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How does physical activity affect your health?
How important is it to stay active as we age and what kind of activity brings the most benefits?
For an expat with a busy schedule, finding the time to exercise can be challenging.
However, there is an infinite wealth of evidence to show that finding that time is vital, especially for the over 50s.
As we all know, exercise is good for the body and the mind. But, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach and there are lots of factors that should influence a person’s approach.
What are the benefits of physical activity?
There is the obvious benefit of helping control weight, which becomes more difficult as you get older due to your metabolism slowing down.
A few hours of moderate-intensity physical exercise each week also lowers the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer.
The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that the risk of endometrial and lung cancer is lower in people who exercise regularly than in those who don’t.
This is backed up by the results of a long-term study by University of Minnesota researchers. They gave questionnaires to 36,929 cancer-free women from Iowa, and then followed them for 16 years. They found that the women with high exercise levels were less likely to develop lung cancer than those with low exercise levels.
The Australian study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that aerobic exercises, resistance training and less-strenuous forms of exercise such as T’ai Chi, a traditional Chinese martial art, all had positive effects on different parts of the brain’s functions ranging from the ability to organise and plan, to reading and reasoning.
The authors of that study examined 36 wide-ranging studies and found that exercising moderately for around an hour on as many days as possible improved memory and thinking skills of those aged over 50.
How long should I exercise for?
Britain’s National Health Service recommends different sorts of exercise for different ages. It says children under the age of five should be physically active for at least 3 hours a day; this includes walking, playing outside, chasing balls, playing in water or riding a bicycle.
However, healthy adults should do a minimum 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week as well as strength exercises that focus on the major muscles such as in the leg and back.
According to the CDC, those who do seven hours of exercise a week have 40% less chance of an early death than those who do just half an hour a week.
What are moderate and intensive forms of exercise?
Moderate aerobic activity includes things such as fast walking and mowing the lawn; so this kind of activity can easily be incorporated into a normal day.
Your heart rate needs to be raised to have an affect on your health so shopping and slow walking unfortunately won’t count. Vigorous or intensive activities are running, hiking, swimming or playing sports such as tennis.
Do some activities bring particular benefits to over 50s?
Low impact aerobic exercise and bone-strengthening activities can slow down the natural decline in bone density which occurs as a person ages.
This reduces the risk of chronic conditions such as osteoporosis and arthritis, according to the CDC. The organisation says that doing just two hours of moderate exercise a week lowers the risk of hip fracture and improves the quality of life for people living with arthritis.
For the over 50s, these lower weight-bearing and impact options help to reduce the risk of bone injuries or breakages, which is often higher in the older generation.