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Have the recent sporting events inspired you to be more active? Nat Barnes looks at some ways to boost your physical activity plus the importance of starting slowly and gradually

With the delayed Euros football championship, plus Wimbledon and the Olympics, 2021 packed the sporting events in to the delight of fans. 2022 will be bookended by the Winter Olympics in Beijing and the World Cup in Qatar.

Can we draw inspiration from all this to be more active in our own lives?

There’s strong scientific evidence that those who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing many long-term conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers. Furthermore, physical activity can also boost self-esteem, your mood, sleep quality and energy and reduce your risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The NHS recommends that all adults aim to do some type of physical activity every day totalling up to at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week – plus reduce your time spent sitting or lying down and breaking up any long periods of not moving with some activity.

Sport England’s Active Lives survey of 2019/2020 found that 61.4 per cent of adults surveyed managed that, while 11.5 per cent were only fairly active (with an average of 30-149 minutes a week) and 27.1 per cent were inactive with less than 30 minutes a week. Men were more likely to be active than women and activity levels decreased with age from 68 per cent for those aged 16-34 dropping to 65 per cent for those 35-54, 60 per cent for those 55-74 and then a big drop to just 38 per cent for those over 75.

Progress gradually

If you haven’t done much exercise in the past, the secret is to start small and build it up slowly. If you go for a run or bike ride then you may have a little muscle ache the next day, but the trick is to raise your levels and distances progressively rather than suddenly. Things like the Couch to 5k Challenge are a great way to ensure that you progress gradually.

If you do feel you’ve over-done it, speak to your local pharmacy about any help or advice they can offer, whether that’s extra support for your joints with knee or ankle braces, vitamins and supplements or muscle relaxant creams.

Don’t think we’re talking about you suddenly taking up triathlons or running a marathon either. The mental health charity Mind states that any physical activity helps to maintain mental health, so there’s no need to go to extremes.

You could go for a walk around your local park, either on your own, with a friend or maybe even while making a phone call if you’re pressed for time. That will help you to raise your daily step count and also give you a challenge to aim for from day to day and week to week. Every little helps, so think about riding a bike rather than driving for shorter journeys or if you’re on the bus, how about getting off a stop earlier and walking the rest of the way?

Age matters

If you’re looking for something a little more strenuous, then you should definitely consider your age too. In your 20s, you need to incorporate cardio, weight training, balance work and training. For women, it’s important to try weight training to help build muscle and also to increase your bone density, while for men yoga will help with flexibility and mobility and lead to a healthier posture.

In your 30s, resistance training and high intensity interval training are crucial especially for women to offset any future complications from osteoporosis or arthritis. Muscle mass and strength start to decline once you turn 30, so again strength training is crucial.

That continues into your 40s too. Many in their 40s only tend to do cardio exercise, but bone density is declining, so strength training that works all muscle groups is essential. Again, once into your 50s, your bone and muscle development are slowing down, so resistance training for your hips and shoulders is important as is resistance and strength training. Both improve bone density and help to slow the ageing process with any loss of lean body mass. If you’re struggling to run as much as before due to any joint problems, especially with your knees, then try walking instead.

Things get more important than ever into your 60s. Don’t take on new or high-intensity exercises as they can easily lead to injuries, instead consistency is key as is anything with minimal impact. So swimming and rowing are good as are cross-trainers or stationary core exercises. Again, lifting weights with strength and resistance training is highly beneficial.

That bodyweight training with assistance becomes just as important into your 70s and 80s too. Resistance bands are a great choice as are any low impact exercises and any balance exercises that help with coordination and mobility. Any strength training can help protect you against falls and lots of walking or hiking will help to keep you lean and trim.

Events such as Parkrun are open to everyone and run weekly around the UK for children and adults from 2k up to 5k which you can walk, jog or run, whichever you’re happiest with. Alternatively, if you previously played football and no longer feel up to it, then why not try walking football where, as the name suggests you’re not allowed to run. The ball can’t go above head height and all tackles have to be done with no contact, making it much safer for any potential injuries.

Looking to join a gym?

Whatever your age though, it’s crucial when starting a new sport for the first time to prevent injuries too (see panel, right). Alternatively, if you’re looking to join a gym for the first time, ask for a free try out session first. If you decide you like it, then ask about discounts if you’re over 60 or are willing to only go into the gym at certain times such as during the day when it’s quieter.

And don’t just sign up there are then, gyms are always having special offers on or discounted rates, so make sure you leave them with your number and wait for them to call you. Leaving it until towards the end of the month is always useful too as they will have recruitment targets to hit and be more willing to do deals.

Remember to build up your exercise gradually. Starting slowly isn’t a problem, just so long as you start at all!

Avoiding injury

It’s crucial if you’re just starting a new sport or pastime for the first time (or returning to it after a layoff), that you start slowly and build up. It’s very easy to get injured, especially as you get older, so not pushing your body beyond its fitness level is crucial.

Make sure you warm up properly beforehand and stretch afterwards and use the right equipment. It’s all too easy to think that any pair of trainers will be fine for running, but in reality they’re not. Thankfully there are now plenty of specialist shops who can analyse your running technique and advise on the right shoes for you. The same goes for going to a gym. If you’re in any doubt about a machine or need advice, just ask the training staff – that’s what they’re there for.

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