The benefits of exercise in later life

It is one of our goals to encourage all our patients to lead healthy, happy lives that benefit their mind and body. This year, many people have spent more time indoors and being inactive owing to COVID-19 – and as we enter the typically lethargic winter months, it’s even more important to reap the benefits of exercise. We recently spoke to running advocates Tape2Tape to find out why having an active lifestyle is so important and about the ways in which exercise can be implemented in daily life.

Why is exercise so important as you get older?

Regular physical activity is always beneficial, but as we age and our health deteriorates, exercise becomes increasingly important to improve our mental and physical health.

Studies have shown that doing exercise has significant benefits, such as preventing heart disease and diabetes and improving overall immune function.

It can also have mental health benefits by boosting confidence, promoting good sleeping patterns and raising self-worth through meaningful activities which offer socialisation with others.

It is especially important to do exercises that improve muscle strength, balance and flexibility as you get older; this keeps the body fit and mobile which reduces the risk of falls and fractures.

Exercise and its effects on dementia

In a study conducted on 716 people whose average age was 82, those whose daily physical activity fell in the bottom 10 per cent were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those in the top 10 per cent.

Although medical knowledge on treating dementia is still limited, taking part in regular physical exercise appears to be one of the best things that you can do to reduce your risk of getting dementia.

For middle-aged or older adults, taking part in aerobic exercise that increases the heart rate and fine-tuning motor skills can benefit the cognitive functions that affect thinking and memory. Studies have shown it increases the size of the hippocampus – the key brain area involved in memory – which can reverse age-related shrinkage.

How to get active

There are many ways to be more physically active, such as gardening, walking or simply taking the stairs instead of the lift.

If you’ve been inactive for a while, you should increase the amount and intensity of your activity in stages and seek advice from your GP if you have any concerns about getting started.

The NHS recommends that older adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, and those that are already active should do 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity.

What is Tape2Tape?

Tape2Tape is an organisation set up by experienced runners who organise safe and enjoyable race day experiences.

As part of Tape2Tape’s events they work with local charities and community groups to raise money for worthy causes and ensure inclusivity in all races.

Taking part in group exercise is a great way to stay social, build friendships and improve mental wellbeing.

Can older members get involved?

On average, Tape2Tape has around 12,000 runners and joggers entering its events each year. At the 2019 Ørsted Great Grimsby 10K eight per cent of participants were aged over 60, which is reflective of a lot of the Tape2Tape events.

The organisation has found many of its members use the runs as a great way to stay fit and healthy and they strongly encourage older participants to join in and inspire others to join in too.

Seventy-six-year-old runner Jean is one of Tape2Tape’s older members and recently participated in the Great Grimsby 10K.

After starting to run in her mid-30s and after completing her first London Marathon, Jean caught the running bug and went on to complete five marathons and win the title for First Lady Over 60 in the Humber Bridge Half Marathon.

Running has kept Jean fit and feeling much younger than her age; she has now stopped running but pushes herself to improve her walking speed. She believes it’s all about adapting how you exercise to stay within your capabilities later in life, but that age shouldn’t stop you.

Eighty-six-year-old Bob is another Tape2Tape member who recently completed the Great Grimsby 10K. He started running in his late 40s and has completed 26 marathons in his lifetime: for his 80th birthday he took part in his 36th marathon in Athens!

In 2019 he completed the Hull Marathon and participates in weekly park runs at Peter Pan Park in Hull.

Bob believes the benefits of running are immense for improving both physical and mental health. He said:

“Coming last during a run is now almost mandatory for me but I’m not the loser. The real loser is the person who sits at the side of the road and who doesn’t even try to compete.

“I need old friends to help me grow old and new friends to help me stay young, and by entering running events I’m constantly making new friends.”

The Tape2Tape live race days have unfortunately had to cease this year owing to COVID-19, but the organisation has adapted most events into virtual races in which many members such as Jean and Bob have been able to carry on safely participating.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding events next year, Tape2Tape are determined to find innovative ways to keep the running community motivated and challenged, many of whom rely on running and exercise for their mental health and wellbeing.

Seventy-six-year-old Jean is one of Tape2Tape’s older members and recently participated in the Great Grimsby 10K.
Eighty-six-year-old Bob is another of Tape2Tape’s older members who recently completed the Great Grimsby 10K.

What next?

If you would like to find out more about the upcoming Tape2Tape events and ways in which you can get involved, please visit the website.

To find out more about physical exercise and its effects on dementia, visit the Alzheimer’s Society website.