of the precious muscle mass that we have on our bodies and we also tend to move less, as paying off the mortgage and working longer hours precedes spending an hour exercising. We therefore lose time, then our muscles and then our waist lines!

Let me explain.

Muscles on our body mean that we burn more energy while we are sitting still, they are in fact the main driver of our internal furnace (metabolism). So, as we age if we do not continue to do some form of resistance exercise or weight training to preserve, or better yet, grow more muscle, then over the course of two or three decades our metabolisms slow significantly. The technical term for this is called sarcopenia. Put simply, we lose muscle as we age and get fat.

The other reason why we lose ‘it’ is that we simply move less. By moving less each day we simply burn less energy. This, coupled with our slowing metabolic rate due to our lost muscle mass, means that our middle age spread soon becomes a smother!

Finally, and most importantly there is now very strong evidence that identifies an association between unregulated blood sugars and dementia. We all know how great our brain functions after exercising, as we get a big hit our feel-good hormones and endorphins, but exercise is also very important in maintaining our brain function by controlling the sugars in our blood. By exercising, even if we do not lose weight, we reduce the likelihood of the onset of cognitive diseases such as dementia. And for me this is the most vital thing I do not want to lose.

So, how often must we move before it all disappears!?

The Australian Government Department of Health recommends for people aged 18-64 years to:

  • Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.

  • Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.

And if you are over the age of 65:

If you are already active and exercising, just keep going! But if you are only starting out, being physically active for 30 minutes every day is achievable and even a slight increase in activity can make a difference to your health and wellbeing.

For more information on these guidelines just click here

However, Here’s the kicker….

Strength and aerobic adaptation/qualities that you gain from exercising everyday are fleeting. Bummer I know. It doesn’t mean that we lose everything we have gained by not training for a week or two, but we do know that these gains aren’t permanent and that the only way we keep these benefits is by exercising most, if not all days.

Ok, we need to move each day, but how should we move?

So, my top tips for exercising at any age are:

  • Start out easy. People get overwhelmed by exercise because they try to do too much too soon. The 10% rule is a great one, if you start with a 20-minute brisk walk (and do it on a flat surface), add 10% to the time every week you walk. In 10 weeks’ time, you will be power walking for an hour!

  • Exercise every day, some days’ easy same days hard!

  • Find something you love doing, this could be hiking, kickboxing, rock climbing or even dancing. If you love it, you will do it!

  • Find a community of people to exercise with. Community is everything when it comes to exercise. They act as wonderful motivation on the days you would normally chose to skip a session!

  • Weight train. If you’re planning on living well into your 90’s like my nana, then you have to make sure that your frame is strong enough to hit the dance floor like nana does!


Nicholas Chartres - The Good Food Dude

Nick has been a personal trainer for 15 years and tries to keep fit. Nick believes that despite the eye watering volume of information out there about health, the majority of the population are still left confused on how to eat and exercise effectively for good health. Nick is currently completing his PhD at the University of Sydney, looking into Research Integrity and Science Policy and also has a Masters of Nutrition. Nick believes in evidence based, sustainable exercise and eating and wants people to have a healthy relationship with exercise and food!