Older, fitter, healthier:
why the traditional ageing stereotype needs a rethink
A new study of 2,0001 Brits by pensions advice specialist, Portafina, has revealed that the perception that age and inactivity go hand-in-hand is vastly outdated, with average weekly active minutes achieved by over 50s far exceeding those of under 30s.
When questioned about their level of exercise, type of exercise and attitude to exercise, the participant responses exposed strikingly different approaches between generations. For example, nearly a fifth (18%) of respondents aged over 50 stated they were active for 30+ minutes every day, versus just 7% of under 30s.
Overall, under 30s highlighted that deskbound jobs could be affecting both time available and willingness to be physically active. Nearly a fifth (18%) of under 30s claimed to have a very sedentary lifestyle, 16% confessed to a lack of motivation to do exercise, and 11% even indicated that exercising left them feeling tired.
Within this age group, the main motive for exercising was to lose weight or maintain shape (35%), and a trip to the gym was by far the most popular means, with a third (32%) financing a gym membership.
In sharp contrast, over a third (33%) of over 50s said they recognised the importance of a healthy lifestyle, with a similar percentage (32%) saying it was simply ‘part of their day and always has been’. Only 10% of this age group had a gym membership, and yet day-to-day the number of steps and active minutes achieved was higher versus under 30s – 8% were even walking 6+ miles a day!
Over 50s also vastly preferred exercising outdoors (26%, versus 10% of under 30s) suggesting they considered physical activity to be an interest or hobby, rather than an indoor ‘chore’.
Cris Kellett, Consultant Physiotherapist at Progress - The Cambridge Centre for Health and Performance at Spire Cambridge Lea Hospital, said:
“Looking at the research, I fear that many under 30s don’t really understand that exercise is not only to be undertaken to address stress-relief or body-mass, but that a lifelong history of exercise is also protective against many physical and psychological diseases in the future - like type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and of course, obesity. The 18% of under 30s who sit all day are putting themselves at the greatest risk of all. They need to consider immediate changes, for example standing during phone calls and walking to colleagues' desks to speak to them rather than sending another email.
“The most popular forms of exercise for the over 50s are low/non-impact and whilst this may spare joints, it may also negatively impact bone mass. They should also include some form of strength exercises at least twice a week to maintain good bone health and reduce the natural loss of muscle mass as we age.
“Finally, I believe everyone should be encouraged to exercise outside as there are both psychological and physical benefits to ‘green’ exercise that we just don’t get in gyms.”
Further re-enforcing the study data, Portafina spoke to two over 50s whose fitness routines are inspiring and motivating to all generations.
Liz King, 51, from Kent, has completed over 50 marathons and 17 Ironman races and is ‘still going strong’. She turned her hobby of running into a career six years ago when she started her business, Tri Sports Events, which encourages more people into sport. She said:
“I've always been fit and ran at school but I also played cricket and hockey to a high standard. When I was in the Army I did many sports, with my first triathlon in 1984. So, you could say that doing sport has always been in my life plan.
“I train for triathlons which I've been participating in on and off for the last 30 years. I specialise in Ironman - I did my first Ironman race when I turned 40. This year I came second in the Kent Cycling Association time trial and I also raced in Austria and Mallorca.
“Keeping fit and active at my age is great - I feel I keep shape more now than I did when I was younger.”
Raymond Woodcock, 74 from Essex, took his interest in sport to a whole new level when he retired from taxi driving:
“I played football, did scuba diving, and was a gold medal dance instructor right up to my early 60s. My focus has always been on being the best, and this has given me total freedom to do anything active that I wanted.
“Eleven years ago, at the age of 63, I decided to climb Kilimanjaro for charity. Wow! The climb changed my life forever. Since then I have done much more, including setting two Guinness World Records and giving talks that have raised well over £30,000 for charity.
“For me, keeping healthy has always been important and I live by that. At seventy-four years old I have never drunk alcohol or tried a cigarette, and I keep my weight at a consistent level.”
Jamie Smith-Thompson, managing director at Portafina, said: “This is something we discuss a lot with clients. Most people can expect to stay healthy and active as they get older, particularly if they take care of themselves from an earlier age, so they need to be planning early to fund a longer and more active life when they start taking their pensions.
“This is a different and positive challenge. The upside is that, planned well, getting older becomes something to look forward to. Today’s retirees have so many choices.
“Being able to make the most of hard-earned retirement years is something to aspire to, and good groundwork can help us to ensure the future lifestyle we want. This applies to financial fitness as well as physical!”
PR and Content Executive
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1 Independent survey of 1,500 UK parents with children aged over 18 carried out September 2016