The best way to get healthy is to take it one step at a time.

A reasonable level of fitness is fundamental to making the most of life. Maintaining a simple exercise regimen that fits in with your lifestyle is one of the most important things you can do to make the most of every day.

If this sounds slightly daunting, just think of that old cliché – ‘move it or lose it’. All you have to do, at a base level, is move. You don’t need to turn your life upside down, you just need to move. 

Try to make exercise something that fits in with your daily routine and is enjoyable enough so you can keep going with it and not feel as if it's a chore. A simple exercise regimen can be something as basic as walking the dog every day, or doing easy stretching before breakfast – even a few bends and twists while you wait for the toast to pop up can make a major difference to your overall quality of life.

Anything you can build into your day without having to make too many changes to what you are accustomed to is going to be a regimen you will more likely stick with. And sticking with it is probably the most important thing.

Many people reach retirement having spent most of their adult life focused on other people, particularly their children, and their career.

Often what suffers is allocating time for the self, particularly in relation to health and wellbeing. It’s only after children leave the nest and work obligations are over that you have time to focus on your bucket list – from travel to sport and recreation, among other things. Keeping some semblance of fitness and agility is going to help you get the most out of those activities.

Evelyn in the pool stretching her legs out

One of the best motivators is to surround yourself with like-minded people. Exercising or playing sport with friends in an organised group is a great way to build and maintain healthy habits.

Fitness adviser Luke Scott says seniors need reasonable mobility to be able to enjoy life to the fullest.

I’m very fond of a particular quote from Crossfit founder Greg Glassman, who says the needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind, he says.

This means we all need to achieve the same fundamental things regardless of our age or ability. So people over the age of 65 still need structural integrity of their skeletal system and decent aerobic ability for endurance. Many of my clients come to me so they can get more out of their retirement. This can mean anything from getting out on the golf course, playing tennis, doing some water aerobics to having the confidence to travel overseas without needing to rely on anyone else. Many older people I meet have put their health on hold for the past 20 years or more. Now they want to do active things like play with their grandchildren, but are concerned their bodies are letting them down.

Theresa using hand weights in the water, as part an aqua exercise class.

Luke says while you’re never too old to start exercising, it is very important to make sure you always keep moving.

For many people, getting motivated is more than half the battle. So goal setting, such as travel or a wedding, is the big thing that helps, he says.

One of our 64-year-olds has just come back from Everest Basecamp, so there are no real limits to what you can achieve. Break down your exercise regimen to daily tasks – everyday rituals that make up that larger goal. If you only aim for the larger goal it can be a bit daunting and you may be more likely to give up.

Luke says older women are more likely than men to remain active.

Sometimes men are a bit stubborn, whereas women are more likely to take advice and be open to a new approach, he says.

Women also tend to exercise in groups so they have the motivating benefit of a social experience as well.

Luke says older people need to focus on improving and maintaining three important physical characteristics:

  • Building bone mineral density because you naturally lose this as you age. You can do this through strength training.
  • Cardiovascular capacity to improve endurance, such as walking up flights of stairs without losing your breath.
  • Keeping a good range of motion in your body through stretching.

Good game! The ladies who tennis shake hands at the net at the end of a fun doubles match.

One of the tricks to creating a sustainable exercise regimen is not to over-reach, Luke says. Don’t force things. Exercise should become like brushing your teeth every day.

If you’re just starting out then what you need to conquer first is your mindset. So just do one small thing every day, like eating a bit better, until it becomes a habit and you feel like it’s something you want to do, rather than have to do.

For healthy living advice go to www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au