As we get older it becomes more important than ever that we keep moving and stay active. Numerous studies have shown that staying active in our later years is the key to maintaining our independence and can help prevent a range of unpleasant and unhealthy conditions. However, as we get older injury due to physical activity becomes a bigger risk. A broken bone or fracture in our later years can take a lot longer to heal than when we are young and can be subject to complications due to age. Learning to exercise safely without risk of injury is vital to staying healthy in our later years, so in this article, I’d like us to examine what steps we can take to get active and stay safe whilst we do it.
The importance of moving
The importance of moving more as we get older has been highlighted by studies repeatedly. As we get older, it’s vital that we exercise to support our bodies functioning normally and to avoid injury. If we don’t practise regular movement, it can become harder to achieve a good range of motion and be able to go about life without fear of discomfort or physical limitation. However, as we get older an injury can have far more devastating impacts than when we are young.
A recent survey by Age.uk found that falling is one of the biggest concerns for the elderly, and with good reason. Studies have shown that over 95% of hip fractures for those aged 65 and over occur due to falls. After a hip fracture, studies indicate that 60% of sufferers never manage to return to full mobility. It’s vital that we keep moving to maintain our independence as we get older, but it’s also important to find methods that limit our chance of injury.
Before starting any fitness routine, it’s best to check in with a doctor or health professional that your chosen method of exercise is safe and achievable for you, particularly if you suffer from any health issues that may be affected by mobility. Make sure whoever performs this assessment is aware of any medications you take that may pose a risk whilst exercising. Health professionals will be able to recommend what activities to avoid and which may offer benefits without risk of injury.
Take time to set yourself a series of achievable fitness goals, based on your current level of fitness. If you haven’t jogged a mile in a while, don’t start with a marathon. Your fitness goals should be based on noticeable incremental progress rather than a dramatic change.
Preparation and proper form
Going into exercise at any age requires some preparation to ensure that you get the most out of your workout and avoid injury. A thorough warm-up is essential especially for those with limited mobility to get your body prepared for physical activity. Stretching is one of the most effective ways of warming up and is particularly important for those with stiff joints and muscles. Many of us have heard of tradition or static stretching where limb by limb we stretch and hold our muscles in a certain area to warm up. Static stretching is a good way to prepare for exercise, but dynamic stretching offers a more efficient and possibly safer alternative to traditional stretching. Dynamic stretching involves mimicking movements we make in exercise on a small scale. This form of warm up has been shown to do a better job at preparing muscles for exercise and improving blood flow. You can read more about dynamic stretches on our blog. Stay mindful of how your body reacts to stretching and if you start to feel pain or discomfort, take a break.
The right equipment
It may seem obvious but make sure you are wearing the right attire for physical activity. Wearing appropriate footwear is really important when minimising your risk of falls during exercise. If you are engaging in jogging or walking, make sure to wear well-fitting shoes that aren’t loose or worn out. If you are using gym or exercise equipment, make sure the equipment is adequate for your needs. For example, many companies offer slip-free yoga mats for those who might be at risk of becoming unbalanced during yoga practice. If you are looking into buying exercise equipment, discuss your limitations with a shop owner or vendor that can offer safer alternatives.
Picking your activity
Pick a physical activity that is suitable for your needs and goals. Take into account any area of your body where you feel pain or discomfort when choosing your exercise. For example, those who experience discomfort when standing up, a weightless exercise like swimming can provide the support your body needs to move without putting pressure on parts of your body. There is a range of physical activities that are designed for those who may struggle with the pressure of high-intensity exercise which we call low-impact exercise. Other forms of low-impact exercise include yoga, tai chi, jogging and cycling.
Minimising the risk of injury during physical activity should be a top priority when starting a new exercise routine, so take some time to create some safeguards to prevent the risk of a fall or overexertion. If you are exercising indoors, be aware of trip hazards such as loose rugs or slippery surfaces. If you are unconfident about exercising without risk of fall or injury, find a friend or an exercise group that can help instruct and help you through your physical activity. Exercising as part of a group can be great for improving your motivation and confidence whilst engaging in physical activity and can introduce you to like-minded people who are equally as passionate about getting mobile.
The fear of injury during physical activity is a valid concern and should be approached with appropriate caution. But with the right precautions and preparation you can make sure you can stay active, fit and healthy in your later years. Take time to plan your new routine and ask for guidance if you are unsure about the best way to get started. Make sure you are warming up properly and giving your body time to recover between exercises. And most importantly, if you are experiencing pain or discomfort, stop and take a break. Don’t let the risk of an injury stop you from getting mobile, with a bit of preparation and precaution we can all get moving a bit more.