In your 60s, wear and tear on your joints may become more apparent. Studies show one in three people over 60 suffer a fall each year, and, muscle weakness and impaired balance are factors.
Challenge: Chair test
Sit comfortably on a dining room chair, your feet firmly on the ground. Set a stopwatch, or use the secondhand on your watch, and simply stand without using your hands or arms for support, then sit again gently as many times as you can in 30 seconds. Healthy women in their 60s should be able to achieve at least 12 and men 14.
If you find this easy, progress to a softer, lower easy-chair which demands greater strength and balance to get up from and down without support, and see how many times you can get up and down out of the chair in 30 seconds. The targets are the same as above.
Stand tall on two feet, then raise the foot of the leg you consider to be your weakest. Balance on the other, keeping your eyes open and your arms relaxed at your sides. If you can balance for at least 22 seconds, you have the equilibrium of a 20-year-old; 15 seconds, that of a 30-year-old; 7.2 seconds, that of a 40-year-old; 3.7 seconds, that of a 50-year-old; and 2.5 seconds, that of a 60-year-old.
Adapting a workout routine for the 60s may mean curtailing aerobic exercise that jars and stresses the joints.
Your exercise aim: Adapting a workout routine for the 60s may mean curtailing aerobic exercise that jars and stresses the joints. So replace long runs with shorter jogging stints, cycling or power-walking and swimming. Strength training is still important, as are stretching and balance. If you are new to exercise ask at your local health centre about age-specific classes; aquarobics is an excellent gentle workout.
Aim to practise the test once every day and watch your score improve. Being able to perform regular squats like this – i.e. rising up and down from a chair without using your hands – keeps the muscles of the thighs and buttocks strong and is the key to maintaining independence in older age.
“Lose this ability, and you won’t be able to get on and off the loo by yourself,”
“If you are a keen gardener, don’t underestimate how fantastic the activity is for the strength of your arms, legs and overall stamina.”
Exercise won’t just help you maintain a healthy weight, it could be the single most important step you can take for your mental and physical health, and the best way possible to keep the effects of ageing under control.
Exercise can reduce your risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers by up to 50 per cent, and lower your risk of early death by nearly a third.
It can also cut your risk of osteoarthritis by up to 83 per cent, boost mood and sleep quality and reduce your risk of depression and dementia.
The official recommendation is to be active daily, with at least two-and-a-half hours of physical activity a week. But a recent report from the British Heart Foundation found that 44 per cent of adults never exercise. The good news is it’s never too early or too late to start.
Use these tests to check whether you’re as fit as you should be for your age, right up to your 80s – the experts then explain what you can do to improve your fitness, whatever your age.
Specialists agree it’s never too late for exercise and activity to make a difference. “You can rejuvenate 20 years of lost strength through physical activity,” says Dawn Skelton, an exercise physiologist and professor of ageing and health . Even if you have been inactive for many decades, gentle activity now can reverse the decline.
Challenge: Up and go
Measure a 3m distance and place a dining room chair at one end. Ask a friend to stand at the other end with a stopwatch.
Sit yourself comfortably on the chair, get the friend to start the timer, then get up, walk the distance, walk back and sit down again. The clock stops the moment your bottom hits the chair.
A score of 12 seconds or less is excellent, if you score 13 to 20 seconds your balance could be impaired, 20 seconds plus could indicate problems with mobility.
Even if you have been inactive for many decades, gentle activity in your seventies can reverse the decline.
Your exercise aim: Vicky Johnston, a physiotherapist, recommends practising this at every opportunity. “If you’re watching TV, get up every time the ads come on, and lower yourself slowly when you sit back down, to work your muscles against gravity.
“If you slump back with an audible ‘oof’, you’ve not controlled your descent,” she says.
“Do something that gets you breathing a little more deeply than normal – for ten minutes three times a day, five days a week. Try marching on the spot while you’re washing up or getting off the bus one stop earlier.”
She also advises regular balance work – either through tai chi classes, or single leg stands.
“Balancing involves co-ordination of the muscles in the ankles and hips; this will make you more stable on uneven ground, or on a moving bus.”
Protect your knees by strengthening the thigh muscles. Sitting on a chair, straighten your legs in front of you, hold for five seconds and then slowly return to the starting point. Repeat 12 to 15 times.