Top ways to stay active for a longer, healthier, happier life
Want to live longer? Then get up and move – every 30 minutes. This is the advice of scientists who found that prolonged sitting dramatically increases our risk of premature death.
Here are several suggestions for increasing your fitness and avoiding being too sedentary. If you’re unused to exercise, start slowly and gently. You’re aiming for progression not perfection: any exercise is better than none.
Reduce time spent sitting down – According to the World Health Organization, sedentary behaviour now ranks among the ten leading causes of death. Although we can all turn off our screens in the evenings, sitting for a mere three hours a day is impossible for those of us in sedentary jobs. But there are things we can do – cut your daily sitting time, make sure you move after every 30 minutes, and keep fidgeting.
HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) – When it comes to ageing, HIIT might be the most beneficial form of exercise you can do, and it means nothing more than a short burst of intense activity, followed by a more leisurely pace and then repeated. One of the best things about HIIT is its efficiency. Because it takes so little time, we’re less likely to avoid it – which makes it an exercise programme that can be sustained over time.
Walking – Walking is the easiest, most convenient form of exercise. It’s free, requires no equipment, can be done socially or alone and, best of all, it can be squeezed into the busiest of lives. It’s also effective: low impact, calorie burning and aerobic. Find walking opportunities throughout the day: take the stairs rather than the lift or add a stretch of walking to your commute. It’s the speed, the effort, that matters most. Not how long you walk for, which is good news for busy mid- lifers like us, because who can’t squeeze in a few short bursts of walking each day?
Resistance training – We’d never worked with free weights before (too intimidating, too dull), but our research into ageing convinced us that working with our own body weight and a pair of hand weights was the most efficient, convenient way to build strength. Unlike machines, which often work a single isolated muscle, working with weights and your own body can build multiple muscles in one go while simultaneously improving your balance. It’s also considerably more convenient.
Dance – When it comes to fending off cognitive decline, dancing is the queen bee of exercise. To enjoy the full brain-and-body benefits of dance, you need a dance programme that works the brain as hard as it works the body. This means regularly learning new steps and routines: ballroom dancing, modern dance, Scottish dancing, line-dancing, Zumba, jazz and disco-dancing all fit the bill. The trick is to keep learning new routines, as you move, rather than working repeatedly on the same old choreography.
Rowing – The rowing machines in our gym are always unused, with a forlorn lonely look about them. But the research speaks for itself: rowing is hugely efficient, particularly if you adopt HIIT principles (20 seconds of fast rowing followed by 1–2 minutes of slower rowing). Why? Because rowing works 84 per cent of the muscles in your body and all the major muscle groups – including the calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, obliques, pectorals, biceps, triceps, deltoids, core, lower and middle back – in one fell swoop. This means a cardiovascular workout that simultaneously builds body-wide strength.
Table tennis – You might not believe this, but ping- pong could be the single most effective sport when it comes to fending off dementia. Unlike jogging or swimming, for example, table tennis stimulates many different parts of the brain. Table tennis isn’t only good for the brain. It also improves hand–eye co- ordination and provides an aerobic workout that involves both the upper and lower body.
Yoga – Take any yoga, t’ai chi or qi gong class and you’ll quickly understand how the stretching and balancing exercises ease many of the physical ailments associated with ageing: back pain, stiff joints, failing balance and muscle loss.
Taken from The Age-Well Project by Annabel Streets and Susan Saunders, published by Piatkus on 2 May 2019.