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Fitness column: James Hilton on tips for the over 55s to keep healthy in mind and body

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James Hilton, founder of Jim’s Gym, a virtual gym to support older adults to stay fit, and a qualified personal trainer working in the Cotswolds.

To find out more about James visit https://www.jameshilton.fitness

By James Hilton

As the evenings get darker and we move into winter, it can be harder to feel motivated to keep moving. 

It’s known that a significant minority of adults also have SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – which is a type of depression associated with less light. This can affect any adults however older adults (over 55) often find that summer activities are less enjoyable such as gardening or even walking. 

Here are a number of tips to keep fit and healthy in mind and body during the shorter days of sunlight over the late autumn and winter months. 

Seek sunlight – during the shorter days, it’s crucial for older adults to maintain adequate Vitamin D levels, whether through supplementation or diet. Also seek exposure to sunlight daily for about 20 minutes with your arms and face exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to weaker muscles and bones.

Exercise indoors – there are resources available for exercises that can be done indoors, such as resistance training or even online fitness classes tailored for older adults. It’s the whole reason I set up Jim’s Gym. This kind of fitness can improve balance which reduces the risks of falls both indoors and outdoors in the winter months. 

Eat well – this is the time of year when temptation for comfort food is high. However nutrition is more important than comfort. For example Omega 3 found in oily fish is important in combatting inflammation in older adults. Seek resources to help you with this and plan some meals. Perhaps you could work with a nutritionist to guide you.

Stay hydrated – cold weather can make people less aware of dehydration because they don’t always feel thirsty. It’s sensible to drink six to eight glasses of fluids a day, preferably water – even if you don’t feel thirsty. This nourishes your body and helps keep it healthy. 

Care for your joints – colder weather can exacerbate joint pain for some people, particularly those with arthritis. Gentle stretching and mobility exercises can really support joint care and if at any point pain worsens significantly, go back to your GP.

Engage in safe outdoor activity – for keen outdoor walkers or dog walkers wear suitable clothing such as layers and good footwear. For older adults aged 70 or older , falling can be a risk so consider anti-slip and waterproof footwear especially in icy and snowy conditions. Also wear layers of moisture-wicking material to keep warm but not sweaty, as dampness can cause a drop in body temperature.

    Be mindful: Mindfulness exercises can combat the winter blues and their efficacy cannot be underestimated. This can be especially beneficial for older adults who may experience heightened loneliness during the colder months. Set aside time to actively engage in pastimes you love such as reading a book, watching favourite films, journaling or joining a mindfulness class or download a mindfulness app. This can combat depression or anxiety. 

    Maintain flexibility and balance – these two things are very important for older adults. Research shows that Tai Chi and yoga can improve balance and muscle coordination. Consider joining a class for this with an accredited provider or download an app to assist with this kind of gentle exercise. 

    Get social – last but not least, address the importance of maintaining a sense of community during winter, perhaps through joining online groups or participating in community fitness programs designed for older adults. Making the effort to meet people is crucial for strong mental and physical health. It aids motivation and wellbeing.

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