Keeping up with the grandkids – why staying active over 50 is easier now than ever

It’s never too late to learn a new sport or get fit. There’s a new tribe on the rise, and they’re fitter than ever. According to a survey from EMDUK, the National Governing Body for group exercise, over a third of group exercise participants are aged 55 or over, as more baby boomers and retirees hit the gyms and fitness centres to take charge of their health and wellbeing.

There’s no shortage of inspiration in the media either. With Davina McCall thanking strength training for her rock solid abs at 50, Huw Edwards shedding three stone after taking up boxing aged 56 and Britain’s oldest personal trainer aged 73 setting up bootcamps for OAPs – it’s clear that nowadays, staying active in your senior years can be so much more than the obligatory trip to the local bowls club or rambling group.

If running’s not your thing, a plethora of dance classes, fitness groups and gym sessions are on offer for older participants, all with supportive and inclusive instructors to guide along the way.

Exercise for a mental boost

It’s no secret that regular exercise improves both physical and psychological wellbeing, reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease and mental illness as well as maintaining healthy blood pressure and strong bones. The older you get, the more important these benefits become, if you want to slow the ageing process and sail into your senior years with a strong and healthy body and mind.

The great thing about exercise is that it can be scaled for your ability. So, if you’re not ready to follow in Huw’s footsteps to pull on the boxing gloves just yet, there’s lots you can do instead. It’s about finding what works for you – both time and capability wise – and finding something that you love and can’t wait to get back to.

With plenty of sports for the over 50s to try depending on your physical fitness, mobility and strength, you can choose whichever suits you and get active at your own pace. Classes such as yoga or Thai Chi are great for improving balance and coordination; with the latter having been proven to slow the ageing process, prevent falls and reduce high blood pressure. These ancient forms of meditative low impact exercise can do wonders for your wellbeing and make you feel at one with your body, leaving you energised long into your day.

Exercise for a sense of belonging

For those looking to raise their heart rate a bit more and make new friends, initiatives such as parkrun – free weekly timed 5k runs in parks across the country – see thousands of over 50s toeing the start line alongside their younger peers, with more than three million miles run by the over 50s age group in 2015 alone. The thriving community found at parkrun and in team sports such as walking football or netball bring huge additional benefits to the physical fitness you’ll gain. It’s a great way to build confidence, make new friends, learn new skills and improve your health all at the same time.

If running’s not your thing, a plethora of dance classes, fitness groups and gym sessions are on offer for older participants, all with supportive and inclusive instructors to guide along the way.

Brighton Life Coach and FunkFit Instructor Linda Bramley only started her fitness journey aged 49, and says she’s seen a huge increase in older people making their health a priority.

“Something is definitely happening with the over 50s. I attend many different types of exercise classes from Yoga to high impact classes like Combat, FiiT, Insanity, as well as teaching FunkFit, and the age range at all of these classes is very apparent.”

“Many will have been at work for over thirty years, or bringing up families, and have decided it’s their time to look after what is a really precious commodity - the body! A lot of them are surprised but delighted to see visible improvements to their weight, shape, endurance levels and importantly their mental health, and feel good very quickly after starting classes and so motivation to continue and try other things is high.”

Using sport to combat loneliness

For retirees less able to take part in high impact exercise like running but who still want to be involved in sport, there are various befriending schemes and fitness initiatives across the country with charities such as Age UK, but none combine sport and companionship quite like GoodGym.

A social enterprise that started in 2009, GoodGym is a collective of 44 running groups across the country that ‘do good, whilst getting fit’. Along with the weekly group runs to complete tasks for local community projects, GoodGym runners are paired with elderly companions, called ‘Coaches’, and run to visit them every week. The idea is that the Coaches are the motivators for the runners to stick to their training runs, and it’s a win-win for both parties – the Coaches get weekly visits from their new running buddies, and the runners get a nice cup of tea and a catch up as a reward for doing their run.

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