Today I chatted to Kaye Adams on BBC Radio Scotland about Rod Stewart’s daily SAS style training to get into shape for his tour. We chatted about whether that is  good idea for those in their 70s… and I wanted to highlight there are some brilliant benefits to tough exercise at any age…

Physical health: Exercising at the right level (for us and our own body) can help us function pain free and with enthusiasm. It gives you the ability to join in an impromptu football match in the park with co-workers, chase after our kids/grandkids & live life with less discomfort.

Mental health: Exercise gives us structure, purpose, energy and motivation and is effective at altering the way we process and respond to our emotions so helps with anxiety, depression, connection & self-esteem.

  • Depression: Exercise can help prevent depressive periods kicking off. A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry looking at over 33,000 people suggested that 12% of new depression cases could be prevented if the whole population exercised for at least one hour per week. If depression has already been diagnosed a study lead by Duke University researchers found exercise to be as effective as taking anti-depressants, decreasing depressive symptoms in some by as much as 70%.
  • Connection: Regular exercise gives a sense of structure and purpose and gives social benefits as when you are more active and engaged with others your quality of life rises which studies have found doesn’t just improve life satisfaction but means you live longer too.
  • Self-esteem: Self-esteem is higher in those who regularly exercise as they are able to see they have high motor competence, good cardiovascular fitness and a more positive self-perception helping them feel closer to their ideal image of themselves.
  • Anxiety:  A meta-analysis of 13 separate studies (reported in Depression and Anxiety Journal) highlighted that those who do lots of exercise have better protection from developing the symptoms of anxiety than those who don’t. There are 4 ways that have been identified as to how exercise reduces anxiety: lowering rumination through distraction, changing body’s response to stress, changing our brain’s response to stressors & as a coping mechanism for difficult situations.

Cognitive health: Cognitive health drives the key elements of our mental functioning; how you process your thoughts, memory, ability to pay attention and concentrate, creativity and how well you plan and problem solve. There is no single cause of poor cognitive health but the biggest causes of cognitive decline are ones we have no control over; aging and having the APOE e4 gene. Sleep, exercise and a sense of purpose are 3 ways we can work to improve it though. Exercise works well for cognitive health: A review of studies evaluated by researchers at UCLA  found those with higher fitness can not only place attention where needed but process information faster.

It doesn’t have to be longer endurance exercise that is completed, even acute, short-term bouts of resistance or moderate intensity exercise can improve cognitive performance.

Sleep: We sleep better when we exercise and we know that sleep deprived people have impaired concentration and decision-making. Athletes who use sleep extension report improved performance, accuracy and reduced fatigue levels.

We do need some age related consideration though… The risks of injury are higher as we age and it can take long to recover from injury. It is more important to mix up what you do; you need a mixture of effort levels and types of exercise.

The trick is finding a few types of exercise where you have intrinsic motivation – something that isn’t about how it makes you look or what rewards come from it but you simply feel awesome when you do it. You can do this with the ABCD of motivation…

  • Autonomy: It is super important with long term, consistent exercise you love what you do – not one you think is good for you or a friend or partner does but one which you are genuinely excited to try.
  • Belonging: Once you have your exercise then build up your community of others who also do it. When you find your tribe you learn, enjoy and are more likely to turn up to every session (even on a bad day).
  • Competency: You need to build mastery, really understanding the moves you need to make and the skills that help you do it well. With this proficiency there are fewer fears when you turn up to train and you can feel confident with the moves you are making.
  • Delight: Know what you love about the exercise you do? Is it the smugness afterwards, the other people, the feeling of freedom or space or time to yourself?

With exercise we feel passionate about, competent at and feel safe doing alongside others we will not just stick to a fitness routine but also enjoy it more – and be ready to take on much more whether a full concert schedule or running the village coffee morning.