Like so many fitness influencers, Rosemary Mallace runs strength-based classes on YouTube. Unlike so many fitness influencers, she is 73. She’s just starting to add fell running and tap dancing to her exercise regime. “I’m trying to think of something that I can’t do that I used to be able to do and I can’t think of anything.”

It seems the Miss Marple approach to ageing that features frequent cups of tea and the odd slice of Victoria sponge, is being replaced by a new breed of 70-or-80-somethings who run, lift and move with power and agility. Mallace, a supporter of the Centre for Ageing Better, is part of this new generation redefining what it is to be an older person. 

Most of us know that as our bodies age we start to lose lean body mass (muscle and bone density), a process also known as sarcopenia. Men tend to gain weight until age 55 and start to lose it in the years that follow while women usually stop gaining weight once they hit 65. It’s why we might start to appear more frail and falls become more severe as our bones break more easily. 

Mallace took her personal training qualifications after she retired at 60 and now divides her week between runs and strength sessions – she is living proof that healthy eating and exercise can prevent our bodies from dwindling and can stop ageing in its tracks. She also is a great example of why it’s never too late to start.

A meta-study carried out by researchers at the University of Lodz found that “regular physical activity increases the chances of successful ageing in older people, but only after reaching a sufficient threshold”. In other words, you have to do enough to reap the benefits. Here’s the basis of a healthy approach to nutrition and exercise that you can start in your 40s and 50s and continue into your 70s, 80s and beyond. 

Resistance training three times a week

Samuel Quinn, a personal training lead at Nuffield Health gyms says, “There are no limitations to what people can do. One of my clients is 78, he ran the London Marathon at 75, he can deadlift 120 kg, he can do handstand press-ups, dips and pull-ups.” Quinn says you can still make progress in your 70s and 80s.

Start with some screening, he says to identify underlying injuries and conditions, then establish a goal. He recommends resistance training three times a week, you can lose 5 per cent of muscle mass per decade unless you lift and pull. He says bodyweight exercises like press-ups and squats can be sufficient, you do not need to lift weights. For older people who haven’t exercised very much before, Mallace suggests standing up from a chair and sitting back down but controlling the movement.

“It’s really important to have strong legs. Get a kitchen chair and do sit-to-stands, 12 repetitions without plonking down. Two or three times a day. Practice every time you get out of a chair by not using your hands.” 

For the upper body, she recommends sitting in the chair and using the weight of your arms as resistance, performing shoulder press and bicep curl movements. She suggests 12 of each arm exercise two or three times in a session, if possible. “If you’ve done nothing for a long time the movement will bring your muscles to life.” This can obviously build to weights once your strength has progressed.

Build up the length of your walks slowly 

Walking is the starting point for someone who wants to strengthen their heart and lungs. Quinn advises against high intensity. “If anyone’s going to suffer a cardiovascular episode, an arrhythmia or atrial fibrillation, it will be someone in that older age bracket – the heart is ageing as well. I prefer duration and frequency rather than intensity.” 

Walking is underrated, adds Mallace. “It helps strength in your legs and your balance. Walk fairly briskly. Get a stopwatch, go out for a walk and time how long you walk before you want to stop. Note the time. If it’s 10 minutes that’s your baseline, increase really slowly and do 11 minutes the next time and build until you can walk half an hour at a reasonable speed.” She recommends walking every other day until you’re able to keep going for 25 minutes then you can do it every day.”

A study carried out by an Oklahoma-based team said that “walking briskly for 30 minutes per day for five days can reduce the risk of several age-associated diseases. Additionally, low-intensity physical exercise, including walking, exerts anti-ageing effects and helps prevent age-related diseases”.

Have milk in your coffee or cheese with your wine

The array of fashionable superfoods that catch our eye every now again is not the answer, according to Prof Mary Hickson of the dietetics department of Plymouth University. She says that appetite can diminish in our 70s and 80s partly because our sense of taste and smell is less sensitive. This means every meal needs to be nutrition-packed as it could well be smaller than those we enjoyed in the past. “An ideal plate would be half vegetables, a quarter protein and a quarter carbohydrate.” 

How much protein older people need is not entirely clear currently. “There is some debate about protein and older people and there seems to be a consensus slowly emerging that older people do need more.” A study by the University of Sheffield found that many older adults do not eat sufficient protein. “More than half of older adults aren’t consuming enough protein to reach national recommendations.”

Prof Hickson says: “The recommendation for younger adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, and for older people it may go up as high as 1.2 grams per kg of body weight, as we age.” A 90-gram chicken breast contains 24 grams of protein but Prof Hickson reminds us lots of foods contain small amounts of protein adding to your total score – a slice of toast will have 2.5 grams, for example.

The carbohydrate element is important especially if you are active. “Complex carbohydrates are the best because they are broken down more slowly rather than sugar which gives you a spike of glucose,” Prof Hickson adds. “Whole-grain bread, cereals and pasta are all good choices, and you should have some at every meal.”  

If life with brown rice and chicken breasts feels a little spartan, Prof Hickson says coffee within the two-to-three cups a day limit is fine, some sweet treats are permitted if they are appropriately infrequent. She is also comfortable with alcohol within the 14 units a week but warns about dehydration. “The proportion of water in the body is less for older people so it’s easy to become dehydrated, so alcohol will have more of an effect.” Have milk in your coffee or cheese with your wine. Bone health calcium is important, and guidelines from the British Dietetic Association recommend three portions of milk-based products per day.


The nine health benefits of regular strength training

Read more

Play The Telegraph’s brilliant range of Puzzles - and feel brighter every day. Train your brain and boost your mood with PlusWord, the Mini Crossword, the fearsome Killer Sudoku and even the classic Cryptic Crossword.

2024-06-02T16:05:16Z dg43tfdfdgfd