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Planning Retirement Online

Taking Exercise


As we get older and certainly when we retire, some of us will lead a more sedentary lifestyle than we have done up until now. For a start, if you do not take up another full-time job in retirement, you will not have to get out of bed in the morning and rush around getting ready for work and then travelling.

If you have little to do, many of us eat and drink out of boredom, so there is a danger that we shall eat and drink more than we should, especially if it is combined with a more sedentary life. You might have a drink at lunchtime as you do, perhaps, on holiday.

So it is worth keeping an eye on our exercise levels and our diet. Putting on extra weight as we get older can be harmful because we naturally get less supple anyway, so if we can take a bit of care it will do us good and help us to maintain an active lifestyle.

Why Keep Physically Active? Taking Exercise
Where to Go for Exercise Some Ideas to Encourage You

Why Keep Physically Active?

We naturally want to enjoy our later life and, in order to do this, we need to be moderately fit; fit so that we can do all those things that we want to do such as play with the grandchildren, walk around those tourist attractions on holiday, go for country walks and so on. Some physical activity can develop and improve our fitness in the four key areas that we need in order to be able to do these things:

  • Stamina
  • Muscle strength
  • Flexibility and suppleness
  • Balance and co-ordination

These things become more important as we get older and influence our ability to participate in personal and every day activities.

Taking Exercise

Some of us will have hobbies that involve a bit of exercise. Maybe we walk, swim or cycle. Perhaps we play bowls or golf or do some other sport, maybe we dance. If we do, that’s fine but if not you should think about doing things that will provide some physical activity.

Staying Fit and Healthy links


We are not talking about running marathons or going to the gym for three hours a day. If you have never taken much exercise, retirement is not the time to start doing strenuous exercise. Even if you have got a dream about running the London marathon, a slow build-up is required! What we are talking about is doing some stretching to keep the body supple and some walking, swimming or cycling to keep the heart pumping and the blood flowing through the veins.

It's a good idea to get out of breath once a day; doing so will help keep us fit by raising our heart rate and increasing the blood flow round our body. For people over 50, cycling and swimming are good ways to do this, because there is no stress on our ankle, knee and hip joints. However, if we do no impact exercise we leave ourselves susceptible to osteoporosis, so brisk walking is a good idea, too.

In terms of hobbies that can provide some gentle exercise, as well as walking, swimming or cycling, think about bowls (bowling clubs can be very sociable places) or dancing of some sort. Golf is very popular amongst older people and combines walking with the opportunity to socialise with others.

There are many activities that we can do to promote the four key areas of fitness in later life:

  • Stamina

    These are activities that improve stamina by exercising your lungs and getting your heart beating faster. They include swimming, walking briskly, walking up a gentle hill, running, cycling, climbing stairs, digging the garden, sweeping up leaves and cleaning windows.

    Playing some sort of sport- badminton, tennis and so on - is another way of achieving these things.

  • Strength

    Having stronger muscles will help with daily tasks such as getting out of the bath or a chair, carrying a bag or grandchildren and climbing stairs. They help support your back and therefore prevent back problems and also help you maintain balance.

    You can strengthen your muscles by repeatedly pushing against an immovable object, lifting and putting down something relatively heavy and repeatedly getting out of a chair. You can also get up and change the channel on the TV rather than using the remote control!

    Digging in the garden will maintain your muscle tone as will walking up stairs rather than taking the lift. If you clean the car and windows or do the housework you will be helping, in particular, your arm muscles.

    You might like to join an aerobics or acquafit class, which will help you both in strength and stamina or, of course, you can pump weights.

    According to a Canadian study published in May 2007, doing resistance training in a gym, or even at home, can actually reverse the ageing process in the muscles of older people. In the study, not only did the people taking part get stronger, but the molecular machinery powering their muscles became as active as that found in much younger people.

  • Flexibility and Suppleness

    By stretching various parts of your body you will improve your flexibility, strengthen lower back muscles and improve posture. Stretching can also improve your balance.

    You need to be flexible so you can do things such as reaching up or out to get something off a shelf, looking over your shoulder whilst driving, taking a sweater off and fastening a zip at the back of a skirt.

    Try gently stretching various parts of your body in order to increase your flexibility. Be careful not to do it violently or suddenly, but do it gently and slowly. It can be a good idea to join an exercise or gym class, such as Yoga, Pilates or T'ai chi  so that a qualified teacher can guide you.

  • Balance and Co-ordination

    Good balance and co-ordination will help prevent falls, which in turn can lead to other injuries.

    Ball games such as table tennis, tennis, badminton and bowls can promote good co-ordination. T’ai chi classes will also help as will activities such as cycling and dancing. Or you can try putting on your socks or tights without sitting on the bed!

Where to Go for Exercise

Your local Sports Centre, run by your local authority, is a good place to start, to see what exercise classes they put on. Very often they will run things for older people or those who want to do something gentle. You will also be able to play badminton and other sports there or have a swim in the pool.

The gym in your Sports Centre will also have people who will advise you on an exercise regime that is applicable to you. Gyms can be fun and provide a social life as well. Health clubs provide a similar facility to gyms but tend to be more expensive.

Joining some sort of class or club can be an opportunity to socialise and make new friends and it can also motivate you to build regular activity into your everyday life. Dance classes are good for this and dancing is both sociable and active. You might like to try a class organised by the Exercise, Movement and Dance Partnership. Click on the link and you will then be able to find a class near you.

If you do want to take up something strenuous and you are out of the habit, it's a good idea to see your doctor first. He or she can then advise you on what is most suitable for you to start with.

Some Ideas to Encourage You

We all need some motivation sometimes to do some exercise; it doesn't always come naturally! So, try some of these tips to encourage yourself to do something:

  • Get someone to exercise with you; make a date with them and then you won't want to let them down.
  • Stop having the paper delivered so that you have to walk to collect it.
  • If you haven't got a dog, walk someone else's or volunteer to walk the guide dogs for the blind as part of their training.
  • Join a walking group so that you meet people and chat to them whilst you're exercising.
  • Join a class, or classes, so that you have a regular routine each week. If you pay for a series of classes in advance you'll be even more motivated to attend!
  • Try a variety of activities so that you don't get bored.
  • Try to build exercise into your everyday life so that it becomes a habit.

Taking some exercise is just one way in which we can help ourselves stay fit and healthy in later life. Now click on the links in the box to read the rest of the Guide for some other ideas.

This Guide is written by Retirement Specialist Dave Sinclair supported by members of the LaterLife team. As well as writing on retirement matters Dave is Training Director at LaterLife and responsible for the content and continuous improvement of LaterLife's Retirement Courses.
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