Exercise for a Healthy Heart and Strong Bones

The value of exercise cannot be overemphasised. Regular exercise reduces the risks of heart disease and, by strengthening bones, can prevent fractures.

It is never too late to start exercising – one study showed that an 80-year-old man gains the same percentage improvement in muscle strength as a 25 year old. Further­more, it is better to start taking exercise when you are older than to have exercised regularly when younger and given it up. It is not just the heart and bones that benefit from regular exercise; muscle strength and power also improve making falls less likely and, if you do trip, you have more strength to hold on to something. Reassess your need for drugs such as tranquillisers, hypnotics or alcohol, all of which affect judgement, making you more likely to trip or stumble.

Although the ideal recom­mendation for exercise is 20 to 30 minutes of brisk activity, three times a week, it need not be as daunting as it sounds. The easiest and most convenient exercise is walking, as it works against gravity and therefore puts greater beneficial stresses on the bones. Start gently and gradually increase the distance. Stretching exercises increase the suppleness of your muscles but have little effect on bone. Swimming is excellent if you have joint problems as it does not put great strain on joints, but getting into a pool of cold water on a winter’s day does require a great deal of motivation!

Exercise as a daily routine

The main reason why people fail to take exercise is simply lack of time so try to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Walk or cycle to the shops instead of taking the bus or car; if it is too far, then get off the bus one stop earlier, or park your car further away from the shops. Ideally, find a companion to exercise with. If you feel up to more formal exercise, go ahead but it is very important not to overdo it in the early stages as, particularly if you get overtired, you are more likely to give up. Always warm up and cool down gradually to prevent straining muscles and avoid vigorous exercise if you have an infection.

Remember, an exercise pro­gramme should be maintained for life, not just for the next few weeks or months.

Lifestyle changes to prevent heart disease

Many of the risk factors for heart disease can be reduced by simple lifestyle changes:  losing weight, stopping smoking, modifying diet and taking more exercise.

Lifestyle changes to prevent osteoporosis

Again, adequate exercise and a healthy calcium-rich diet help to keep brittle bones at bay. Effective prevention of osteoporosis starts early, however, preferably in child­hood and there is plenty that you can do to protect your children. They need exercise, a good diet, and should be warned about the hazards of smoking.

Peak adult bone mass is reached around the ages of 25 to 40. The peak for men is 25 to 30 per cent greater than for women, placing women at more risk of osteoporosis. Bone loss starts shortly after the peak, starting earlier in women than in men, and is accelerated by the menopause.