Exercise and the Ageing

Research is increasingly showing that exercise — of the brain as well as the body — is valuable in slowing the effects of the diseases that were not significant in earlier times, mainly because most people did not live long enough. Dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body disease) and conditions such as Parkinson’s (although it can start quite young in some cases), multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease head a long list of conditions that are mainly encountered by older people. The occurrence of some of these is through or influenced by heredity, but most occur in previously fit and healthy individuals with no family history.

However, researchers are leaning increasingly towards the opinion that fitness of mind and body can stave off, slow down or even prevent many of these ‘diseases of the ageing’.

So, what can we do?

First, get your doctor’s opinion for anything new you undertake.

For the body

A regular program of exercise is important. Our U3A offers a wealth of exercise classes, including the excellent Strength Training classes that take place twice a week. There are six classes currently, but these are generally full, so what else can we do? Well, I have been given a set of over 20 exercises by my physiotherapist that I have done every morning for the last year or so. On specialist advice I omit one of these as not being suitable in my case. I also, without professional advice, added one exercise — full squats — that looked to be missing, which I used to do when I was much younger. After a few days I gave up because of additional pain in my knee joints and it’s taken six months or so for that to subside. This reinforces that, for older people, consulting your doctor is extremely important!

If necessary, work up gradually to the level of fitness desired. There is no benefit in making a cripple of yourself in trying to get physical fitness quickly. For some people even a walk to the end of the street and back may be sufficiently tiring. Do something you are comfortable with, but make sure you do it regularly — if you miss one day, it is much easier to skip the next one as well! And keep challenging yourself; even in your 80s you are capable of improving.

For the brain

The brain needs regular exercise as much as the body. Researchers are suggesting that not only regular exercise of the brain is required, but also not repeating the same task all the time. Vary it!

U3A Manningham provides a range of stimulating activities, from language learning to bridge, chess and current affairs, to name just a few.

Another option is to try doing the Puzzles page in the newspaper. I find The Age on Thursday gives me sufficient challenge, with about 8 different problems, including Sudoku and KenKen. I assume the other newspapers offer similar challenges (for some of them this may be the only value in buying them). If you cannot find enough, try the local library as they can be very helpful. Don’t forget reading as part of your brain challenge. Again, the local library is a great resource — librarians are trained to help you and discuss your needs.

Finally, it is important to mix with other people regularly to get out of your shell. U3A is particularly suitable, not only in a formal class but also for the social interaction, in class or out.

Get yourself challenged!

Warwick Wright