With guest blogger; Doug Wilson.
I’ve been going to a gym for two years. I joined when I was 80 which suggests I’m slow to make decisions. I was very concerned at what I might meet: finely tuned young bodies, massive weights lifted by young giants and Brunhildes, and young mothers dancing to loud rock music. My chaotic ignorance, bigotry, and fantasy was demolished at the door. Many of the participants where in their 40s 50s and above. Recovering Individuals after strokes and accidents were fighting to get back to fitness. Most appeared to be serious individuals anxious to improve their health. So I joined in, carefully.
I have long had a scientific interest in ageing. I’ve also been intimately involved in the development of drugs for the treatment of diseases of ageing, such as stroke, heart attacks, high blood pressure, chronic bronchitis, and hypertrophy of the prostate. I’ve also been on teams that failed to find a drug for Alzheimer’s disease. So anything that helps delay the ageing process is of both scientific and deep personal interest to me.
As part of my campaign to improve my personal longer healthy living, exercise is the top player, almost an Elixir of life so powerful is its positive impact. There are two forms of exercise to consider: aerobic exercise where you run and jump, get your heart pounding and your lungs struggling for breath. Multiple studies around the world have confirmed 20 minutes a day, or 150 minutes a week of serious exercise can reduce your risk of premature death by up to 30%, and particularly benefit risks of stroke, and heart attacks. But also cognition, a measure of mental function, is improved, and recent information suggests that the risks of dementia may be reduced. The other form of exercise engages your fading muscles, to improve their strength, and improve your balance, to reduce the risk of falls, which are far more common as we age, with serious consequences such as breaking of hips, and serious brain injury.
For the long-term health benefit, at any age, a proper exercise program is like a godfather deal, and you win anyway.
I have a personal trainer, a fine 60 year old, slight woman, who combines empathy with tough persuasion to follow a plan. Phrases like you’re rolling your eyes indicate a serious disdain for any lack of my commitment. My stability was wobbly, so getting me to walk backwards downstairs as part of my mobility re-education was a terrifying prospect for an old fellow. I’ll catch you she says confidently. I glanced nervously at her slight build. Don’t worry I’ve been a sheep shearer. Now I’m the ageing Merino ram being tugged on to the shearing floor for the final time. When I succeed in going up a stage in some task performance she says kindly good boy, like I’m the sheepdog. Wuff, wuff.
Recently I’ve extended my interaction by joining a group of fit, bouncy 60 and 70-year-olds who leap about like new born lambs to the sound of music, a transplanted 1980s Jane Fonda class. I began to leap and clap my hands above my head, try hopscotch, and running through a zigzag as if I was in a sheepdog trial and toss basket balls at pace. Very fit women in leotards sometimes call at me, get a move on man, with no consideration I’m 82 years. But surprise, I’m beginning to enjoy it, and feel much better after.
The gym gives me motivation, guidance, and periods of guilt when I don’t attend. But as I read the scientific literature it is clear. Avoiding exercise, now termed the sitting disease, carries higher risks of heart attacks, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and dementia. As I look at that list I want to push them all into the distance. Get away, it’s not time yet. So the gym becomes more than a place to exercise, and more and more my physical, mental, and social partner on the positive journey over the next few years.
It’s never too late, and the words better late than never carries serious implications as we age. Put down the remote, get exercising, find a trainer, but not mine as she’s busy.
Thank you to Ryman Healthcare and Doug Wilson.
You can listen to their Ageing for Beginners Podcast at: