Exercise and fitness

Sarah Kemp, Health and wellbeing programme manager at AXA Health

Keeping active as we age

Exercise and Fitness

13 November 2020

Elderly couple walking and talking

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Leading a sedentary lifestyle has a negative impact on our overall health, so it’s important to know how you can keep active to support any aches and pains you may suffer from as you get older. There’s evidence that those who are active have a lower risk of heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, depression and dementia, and that regular exercise can also support in reducing the risk of a fall¹. So, don’t let those niggles get in your way of keeping moving!

The NHS recommends that we get 150 minutes of moderate activity every week (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity), which we know sounds a lot, but this can be broken down into 30 minutes a day, across 5 days the week. Even then, you don’t have to be overly prescriptive, and it can be broken down into 10 minutes segments if you’d rather not do it in one go. Essentially, it’s all about doing what works for you and your lifestyle! And, above all else, make sure you enjoy whatever it is you do to keep active. From dancing, going for a good walk with the dogs or playing a game of tennis, if you enjoy what you do, you’re far more likely to keep it up and keep on feeling good.

Health and wellbeing programme manager at AXA Health, Sarah Kemp, shares her thoughts on how we can keep active as we get older. “Our physical health is incredibly important as we age, as we can come across many changes. Our muscle mass decreases, our bones lose density and strength and our mental health can also be affected. It may be difficult for some people to adapt to the changes that they experience as they age, especially with significant hormonal changes that also come with getting older, which can affect self-esteem, confidence and motivation. But of course, these things can be avoided if we embrace change and become aware of our capabilities. 

The human body is a fantastic machine, capable of a lot more than we give it credit for sometimes. We may not be able to run a 5k in the same time as we did twenty years ago, or do as many push-ups as we once could, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t achieve those things, albeit it slightly differently. 

I would always recommend maintaining a good amount of strength exercise, helping to preserve lean tissue, keeping connective tissues strong, but also protecting our joints. This is vital as we age, as we are more at risk of injuries and falls. Alongside aerobic activity such as walking, jogging, dancing and cycling, working on maintaining stability, balance and flexibility as we age can help us keep up with everyday tasks more easily, and quite often things we take for granted when we’re younger.” 

We know that keeping active is good for us, but as we get older, we may need to make some adaptations. You may find that some activities you used to enjoy are no longer so easy, but it’s important you find alternatives to stay active – and who knows, you may find your new favourite thing! We asked Liverpool FC Women’s Physical Performance Coach, David Robshaw, for his top tips on exercise and getting older. From football to lifting weights, he gives his advice for keeping you moving, no matter your age.

“As you get older it’s important to maintain variety with what you do. This will include mobility/flexibility work, but strength training and aerobic training will be just as important for maintaining health and wellbeing. First and foremost, however, you need to enjoy whatever activity it is that you choose to do.

Unfortunately, as we get older our bodies can struggle to deal with the demands placed on them through intense activities such as football and running. There are alternatives such as walking football or going for long walks, which will help keep you physically active. However, it can give you the opportunity to try other activities such as swimming, cycling, golf etc. which place less stress on the body than football or running but are great ways to keep fit and healthy. As always, choose something you enjoy!”

Along with the recommended levels of aerobic exercise a week, the NHS also suggest that we do activities that improve strength, balance and flexibility on at least 2 days a week². These sorts of activities include yoga, pilates, bodyweight exercises such as sit ups, and lifting weights. But don’t worry if you’ve not lifted weights before, and certainly don’t let a lack of experience think you can’t pick it up later on in life! As David points out, “you are never too old to start strength training, in fact, there are great benefits to lifting weights as you get older. There is plenty of research out there at the moment, which demonstrates the importance of strength training, which can protect against age-related injuries caused by trips and falls.

For anyone who is starting out lifting weights for the first time you must make sure you seek out professional advice. If it’s showing you through specific equipment, teaching your proper technique or writing programmes for you, there are people who will be able to help and support you in reaching your goals whilst keeping you from injuring yourself.”

Sarah adds, “as everyone is completely individual, your goals, your capabilities, and your preferences on how you choose to stay active will be different. Some people are able to run marathons well into their 80’s whereas some people may have to find something new to pursue. It’s perfectly OK to keep things varied and try new things. Whatever makes you feel good is worth continuing for as long as you feel is right. Just be sure to check in with a GP or exercise professional if you’re unsure of where to start or if you notice any changes to your body, especially if things start causing you pain.”

If you’ve decided to switch up your routine, whether you’re finding it trickier to do what you used to, just fancy a change or are looking to make healthier choices, be sure to have a read of our article on getting active your way to help get started.

Whether it’s hiking, cycling, swimming, something else entirely, or a combination of lots of different activities, be sure to find whatever it is that works for you, that you enjoy and keeps you feeling good throughout the years.

Further Reading

Getting active your way - AXA Health

How keeping active benefits our mental wellbeing - AXA Health

Common exercise myths getting in the way of a healthier you - AXA Health

Exercises to improve digestion - AXA Health


1. Physical activity guidelines for older adults - NHS

2. Exercise as you get older - NHS 

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