Originally published on couriermail.com.au and reproduced here with permission.

Delma Fredrickson’s day usually starts with a 45-minute walk to the local lake, where she might chat to others along the way.

The energetic 75-year-old might then go to the gym or the pool, activities she does three or four times a week, and go to social events at her Carlyle Gardens Mackay retirement community.

“Just going out and about and talking to people is better than sitting at home,” she said. “It keeps you fit. I think it’s good for me.”

While Mrs Fredrickson does all these things to keep busy and active in retirement, she may also be extending her healthy lifespan inadvertently.

Living in an environment that encourages an active lifestyle is known to improve physical and mental health, while reducing the risk of chronic illnesses.

Having easy access to inviting facilities, and socialising with people who also enjoy exercise has changed Mrs Fredrickson’s life. For the first time she is enjoying regular swimming, and going to the gym.

She is among the 42 per cent of Australians aged over 70 years who meet the national physical activity guidelines, according to a recent survey conducted by the ABS.

These guidelines recommend seniors partake in at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most, and preferably all days, totalling 150 to 300 minutes a week. Further, they also recommend that adults undertake strength or toning activities two days a week.

Making exercise an enjoyable habit

Being active has always been part of Mrs Fredrickson’s day, having lived on a dairy farm near Eungella, 100km from Mackay, for her adult life.

Now, Mrs Fredrickson’s walking and gym attendance has become a habit, built into the structure of her days. The region includes many enjoyable areas to walk, while the gym and pool are located within her retirement village’s grounds.

With Carlyle Gardens Mackay located near a watercourse of the Pioneer River, she walks down in the morning along the paths and railway bridge, then by the waterside.

“It’s probably three-quarters of an hour and I walk back,” she said. “If I see someone, then it’s ‘Hello, how are you?’ I came from the bush and I think we're a friendly type of people in the bush.”

She said she enjoys both the exercise itself, as well as the social aspect.

“In summer I go to the pool, in winter I go to the gym. I really enjoy the pool. You don’t just have to swim, there are weights you pull up and down. Then you have a talk and there are other people there.”

Don’t forget balance exercise

University of Sydney Professor Anne Tiedemann from the Institute for Musculoskeletal Health said maintaining physical activity was critical for health and ageing, across all ages.

“Being more active is really helpful for promoting health and wellbeing but also specific things like heart and lung health and keeping your brain healthy,” she said.

“Physical activity reduces the risk of some cancers such as bowel and breast cancer. We know it can improve concentration, reduce anxiety and depression and improve sleep, and promotes better social connection with people. It also assists physical function. That’s extremely important - keeping our muscles, joints and bones strong.”

Prof Tiedemann said the most important enabler was finding an activity that people could do and liked to do.

“We know people need to feel capable, that they’re able to do the activity,” she said.

“The key to that is finding something you enjoy. The best activity is the one that you will do.”

Professor Tiedemann said while most people understood the importance of cardio and strength exercise, one area many Australians don’t prioritise is balance exercise, which is especially important as people age.

“We know if people have a fall, it can be the end of independence. To maintain independence and live as you want to live, it’s extremely important to be active and maintain your strength and balance,” she said.

She suggested the first steps to becoming more active could be finding a fun activity, perhaps in consultation with a doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.

Next, she explained that finding motivation for the activity is important. It could be being more able to play with grandchildren or being able to continue to take the stairs into a home, or remaining independent.

The surroundings also play an important role, with paths, lighting and a safe environment all important.

Professor Tiedemann said activity should be viewed as an opportunity, and not an inconvenience.

“We know exercise is really beneficial,” she said.

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