From hill walking to Nordic walking and swimming, here's what you should be doing in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond

Woman swimming

Improve your health by taking up swimming © iStock

Take note of the quote: ‘The flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long’, because it seems that, in terms of exercising for healthy longevity, less is definitely more.

‘A routine of moderate physical activity will add life to your years as well as years to your life,’ says cardiologist Dr James O’Keefe, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in the USA.

Research shows that endurance sports, such as long-distance running, can reduce life expectancy by damaging the heart. It turns out less vigorous exercise, such as swimming and walking, are the keys to fitness in old age.

But do make sure that you get your heart rate pumping regularly, too, by upping the pace of your walking or swimming so you’re a little breathless. Just make sure you don’t go flat out all the time.

How hard you push it will depend on your particular level of fitness. You should be slightly out of breath but able to hold a conversation.

In your 40s

Climb every mountain! Or at least consider climbing a few of them, since hill walking is a great way to strengthen muscles, heart and lungs, without putting the body at risk of injury.

If you’re unfit, begin by walking on the flat and eventually tackle some low hills; once your fitness has been built, you can enjoy more challenging slopes.

If you don’t feel safe heading out alone, join a walking club or take a four-legged friend. Before beginning a walking fitness regime, it’s advisable to have a gait assessment with a physiotherapist.

And if you don’t have hills near where you live, do a spot of power walking – picking up your pace and pumping your arms for an extra workout.

In your 50s

Walking with poles is an increasingly popular form of gentle cardiovascular exercise.

Called Nordic walking, it burns up to 46% more calories than regular walking, increases upper body strength, and reduces pressure on the knees and joints.

Force is applied to the poles (which are similar to ski poles) with each stride, so the walking provides a good workout, yet feels stable and easy. Many people learn and participate in Nordic walking in a group, so it can be very sociable.

For more information, and to find a teacher near you, go to nordicwalking.co.uk.

In your 60s

Don’t underestimate small amounts of exercise and slow, gentle movement as a way to boost health. A swim three times a week is ideal; and walking is just as important.

‘Walking is a weight-bearing exercise, so it can stimulate tissue growth and renewal of bone,’ says physio Louise McGregor.

‘Evidence suggests you should aim for 10,000 steps per day (about five miles) to stay healthy.’

If possible, walk through a park or in the countryside, as research by the University of Essex shows that contact with nature during exercise reduces depression and improves confidence.

70s and beyond

Try to incorporate walking into your normal routine, such as walking to the shops for milk, newspapers and magazines every day, and keep mobile at home, too, doing the cleaning, for example.

If you have stairs in the house, try to go up and down them as often as possible (if you don’t, get a fitness step such as the Bodymax Mini Fitness Step, £19.99 from tesco.com).

This maintains the leg strength required to keep you mobile and coordinated in old age, and reduces your risk of falls. ‘Walking is an ideal form of exercise for this age group, because it boosts leg strength,’ says Professor John Saxton.

‘And stair walking adds another level of intensity on top of that.’

Added Extras

What to eat

The number one thing you can do for long-term health is look after your digestion, says naturopath and nutritionist Zoe Palmer-Wright.

‘Good digestion and healthy gut flora will lower your risk of diseases, from cancer to dementia. If your gut bacteria is out of balance, your absorption of nutrients will be affected.

‘You may also experience gas and bloating. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, detoxifying fresh green vegetables and live yogurt will boost healthy gut flora, while omega-3-rich fish, nuts and seeds all help to look after your gut lining.’

What to take

One of the best all-round health-boosting supplements is Solgar 7 (£25.99), says nutritionist Judy Watson.

‘It’s packed with herbs and vitamins including vitamin C for immune strength, boswellia for small blood vessels, turmeric, ginger and collagen for healthier joints, and even white willow bark – a herbal version of aspirin.’