How to be fighting fit in old age

Tennis has been an important part of Edwin Barclay's life for more than 60 years.

Since he was child, he has loved the game for the nuance and skill required to outfox your opponent. Now 70, Barclay is the president of the Bulli & District Tennis Association and coaches youngsters in the sport he loves.

He is on the courts every day except Sunday, whether he is running a coaching session or hitting a ball around with friends.

"I've been hooked on it for a long, long time," he says.

Barclay says tennis helps prevent old back and Achilles tendon injuries from flaring up, keeps him feeling fit and stops the evidence of his love for biscuits appearing around his middle. He believes it is a good sport for all ages because you can go at your own pace, upping or lowering the intensity as you see fit.

"You feel pretty good most of the time," he says.

As well as tennis, Barclay plays golf every Wednesday, walks or runs his dog and does a 15-minute session of push-ups, crunches, skips and stretches each morning.

But not all older people are as dedicated to keeping fit. Barclay is one of very few people over 65 that participate in a range of physical activities.

A recent study published by Sports Medicine Australia found that 32 per cent of people over 65 did no physical activity and 40 per cent participated in only one activity, with more than half of respondents citing walking as their primary form of exercise.

While an afternoon stroll is better than nothing at all, walking does not address aspects of fitness such as strength and balance.

Lead author of the study Dr Dafna Merom says walking is often a fallback activity because it is easy to do, requires no new skills and is in the range of intensity older people generally enjoy. Although it is great for cardiovascular fitness, it does not engage with other important fitness dimensions.

"They need to participate in activities that are multi-modal, that not only address cardiovascular fitness, but the brain, the muscles, the co-ordination, the flexibility, reaction time, movement in multiple directions," Dr Merom explains. Addressing these areas is important because they help increase bone and muscle strength and reduce the chance of damaging falls.

Margie Simmonds, 73, took up yoga for exactly this reason. The Jamberoo resident started attending a weekly yoga class a year ago, in addition to tai chi and international dance classes, after dabbling in the low-intensity exercise a few years previously.

"I try and keep some level of activity up and I'm not that keen on walking for the sake of walking," she says.

Dr Merom says activities such as yoga, pilates, golf, light weightlifting and even a game of bowls can help people maintain their fitness and age well.

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