You know how important it is to have a retirement plan for your finances, but do you put the same effort into your future body? Living comfortably means more than having enough money, you also need to be fit enough to make the most of later life.
The approach to a “fitness retirement plan” is very similar to a financial one: you look at what you have now, where you want to be and what you need to do to get there so that you can make regular investments into your future self’s well being.
Think ahead to when you’re 75 (assuming you’re not there already). What do you still want to be able to do? Do you still want to be able to jog, cycle, play tennis or hike with your grand kids?
It doesn’t have to be an athletic feat, in fact, it is often something quite mundane, something that we take for granted, that we will miss most. Going to the shops unassisted, living in a house with stairs or reaching high shelves may not require any effort now but could be too much when you’re older if you don’t invest in your fitness.
For example, as an Aussie, I’m used to having to fly regularly, and I want to be able to continue do to so without assistance when I’m 80. This means being able to make my way through the airport without needing a buggy, walk up to stairs onto the plane and then lift 10 kilos of luggage into the overhead locker.
However, as I’ll outline below, there is a natural decline in strength with age. If we don’t maintain it we risk being unable to perform the things that make life worth living when we’re older.
How would you describe an archetypical “old person” to somebody from another planet? I would say that they shuffle as they walk, their posture is slouched forward, they struggle to sit and stand. They are not someone I would describe as strong.
Luckily, if you are otherwise healthy, you can minimise functional ageing by training your strength and balance.
The reason people shuffle is because they no longer have the balance or strength to be on one leg for too long, so they shorten their stride length. At the extreme they don’t stride at all; they shuffle. They typically slouch because their back muscles have weakened and can no longer support their spine. Slouching could also result from osteoporosis or some other conditions but that’s a topic for another blog. Standing and sitting is laborious because their leg muscles have weakened.
Improving your strength and balance won’t just prevent the most obvious symptoms of ageing, it also staves off many of the side effects that can be just as damaging to quality of life.
A loss of physical capability can lead to a reduction in activity, loss of confidence, increased isolation, higher risk of depression – the list goes on. Saving money will help you retire, but saving your body will help you enjoy retirement.
For many, the focus is on lifespan. However, my interest lies in narrowing the gap between health span and lifespan. Nobody wants to spend the last 10 years of a longer life with poor mobility and health. Maintaining physical capacity is key to extending your health span to match your life span.
Between 40 and 65, if you do nothing, your muscle strength will decline by around 20%. After that, the decline continues at a rate of 2-3% per year.
Then there’s balance. The average 40 year old can stand on one leg with their eyes open for 45 seconds and 15 seconds with their eyes closed. By 70, this drops to 15 seconds with eyes open and just 3 seconds with eyes closed.
What these figures tell us is that the older you get, the harder you have to work to maintain your strength and balance – you can’t get away with not exercising anymore.
Just like saving for retirement, the earlier you start, the better off you will be. It is never too late to start, as many of our incredible success stories have shown, but having a stronger foundation will make it easier to counteract the natural decline in strength and balance that occurs post-40.
With planning, discipline and support, a fit and active older person can absolutely be stronger and more physically capable than someone in their 30s. I have the pleasure of knowing such people as clients and friends, and I hope that I will follow in their footsteps.
If you need help with your fitness retirement plan, get in touch with us now at email@example.com or 020 7937 1628. Your future self will be grateful.
B.PHYSIOTHERAPY PG CERT INDEPENDENT PRESCRIBING, MCSP, MHCPC