While ageing is an inevitable part of life, just a few key healthy changes will make a massive difference to how you enjoy your golden years. By practising healthy ageing, you won’t just live longer, you’ll also be healthier, happier and have a livelier social life.
How do you age healthily?
Healthy ageing encompasses everything from eating the right foods to getting enough sleep, but the quickest way to start enjoying the benefits is to be physically active.
Physical activity keeps your body strong, prevents falls and reduces the risk of chronic illness, while also boosting your mind, too. Science has shown that people who are active are less likely to suffer from depression.
Being active can mean everything from walking and gardening to working out at the gym, although to make sure you’re doing it right, you can take part in programs specifically designed to support healthy ageing.
Healthy ageing programs
Some of the most comprehensive healthy ageing programs are available at Belgravia Leisure centres, which bring together all the facilities you need – such as swimming pools, gyms and group exercise spaces – under one roof for extreme convenience.
The Aquarena Aquatic and Leisure Centre in Templestowe, Victoria, is the best example of this. It’s the base for a healthy ageing program called Momentum Australia.
The National Co-ordinator for Momentum Australia is Carol Edmeades, who’s also a group instructor. She says Aquarena Aquatic and Leisure Centre offers a smorgasbord of fitness classes, gym programs, aquatic classes and even tap dancing.
“We have members who do a combination gym program and group fitness classes. We have members who do just group fitness classes. We have members who just do aquatic work, like classes in the pool. So we can offer a very wide range of actual exercise classes,” Carol says.
Carol’s Recommendations for Healthy Ageing
Carol points to group exercise classes as being ideal for healthy ageing because you have someone showing you what to do and you work out with like-minded people in a similar age group, which can be really motivating. The classes are divided into two main groups: strength and cardio.
Strength training group classes
You might think strength is for young adults wanting to build muscle, but nothing could be further from the truth. Strength training – or any exercise that involves pushing against an external force, by lifting weights or your own body – is critical for maintaining muscle tissue.
Your body starts to lose muscle when you’re in your thirties and this accelerates in your fifties and beyond. Muscle loss brings with it a litany of physical problems, which happen to be the very conditions that have come to define old age, including fatigue, falls, insulin resistance and chronic diseases.
Strength training helps prevent loss of muscle loss and also strengthens your bones by putting a load on them, slowing the bone density loss that comes with ageing. And when you’re stronger as a result of having more muscle and strong bones, you can keep doing the things you need to do regularly in your life – from carrying groceries and hanging out the washing to spending time in the garden – without being forced to slow down.
Carol says strength-based training classes at your local aquatic centre will cater for the older 60-year old age groups and above, using circuits and free weights. But she wants people to know that you won’t end up looking like Arnie Schwarzenegger.
“Women in particular seem to think that, if you lift a weight, you’re going to end up like Arnie. But in fact, the classes are designed so that you can carry out everyday functions. They’re not designed to do elitist things like winning muscle competitions,” she says.
Cardio group classes
Cardio is exercise that strengthens your heart and lungs by making you breathe harder and your heart beat faster. It covers a wide range of activities, from walking and hiking to swimming and even dancing. Not only does cardio make you fitter and less likely to run out of puff, it reduces the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and of developing high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes.
Cardio also improves your memory. If you’re prepared to work up a sweat with cardio, you’ll grow the size of your hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning, according to a University of British Columbia study. Research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that those who did regular intense workouts improved their memory performance by 30%.
Some of the group classes at Aquarena also specifically feature mental exercises, says Carol. “That’s because as you age, you have to exercise your brain as much as your body,” she says.
“The memory work might be remembering an exercise routine in class. Sometimes people have little quizzes in classes and things like that. As we age we have to continually build new pathways in our brains and that means not doing the same thing over and over and over and over again.”
Aqua classes are for recovery and rehabilitation
It’s a cliché that older adults’ idea of training is doing aqua classes, but as Carol points out that’s a myth. Older adults overwhelmingly prefer land-based exercise such as strength or cardio group classes, while aqua classes make up just a quarter of the classes that older members do.
“Aqua is exceptionally good for people who have joint issues, knees, hips, back – those sorts of things. But if you’re wanting to prevent issues with bone density, which again as you age becomes an issue, aquatic exercise is not what’s going to do it because you’re buoyant,” Carol says.
“If you’re wanting to prevent issues with bone density, you’ve got to do strength training and you can do impact work on your feet basically, so that you are producing healthier, stronger bones.”
Classes aren’t too long
Carol points out that classes range from 45 to 50 minutes and don’t need you to wear special gym gear. “People can come in comfortable clothing to do the classes. As long as they have basically lace up runners on, they’re fine.”
Classes aren’t too big
Group classes at Aquarena and other Belgravia Leisure aquatic centres are small group classes, .Carol points out.
“The reason is that we specialise in catering to people with all needs. They may have a bad knee or a bad shoulder or have some other injury that we may need to do some different exercises for them. So if we have a small group class, we can cater specifically to people with any injury or illness problems. I think that’s a very important point.”
What group class should I start with?
Carol suggests you start with a class that has both strength and cardio components. “I would recommend coming in at a lower level in intensity class to see how you find that. It’s my ambition for the new member to come in, enjoy the class, walk out of that class feeling very happy and satisfied of what we’ve done. They can confidently walk back into that class the next week.”
You’re never too old
Nothing rankles Carol more than someone suggesting older people can’t handle the tough stuff. “If you could see our top range class, you’d be blown off your feet at what they’re actually doing,” says Carol, who aims to change the perception of what older people are capable of.
She laughs when she recalls some young personal trainers asking her if older members could do squats. They can, she says, and some will give a 20-year old a run for their money.
“I always set my targets for the classes high and they modify back to what level they want,” Carol says of the classes she takes. “My expectation is always high. I never put a box on people. I learned a long time ago not to put people in a box say ‘you’re 65, you’re an older person.’ People should come in, filter and try classes and work out which one is the best for them.”
The social side is huge
Science has proved that loneliness is bad for you, and as we age, isolation can affect members, particularly those who’ve lost a partner or have moved somewhere else on retirement.
“Coming along to our group classes is extremely beneficial because you meet people with similar lifestyle goals,” says Carol. “After our classes we have a coffee and we do a lot of networking now. We sometimes also have sessions to help class members with things like technology. We’ll have a whole mobile phone session, learning new things about mobiles while having coffee, so we can keep up with our grandchildren.”
How to find out about group classes?
Your local leisure centre will have a variety of group classes. Just ask centre staff for more information.