Our Ageing Well series is designed to help you make active choices about your lifestyle, which can increase your lifespan, and more importantly your healthspan – which is the period of time in your later years where you remain healthy.
Exercise versus physical activity
Physical activity is any bodily movement that requires you to use your muscles, whereas exercise is a planned, structured, repetitive, and purposeful activity that focuses on improving or maintaining your physical fitness.
In a recent podcast, Professor Brad Schoenfeld, author of Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy and an expert on building muscles and strength, explained how maintaining muscle mass as you age is crucial for a long and healthy life.
Strength training is used to make our muscles stronger. Muscles attach to our bones via tendons, and when we use a muscle to bring a bone up, they shorten, and when we release the bone back down, they lengthen. Therefore, muscles are used every single time we stand, sit, walk, bend down and even drink a cup of tea.
One of the primary reasons people end up in a nursing home is when they lose their functional independence, meaning that they no longer have the ability to carry out basic tasks and care for themselves. The weakening of muscles, known as sarcopenia, can also lead to falls, resulting in hip fractures and other injuries, which can further reduce someone’s independence.
However, Professor Schoenfeld does not believe that sarcopenia is an inevitable side effect of getting older. His research has shown that resistance training is the key to remaining stronger for longer. You can achieve this by lifting weights, or indeed anything heavy, or by using resistance bands and even simply doing squats. Our blog on Ageing Well – Physical Activity and Exercise, has some suggestions on simple activities you can do at home to help you to maintain your muscle strength.
Cardio training, short for cardiovascular training, refers to exercises that specifically target and improve the health of the cardiovascular system, which includes your heart, blood vessels, and lungs. The primary goal of cardio training is to enhance cardiovascular endurance, increase heart and lung efficiency, and improve overall circulation.
While cardio training is hugely beneficial, Dr Andy Galpin, Professor of kinesiology at California State University, stated that cardio exercise is not as important as strength training when it comes to ageing well. He believes that by doing strength training, lifting the heaviest thing you can and, so making your muscles stronger, you will also be making your blood pressure shoot up, which has the same effect as doing a long or fast run.
Dr Galpin believes that remaining strong is the most important thing you can do to remain healthy as you age. Just getting up out of your chair and walking out of your door, meeting friends for a healthy lunch, enjoying connectivity and socialising with them includes the things that are believed to lead to a healthy life, mobility, purpose, relaxation, socialising, a balanced diet and a sense of belonging. Find out more about the nine habits for ageing well from those who live in the world’s blue zones.