Weightlifting could be key to offsetting the natural decline in muscle mass and bone density, new national guidelines have said.
Adults should do weight lifting sessions, or use resistance machines, at least twice a week to develop and maintain strength in the major muscle groups according to the UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines.
Heavy gardening, carrying heavy shopping or young children can also count towards weekly exercise goals, according to the new guidelines.
Exercises should be repeated until the muscles feel temporarily “tired out” and unable to repeat until rested.
Bone density and muscle mass declines naturally from the age of 50, and is believed to be a central reason in why older people lose the ability to carry out daily tasks.
The guidelines suggest those aged 65 and above should focus on activities to help improve or maintain muscle strength and balance, like Tai Chi, bowls, or dancing.
Improving balance could help people avoid falls, the main reason older people go to A&E.
The guidelines say: “In older adults with frailty, moderate-to-severe dementia, or a history of vertebral fractures or regular falls, it might be more appropriate for any new exercises to be initially supervised by a trained professional, to ensure efficacy and safe techniques to avoid injury.”
Dr Catherine Walter, now 72, is a champion power lifter, who took up weight lifting in her 60s.
She told Sky News: “I’m really healthier than I’ve ever been. It’s increased my bone density – I have the density of a 20-year-old.
“I have more energy, I sleep better.
“It’s not the fact of falling, it’s what happens if you fall, but if your bones are strong, and muscles are strong, which can only be achieved by strength training, that’s what you need to do.
“Challenge your body.”
Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: “Physical activity is an under-appreciated asset in our clinical arsenal. It is cheap and brings a long list of health benefits.
“As we age, our muscles weaken and we can become stiff, leading to falls and difficulty performing everyday activities. Physical activity can prevent fragility and support mobility in old age.
“By keeping active, both throughout the day and also through hobbies, we can slow muscle and bone decline, ultimately keeping us independent for longer.”
The guidelines state that sedentary periods should be minimised or broken up at whatever age, as sitting for long periods of time is harmful even for people who get the recommended weekly exercise levels.
The advice extends to pregnant women and people with disabilities for the first time, saying people with disability can experience the same benefits from exercise.
Strength training and other exercise can be safely recommended to pregnant women. Exercise during pregnancy can help reduce hypertension, improve cardiorespiratory fitness; lower gestational weight gain and reduce the risk of gestational diabetes.
It can also help new mothers experience better emotional wellbeing in the year after childbirth.
And high intensity interval training (HIIT) can be as, or more effective than moderate to vigorous exercise.
HIIT, a popular trend in exercise which involves short bursts of very vigorous activity followed by rest periods, show a “clear benefit” to adult health, but the guidelines say more research is needed to identify the optimal amount and form.
The guidelines now factor in this level of exercise, saying adults should exercise for 150 minutes (three and a half hours) at moderate intensity, or 75 minutes at vigorous intensity level. Those exercising at a higher level than that could do less than 75 minutes a week.
Previous advice about this being spread out in slots of 10 minutes a day has been removed, with the guidelines stating the benefits would be the same in one or two weekly sessions.
Huw Edwards, chief executive of not-for-profit health body ukactive, said: “The latest guidelines are more reflective of the evidence and the importance of activities such as resistance training for all adults, reflecting their equal positioning alongside the aerobic activity recommendations.”