Blog Post

Finding balance: Love later life, and how to plan for it now

Balance and coordination are so important as you get older.

My husband and I have just employed the services of a financial planner. Talk about feeling like an adult! He recommended that we read a book called Enough? How Much Money Do You Need For The Rest Of Your Life? by Paul D. Armson.

Life as a holiday analogy

The main point of this book is ‘what are you waiting for?’ He gives the analogy of life being like a two week holiday: the first week is wonderful, time almost stands still, and you feel that there is plenty of time to do all the things you want to. However, the second week goes by in a flash, and the next thing you know, you are at the airport getting ready to leave and asking yourself, ‘what happened, where did my holiday go?’  

The scary thing is, the author says, is that if you are over the age of 40 or 45, then you are into your ‘second week’ in life’s journey. He is making the point: take control of your finances, but I want to make the point; take control of your health and fitness.

Now, maybe you aren’t over 40 yet, lucky you! But if you are, I think you should look at this analogy in another way… in terms of your physical health. So, if you are in that second week of your holiday, then it’s time to take your health and fitness seriously now.

The depressing bit

In physical terms here are only two phases: growth/development, and ageing. I’m even sorrier to say that the growth phase only takes you into your twenties, and after that you are ageing. However, it might be that you don’t notice any effects for a while longer. Not till your 40s hopefully, and that second week of holiday.

There are two phases in life: growth/development, and aging.

However, I think the term ‘ageing’ has got some bad press. We need to distinguish between ageing, which is just the natural progression of the years, and the problems of older age that are caused by disease, inactivity and loss of fitness. It’s this distinction that gives us hope, because through fitness you are more in control of the quality of your life later on.

Why is fitness so important?

If you still consider yourself young, then loss of fitness doesn’t make such a difference at the moment. It’s later on in life that it makes all the difference. The longer you are active for when you are young and able, the stronger and healthier you remain, the longer you retain your independence when you are older.  And overall, being fit can lead to a shorter period of disability and dependency at the end of life. Sorry to be depressing again.

Do you want some more good news among the bad – it’s never too late to start! It’s never too late to start getting fit and healthy.

Balance is a problem as we get older: falls increase in frequency after the age of 70. Although most falls aren’t serious, falls are the most common cause of injury related deaths in people over the age of 75 (make sure you read that right, not all deaths, just injury-related ones, I don’t want to scare you too much).

The reason that you are more prone to falling when you get older is due to muscle deterioration, and a drop in the skills of co-ordination, so it becomes harder to regain your feet when you stumble or trip. Falls can also be due to a deterioration of the organs of balance in the inner ear, poor vision, or the effect of medication. Lastly, most people who fall do so in their own home, so factors like loose rugs, low lighting, and inadequate footwear also contribute. You have been warned!

As I said, all hope is not lost. You can take action now to help prevent physical decline, and the chance of falling later on. And the way to do that is through exercise. Through exercise the brain ‘practices’ coordinating the muscles, movement improves, and the muscles get stronger. In turn, this leads to a reduced chance of falls and injury.

Now, exercise should be fun. It’s not a chore, it’s not punishment. So, find something you enjoy doing. Or, find a way to add it into your daily life so you don’t even notice it. Personally, I like to walk or cycle to the shops instead of taking the car, or turn up the music when a great dancing song comes on. Even vacuuming counts, although I’m not suggesting that it is fun.

Right, my point is, you can work on your fitness and balance at any age, it’s never too late. But, do you know how much exercise you should be getting?

Well, adults should:

Aim to be active every day.
  • aim to be physically active every day. Any activity is better than none. Although more is better still!
  • do strengthening activities that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least 2 days a week
  • do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week
  • reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity.

Yoga as strength training and balance building

Yoga improves your balance by strengthening the lower body, particularly the ankles and knees, therefore reducing your chances of falling. In fact, the NHS website recommends yoga for older adults as a way to improve their balance and coordination. It says that, for anyone, yoga ‘is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity’, and beneficial for ‘strength, flexibility and balance.’’

In addition, yoga is a muscle strengthening exercise that counts towards the recommended two sessions a week of strength training.

The style of yoga that I teach is specifically designed to be more enjoyable for people over the age of 40. It is slower and more considered, gentle on the joints, and I show you how to use extra pieces of equipment so that everyone can access the benefits of the moves. My main aim is that that you feel comfortable doing yoga, and aren’t squealing in pain.

Tree pose.

Obviously, we practice balancing on one leg in yoga, but holding still is not necessarily where the value lies for strength training, and developing better balance. It is actually in all the transitions and adjustments; moving from one leg to the other, bending and extending the knee in the warriors (that’s a lunge position for anyone who hasn’t been to yoga yet), or doing something with your legs whilst moving your arms about at the same time.

Other yoga poses that are important for improving balance and co-ordination are any that strengthen the legs, core muscles of the abdomen and back, and the glutes. Like the warriors, chair pose, goddess squat, and boat pose. And it’s the strength and power that you build up by doing these exercises that means you have more chance of holding an elegant looking tree pose, if that is what you are looking for!

So, what are you waiting for – get out there, get exercising, stay fit and healthy, and live better for longer!

What are you waiting for?

If you are worried about your health, fitness, or balance, you should check with your health professional first before starting any new exercise.