As we get older good health becomes a more precious commodity. Our bodies tend to start letting us down, creaking a little here and there and even seizing up, so that mobility becomes difficult or even painful. The process need not be inevitable, though, and anything we can do to prevent it or slow its effects is for our own good and points towards a happier future.
To start with, gentle movement that keeps the joints functioning and the blood moving around the body is the very least to aim for. The worst enemy is inactivity. Sitting doing nothing apart from watching the telly is a recipe for all sorts of ills, and is a pretty mean payback for a body that has made it this far through life.
When just going out of the house becomes a physical and mental step too far, the world becomes infinitely smaller. A sedentary existence reduces mobility, means there is less social contact, less independence and a greater risk of disease.
The comfort-zone of a favourite chair holds a great attraction, but as anyone will say who has done it themselves, getting up and getting out is the key to better health and a happier mind. Start small: just aim to move more, and activity will soon build up. Basically, the message is: Sit Less, Move More.
Keep in mind the government’s target of 30 minutes of moderate-intense activity at least five days a week. Dorset is well served with activities specifically for older people, but perhaps its greatest asset is the landscape – coast and countryside, flat or hilly – which is just there for the walking. Start off with a gentle amble close to home and, with determination and regularity, this could become a brisk walk with all the benefits to health that it brings, such as reducing the risk of high blood pressure, osteoporosis and heart disease.
Some of the walking groups are specifically for older people and have a social aspect to them as well, so expect at least a good chat and cake as a reward for your efforts.
There are weekly Health Walks at locations throughout Dorset led by trained volunteers. They are aimed at all-comers but also at those who may feel that walking even a short distance could be too much or who simply lack the motivation to get up off the sofa. All walks are free, there is no need to book, and they last no more than 90 minutes but are usually about an hour. Progress is at a steady pace in a friendly group. Find your local Health Walk: dorsetforyou.gov.uk/healthwalks
Indoor classes that offer exercises and fitness activities at all levels are as numerous and varied as the venues around Dorset in which they are held.
Chair-based routines are invaluable for anyone whose mobility is restricted and are offered by organisations such as Extend. Find an Extend class near you: extend.org.uk
In general, aim for exercise that focuses on improving flexibility and strength, especially core strength – the muscles in the mid-section that govern movement and are essential to posture and healthy organs. Having a strong, stable core aids balance, which in turn reduces the risk of falls.
Invaluable routines for the core are Tai Chi, Pilates and yoga, all of them involving gentle movements that you can often take at your own pace. To find classes near you, look online, look out for posters, ask friends or enquire at your library, which will have lists of organisations and classes. Look out, too, for local sessions of walking football and walking netball, aimed at older participants, but the message is to do anything that’s regular, gets you moving, holds your enthusiasm and makes you feel good about yourself, too.