This is a question I sometimes ask myself, particularly at those times when I am suffering from an injury and not able to exercise to the level I want to. Ben, when he is not adding five or ten years to my age, often says that age is just a number. I find that having followed an exercise program with him, this is very much the case. I feel much younger now than I did probably ten years ago; am I really nearly 60?
So, am I too old to go to the gym? Just looking round the gym at Kings Fitness and Leisure confirms that I am by no means the oldest there. So why should someone my age or older train? The reasons are many.
From a health point of view, exercise is very important for older people. It can improve joint mobility which can improve balance and help to prevent, or at least stave off, some of the diseases that can come as we get older, such as osteoporosis. It can improve your physical strength and energy levels. I know that I am much stronger now than I was a few years ago and I seem to have much more energy and stamina than I used to. Exercise can also help to prevent illnesses – I do not seem to suffer from colds and other common complaints like I used to.
Combined with a healthy diet and sticking to the calories and macros that Ben has given me, I have lost a little weight (weight loss was never a major goal). But I have lost an awful lot of body fat. This is excellent from a health point of view as it helps to reduce the risks of diabetes and heart problems.
There can be some physical downsides to exercising when you are older, particularly when first starting out. For example, wear and tear on the joints over the years can lead to recovery times being slower. Injuries can take longer to heal. The cardiovascular system may be weaker if you start to exercise later in life, so it is important to build up slowly rather than jump straight into strenuous exercises like the Viking challenge.
Exercise also has many benefits for mental and emotional well-being. Some studies suggest that exercise can improve cognitive functions so benching or using the battle ropes may be improving my brain power more than doing a crossword, for example. Exercise boosts the feel-good chemicals in the brain which can lead to a reduction in stress, anxiety and even depression. I was first advised to go to the gym by my doctor as an alternative to being prescribed some anti-depressant drugs.
In general, I feel good about myself. The loss of my body fat and the increase in muscle growth means that I look much fitter that I have for many years – a real boost to my self-esteem and mental well-being.
There are many social benefits to exercise as well. Post-retirement can lead to inactivity, boredom, loss of identity and purpose, and a loss of what to do with your time. Going to the gym, particularly if you have regular sessions with a personal trainer, can fill part of this gap. And with the increased energy that comes from all this exercise, it can also lead to other activities and pastimes. Going to the gym is also a great way to meet new people. Like many people I moved to a new location when I retired. Although I love my new village, when I moved there I knew no one and this can lead to a feeling of isolation. I have met a lot of people from going to the gym, both other gym-goers and members of staff, and it is good to be able to have a chat each time I go in. I have even made a couple of friends through going there.
So, am I too old for this fitness game? No way! I intend to continue for as long as I can!
by John English