Bendy for Life

How can we become fit 80 year olds?


Have you got a vision for yourself when you’re older?

I do! I want to be mobile enough to do all the things that I enjoy! Dancing, walking, running, yoga, looking after grandchildren… just to name a few! (And I’d love to be doing pretty well mentally too!)

In this mini blog I will write about what we need to be doing NOW to enable that future vision to come true.

I’ll review a few research studies that have looked at data across the life-course to see what people are doing in middle age (or younger) to enable a more active and healthy older age.

This topic is relevant to EVERYONE. The younger you start thinking about your future self, the more likely it is that your future self will be strong and fit!


Why think about ageing?

Thankfully, it’s easy to be optimistic about our ourselves when we’re in our 70s and 80s, from our current point of view in younger bodies. (And 30s, 40s and 50s is STILL young!)

“I’ll be like those young-at-heart oldies in California!”

Perhaps ageing is a topic that you’d like to ignore. After all, if you’re in your 30s, 40s or 50s, then there’s still ages left, right? That’s true! However…

The saying “start as you mean to continue” is REALLY relevant when it comes to our physical abilities in older age. How can you expect your 70 year old self to attend a yoga class, if you’re not laying the foundation for this now?

Our bodies inevitably become less able with age. If you start off today with a low level of fitness, strength and flexibility, then this will decline steadily over the next 20, 30, 40 years…

But if you get your mobility, cardio-fitness and strength at a great level TODAY then (despite age-related declines) you’ll be at a MUCH better place in your 80s!

That’s the (quite obvious) theory, but what does the research say?


Life-course research

Life-course research uses the assumption that our behaviours (and environmental influences on us) all throughout our life have a cumulative effect on how we will be at the end of our lives.

“Isn’t that obvious?” I hear you ask.

Yes, it is obvious. But even so, not all research uses this perspective! And it is actually quite difficult to study the life-course effect. Researchers need to collect data from the same individuals throughout their whole lives. (This means studies need to be 90 years long!)

Thankfully, there are longitudinal studies that have been collecting data from volunteers for decades. Other studies have interviewed older adults and asked them to recall their lifestyles and physical activity levels in the past.

Researchers have been able to learn some interesting things from these!


How can we be MOBILE 80-year-olds?

What can we do NOW to be mobile in older age?

Mobility is not a very sexy term, but it is THE MOST useful thing for when we’re older. Just think: the ability to walk, drive a car, engage in active hobbies, cook, clean, wash and dress ourselves and socialise!

Well, Patel et al. (2006) interviewed 1026 Italian older adults about their past and also assessed their physical mobility at their current age. They found that more exercise in mid-life led to stronger legs and a faster walking pace when participants were in their 70s.

This is NOT surprising, BUT it is nevertheless a wake-up call if you’re not currently exercising!


Mid-life is the time to get STRONG!

Strength is also linked with maintained mobility and the ability to have FUN in our older years.

A different research group (Dodds et al., 2013) used a longitudinal dataset of people in the UK (the MRC NSHD study). These volunteers had entered the study at birth in 1946, and were regularly followed-up by researchers until 2010!

Between 2006-2010 (when volunteers were 60-64 years old) 2,229 volunteers were still alive and able to take part.

Volunteers who had done more Leisure Time Physical Activity (LTPA) across mid-life had a better grip strength at age 60–64, in both men and women. Grip strength is closely correlated with whole body strength and many other markers of good health.

This association only appeared in the data after age 53, so the researchers argued that Leisure-Time Physical Activity is especially important in mid-life.

LTPA is a wide term, including any leisure activity that uses the body. So think, walking, running, cycling, golf, yoga, weight-training, other exercise (and more!)


But we forget about ourselves!

I don’t know about you, but most people I know in mid-life (or approaching it) are SO BUSY with taking care of their children or their older parents, or with their demanding jobs that they FORGET about their own fitness!

It’s easy to think,:

“oh I’m too busy for this now. I’ll get onto exercise when my kids are older, or when I’m retired, or …. (insert other future time-frame)”.

Another thing I have noticed is that us (women) approaching or at mid-life are also not thinking about building STRENGTH.

However, it is EXTRA important at this age to think about our fitness and strength. It is extra important to get comfortable with swinging a dumb-bell, or to spending some time in plank or down-ward dog!

So ladies, let’s build some strength NOW!


What about BRAIN health?

Lastly, do you want a healthy BRAIN in your 80s? (That’s a rhetorical question because… of course you do!)

Well, the evidence points towards the need to be active in mid-life too.

Gow et al. (2017) analysed data from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921. This is a study that recruited its volunteers at age 11 (they were all born in 1921). Most of them completed a mental ability test at age 11, and the surviving volunteers completed a cognitive test at ages 79, 83, 87 and 90 years.

Volunteers recalled their activity participation for young (20–35 years), mid (40–55 years), and later adulthood (60–75 years), and at the time of the study (average age of 79).

The researchers found that engagement in leisure activities in mid-life was positively associated with having a better cognitive ability (brain health) in later life.

So, this is yet another reason for those of us approaching (or at) mid-life to start valuing and prioritising our own fitness needs!


“So, what’s all this got to do with yoga?”

I personally find yoga the perfect mobility and ‘age-proofing’ exercise. The style of yoga that I practice works on flexibility, strength, and balance! These are all aspects that inevitably get a little worse as we get older.

With age:

  • Tendons naturally become stiffer…
  • Muscles start to loose strength (Sarcopenia)…
  • Balance becomes more challenging…

(Sorry to put a downer on your day! But it’s true!)

So, MY view is that establishing a sustainable habit of yoga TODAY (whatever age you are), and aiming to keep this going long-term is a great bet for making your older-age vision come true.


What does AGE-PROOFING yoga look like?

An age-proofing yoga routine should include aspects of flexibility, strength and balance. So, just the relaxing kind of yoga (such a Yin or Yoga Nidra) won’t cut it!

I personally LOVE an Ashtanga-inspired yoga style (combined with some squats with a kettle bell and occasional short runs!)

Ashtanga yoga incorporates lots of planks and push-up style movements that really strengthen the arms, back and core. It also uses plenty of balance-challenging poses, and works on hip and shoulder flexibility.

As yoga generally doesn’t build leg-strength that much, adding in some extra squats with a weight is super beneficial for building that lower body strength that will keep you standing, walking and climbing stairs into older age.


The challenges of mid-life!

This is THE BUSIEST time of your life! Kids, jobs, parents, pets. etc. etc. etc. (Trust me, I get it!)

Your fitness routine has to fit in to this busy existence. So I don’t expect you to go marathon training!

That’s why I am a big fan of SHORT sessions, REGULARLY. Rather than a one-hour class once a week, I believe three session at home of 15-30 minutes would be more useful! (or even five minutes!!) As long as you’re getting into the habit of doing it regularly.

(For some science behind this idea, see my Exercise Snacking blog).

I KNOW that it is a huge challenge to put yourself first when it feels like you’re looking after everybody…

But, if you can find a way SOMEHOW to work on your strength, flexibility and balance today (even if it’s just a tiny bit)…

…then your 80-year-old self will thank you!


Take a little moment to visualise your ideal 80 year old self.

What activities do you want to be able to do?

And whatever she/he is doing – think about how you can ‘train’ for this TODAY.

However fit and mobile you want to be at age 80, you need to be TWICE that level right now!

What can you do NOW?

Then, take another moment to honestly reflect on where your mobility and fitness is right now. If necessary, plan to get in some more strength training or yoga!

Three cheers to the fit-oldies!!!

Learn more about BendyLife yoga!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in comments below!

Jolanthe x


Dodds, R., Kuh, D., Aihie Sayer, A., & Cooper, R. (2013). Physical activity levels across adult life and grip strength in early old age: updating findings from a British birth cohort. Age and ageing42(6), 794-798.

Gow, A. J., Pattie, A., & Deary, I. J. (2017). Lifecourse activity participation from early, mid, and later adulthood as determinants of cognitive aging: The Lothian Birth Cohort 1921. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences72(1), 25-37.

Patel, K. V., Coppin, A. K., Manini, T. M., Lauretani, F., Bandinelli, S., Ferrucci, L., & Guralnik, J. M. (2006). Midlife physical activity and mobility in older age: The InCHIANTI study. American journal of preventive medicine31(3), 217-224.

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