Staying positive about exercise makes you less fearful of ageing

Exercising can make you more confident and positive, no matter how old you are.

Exercising can make you more confident and positive, no matter how old you are. Photo: Getty

So, day after day, we get older. That’s everybody. For the first 20 years of your life, you might be impatient for the years to get out of your way.

Autonomy awaits.

You want to do what you want to do, and the only thing stopping you, it seems, is a kind of social border control. A gate that won’t open until you’re 18.

And then, bingo

Sad to say, after a sunny burst of liberation, and sooner than you expected, the damn years start to go by faster.

You joke about life’s swift passage at 30. You curse your first grey hair. The first wrinkle. The steps not being so easy to climb anymore.

The faster the years go, the more baggage you accumulate – be it children, debt and work responsibilities that must be attended to.

Tick-tock, tick-tock

With so much time taken up with everything that is your life, time itself seems to feel precious. Increasingly so.

But you’re still a relatively young person, right? But, doubt creeps in.

By way of consolation, an older friend will say something like: “Oh you’re just a pup.”

It’s around then that ageing-related anxiety has, momentarily, for the first time, raised its blue-rinsed head.

Why talk about this stuff, man?

These depressing thoughts came to mind after reading a new study that found that, as an older person, the more positive you feel about exercise, the less you are bothered by ageing-related anxiety.

In ageing people, anxiety is a more common mental health issue than depression or cognitive disorders, both of which also abound.

As described by the study’s author, Professor Sarah Francis from Iowa State University, ageing-related anxiety “encompasses fears and concerns about losing autonomy and relationships, physical and psychological changes, and discomfort or lack of enjoyment being around older people”.

Losing autonomy – that freedom and self-sufficiency you desperately wanted as a teenager – is the big one. It closely relates to all those other fears and concerns named by Professor Francis.

The fear of falling over

But there’s also fear among many older people that by simply moving around, they’re at risk of hurting themselves. And it’s not paranoid thinking.

At least one-third of people aged 65 years and over fall one or more times a year.

Although many of these falls do not result in injury, the injuries when they occur are painful and often don’t fully heal. These are hip and wrist fractures, chest injuries including broken ribs, and hip and shoulder dislocations.

Arguably, the most damaging aspect of falling is remaining afraid and losing confidence. Some people will stick to their favourite chair for as much of the day as possible.

Falls are a complex issue. But staying physically active will help prevent them, and will serve your recovery well. See more here.

Making change at a late stage

Professor Francis, a nutritionist and health ageing advocate, is an optimist. In a prepared statement she said:

“Previous research has shown that if you have high anxiety about aging, you have poor health outcomes. But if you view it more positively as a life stage, you have better health outcomes.

You’re more likely to make lifestyle changes that benefit you in the long run.”

If you can get older people doing strengthening exercises, their balance improves along with their confidence. If people can feel confident just walking around, yes, their anxiety levels should improve.

And when people embrace exercise, their enjoyment of life improves, as does their ability to remain resilient against mood disorders. Simply put, they tend to feel more alive.

Just last week we reported that exercise may be the most effective treatment of mild to moderate mental health issues.

Previously I’ve reported that exercise can give people a strong purpose in life.

Can that be the case for people aged 65 and over? Sure. It can.

But it will be much more the case for people who have at least enjoyed some regular exercise during their lifespan.

If you’ve spent most of your life clinging to the armrests of a chair, like some marooned soul clinging to the banana-strewn shore of an island, making that change is not likely.

Hence, my little rave at the beginning of this story. Life trips by at an unforgiving pace. With all those little warnings along the way that your beautiful, seemingly indestructible younger self has a shelf life.

I have no doubt that exercise will put a dent in ageing-related anxiety. It won’t stop you worrying about how many days you have left on the clock, but it will go some way to feeling that that older life is one that you own.

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