Seniors need to lift more weights for a healthy retirement

June 01 2017

Did you know – in addition to 150 minutes of exercise per week – over-65s should be getting at least two sessions of strength training a week that work all the major muscles.

But in our recent survey we found that over half of over-65s were not doing this, with 40% doing absolutely no strength training at all.

And it doesn’t just have to be hitting the squat rack – the NHS recommends the following suitable strength exercises:

  • Carrying or moving heavy loads, such as groceries
  • Activities that involve stepping and jumping, such as dancing
  • Heavy gardening, such as digging or shovelling
  • Exercises that use your body weight for resistance, such as push-ups or sit-ups
  • Yoga

Quality of life is more important than longevity

Life expectancy is the highest it has ever been. Men aged 60 in 2013 can expect to live until they are 82 years old, and women aged 60 until they are 85 years old.

But a longer life also means “the proportion of life spent in good health is falling”, according to the Office for National Statistics. People can expect to live just over three-quarters of their life in good health.

Sarah Caul, Senior Health Researcher, ONS says:

“Improvements to healthcare and living healthier lives mean that as a nation we are living longer. However, while we are living longer, we are spending a smaller proportion of our overall lives in good health, which puts a greater challenge on health services.”

According to the NHS, the over-65s are the most sedentary age group, spending 10 hours or more each day sitting or lying down.

42% of people aged 50-64 who are working have one or more health condition, while almost half (46%) of people aged 55-64 who are no longer working retired due to at least one chronic medical condition.

Woman tensing bicep

The most prevalent health conditions affecting people aged 50-64 are musculoskeletal conditions.

Musculoskeletal conditions are disorders of the bones, joints, muscles and spine. They can cause pain, stiffness or a loss of mobility and dexterity that can make it difficult to carry out everyday activities. These conditions affect 21% of people in this age group.

According to the Department for Health:

“Musculoskeletal conditions are the leading causes of pain and disability in England, particularly osteoarthritis and back pain. These conditions accounted for the second largest annual NHS clinical commissioning group budget spend of £4.7 billion in 2013/14 and result in substantial productivity losses.

“Musculoskeletal conditions are a leading cause of sickness absence. People with musculoskeletal conditions are less likely to be employed than others, and tend to have lower household income and retire earlier. In 2013, 30.6 million lost working days were attributed to musculoskeletal conditions.

Musculoskeletal health has been called a public health priority. Tackling readily modifiable risk factors, such as obesity and physical inactivity, would lead to major health benefits.”

Public Health England advises that musculoskeletal conditions can be prevented through physical exercise:

“Regular physical activity and exercise at every stage of life can reduce the risk of many musculoskeletal conditions, including arthritis, back pain, neck pain, falls and fractures. A healthy balanced diet is also important for good bone health, to prevent osteoporosis and falls in later life.”

Women over 65 at most risk

Britain’s oldest personal trainer, Dr Eddy Diget, 72, is an advocate of strength training for the older generation, especially for women:

“In my opinion, females aged 50 plus are most vulnerable to musculoskeletal conditions. They lose calcium in their bones and their joints become dry through lack of ‘lubrication’ (myosin) as they get older. This can give rise to various bone (they become thin) and joint problems as they do not have much muscle density.

“If they fall, they are more prone to break a bone. Even more common is splintering of the bone. Not unlike a glass breaking on a solid floor – it’s very hard to repair and this can have devastating effects on the individual and or family.

“Because of this lack of muscle density, the joints become ‘sloppy’ as the ligaments and tendons lose their elasticity and the bones/joints become unstable as age progresses, just like the elastic in a bra will go first not ‘holding’ nor fitting correctly!

“But regular strength exercise will keep the muscles tight and joints lubricated, improving posture, flexibility, fitness and health as it tightens these important elements within the body!

“Men, on the other hand, tend to already have muscle density, and because of this, they do have stronger muscles, ligaments and tendons to hold the bones in check and help their flexibility, minimising the risk of broken bones if they fall. Also myosin, (joint/muscle lubrication) is constantly being generated, due to testosterone.

“Working with weights for both men and women, no matter their age, causes muscles to contract and expand and will go a long way in avoiding loss of calcium, posture, strength, balance and joint or bone problems.”

It’s never too late to start training

56-year-old IronMan competitor Ian Oliver tells his story:

Ian Oliver is a company director from Bury, Greater Manchester. He’s currently training for his first IronMan in Bolton on 16 July 2017 and recently completed the Manchester Marathon.

“I exercise regularly to follow my aspirations. I never thought I could swim so I wanted to challenge myself to something I've never done before.

“I believe keeping fit is an investment in later life and you won't enjoy old age if you're not healthy enough to enjoy it.

“My typical week of training consists of:

  • 2-3 swim sessions per week, 1 hour per session at a distance of 2k
  • 2-3 run sessions per week, 1 hour sessions at a distance of 10k
  • 2 bike rides per week, 2 hour sessions at a distance of 50k
  • 1 gym session per week of light exercise like Pilates”

Ian’s advice to people his age who don’t currently exercise is:

Ask yourself why not. Try it and you'll like it. Lose weight and keep healthy and your old age will reward you. Join a club to be around like-minded individuals. I joined a triathlon club and if all your friends are training you're more than likely to follow suit.”

When asked about retiring, Ian said he will “carry on for as long as I can. Anything is possible and I can't imagine myself slowing down any time soon!”

What do his friends and family think of his passion for exercise?

The friends in the club all supportive generally my family and friends look at me in sheer admiration.”

Discover more tips and find out how to build muscle, including the best exercises to do and what to eat for your goals.