Old age isn’t what it used to be.
“Our expectations have changed from dying at 75 to living well into our 90s and even to 100,” says Robin Robertson, a gym owner and trainer in Bellingham, Wash., who specializes in fitness for those 55 and older. “We could all use tips on how to make those years healthy and vibrant rather than burdensome.”
Between 1980 and 2010, the number of 100-year-olds increased 66 percent. Baby boomers are now ages 52 to 70. By 2029, more than 20 percent of Americans will be over 65.
It’s not how long we will live, but how well.
The key is maintaining functional fitness, says Dan Ritchie, who, in 2013, co-founded Functional Aging Institute, a business that teaches fitness professionals how to train mature clients. Functional fitness means movements that help you in everyday life. Think cross-body and full-body motions, bending or picking something up off the floor. The goal is to build a body capable of real-life activities.
“This has huge implications for older adults,” says Ritchie. “What do you need to do, want to do or dream of doing? You need to get groceries, empty a dishwasher, clean your house. You want to hike, cycle or play with grandchildren. Not everybody dreams of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at 70, but whatever you dream of, it will require functional abilities.”
How to make your later years robust and independent?
Exercise. Find activities you love, and do them several times per week. Incorporate strength-training and cardio.
Low-impact activity is kind to joints and promotes longevity, says Robertson, a USA Cycling Coach and author of “Healthy & Fit Body.” “We can beef up our joints through muscle and ligament strengthening. Cycling does this without impact or lateral movement.”
Lose excess weight. An overweight woman who drops as little as 11 pounds reduces the chance of getting arthritis in her knees by 50 percent. Ten pounds of excess body weight delivers an extra 20 to 30 pounds of stress to your knees with every step.
Change your view of aging. Aging isn’t bad; it’s natural. Think of the positives, Ritchie says: You don’t do the stupid stuff you did when you were 25; you can enjoy grandchildren; and you can focus on what’s important to you, such as charities or volunteering.
Take responsibility. You control exercise, eating, stress, sleep. Is your trajectory of aging leading to frailty or independence?
It’s never too late to start, Ritchie says. “But that doesn’t mean you should wait! We can get you fit at 60, but if you’ve taken care of yourself from 50 to 60, it’s a whole lot easier.”