Adults should lift weights twice a week to stay fit and healthy, according to new national guidelines.
Top doctors state that muscle strengthening exercises could help delay the natural decline in muscle mass and bone density that starts from around age 50.
Physical activity guidelines from the UK’s chief medical officers state that this is believed to be a central reason for why older people lose their ability to carry out daily tasks.
As such, exercises including lifting weights, using resistance machines, heavy gardening, carrying heavy shopping, and holding young children should be repeated until the muscles feel temporarily “tired out” and unable to repeat the exercise until rested, the guidelines recommend.
This could also help minimise the risk of falls – the number one reason older people are taken to A&E.
The guidelines add that people aged 65 and over should play bowls, go dancing and do tai-chi to improve or maintain muscle strength, balance and flexibility and help to reduce the risk of falls and boost mobility.
Meanwhile, all ages should avoid sitting for too long as it is harmful – even for those who achieve the recommended levels of exercise each week.
“Physical activity plays a changing role in the lives of older adults, as for some it becomes more about the maintenance of independence and the management of symptoms of disease, rather than primary disease prevention,” the guidelines state.
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“There is enough knowledge of the benefits associated with physical activity in older adults to categorically state that they outweigh the risks.”
Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, added that physical activity brings with it a raft 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,” she said.
“By keeping active, both throughout the day and also through hobbies, we can slow muscle and bone decline, ultimately keeping us independent for longer.”
Adults with or without a disability can experience the same benefits from exercise, the guidelines say, adding that “any myths about physical activity being inherently harmful for disabled people should be dispelled”.
If physical activity were a drug, we would refer to it as a miracle cure.
Today, the UK CMOs have published new guidelines for physical activity at every age. Some is good, more is better #CMOphysicalactivity https://t.co/WTTsBDqOwr— Prof Sally Davies (@CMO_England)September 7, 2019
Exercise, including strength training, can also be safely recommended to women during and after pregnancy.
The guidelines add that high intensity interval training (also known as HIIT) – short bursts of very vigorous activity interspersed with rest periods – can be as or more effective than moderate to vigorous exercise, but more research is needed to identify an optimal amount and form to recommend.
Each week, adults should exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes, at a vigorous intensity for 75, or at a very vigorous activity for even less time.
Pregnancy can be a great time to make healthy lifestyle choices and be active.
For the first time, the #CMOphysicalactivity guidelines have advice on getting and staying active safely while pregnant and after giving birth.
Remember to listen to your body #dontbumpthebump pic.twitter.com/ZUXQ0tYbZ7— Prof Sally Davies (@CMO_England)September 7, 2019
Previous advice that this should be undertaken in bouts of at least 10 minutes, spread out across most days of the week, has been removed.
They now say that people can still enjoy the benefits even if concentrated in one or two weekly sessions.
Huw Edwards, chief executive of not-for-profit health body ukactive, said: “In previous iterations of the chief medical officers’ guidelines, the focus has been on the importance of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity, with the importance of muscle strength and activities to promote it playing second fiddle.
“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. ukactive is proud to support these guidelines and for our research institute to feed into them.”