Over 60? Here's how to prevent mobility issues and stay active for longer

Maintaining muscle strength and keeping belly fat at bay could be the secrets to a healthier older age

A senior couple walking along a path
(Image credit: Getty)

You may have heard the phrase, "getting older is inevitable; aging is optional." This quote can be found on mugs, greetings cards, and motivational posters. Depending on the context, it's either an observation about maintaining a positive mental attitude or commentary on the difference between old age and ill-health.

You may already take the best supplements for joints to reduce inflammation and prevent aching pains, but new research has found that avoiding excess belly fat and maintaining muscular strength is key to staying mobile as we age. 

Researchers at the Federal University of São Carlos and University College London explored the link between obesity and slower walking speeds, an essential part of our daily lives. The study found that participants with high levels of abdominal fat and weak muscles were more likely to have difficulty walking. 

The 2,294 participants, who were all over 60 years old, were split into four groups based on physical attributes like abdominal fat and muscular strength. The eight-year study found that the group with high abdominal fat and low muscle strength had a significant drop in walking speed, down 0.15m/s compared to the baseline for over-60s of 0.8m/s. 

an elderly person crossing a road

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"At this rate there may come a time when they can't cross the street in the time allowed by traffic lights," noted Roberta de Oliveira Máximo, one of the study's authors. Interestingly, this sizeable decrease in walking speeds was only found in the group with higher fat levels and muscle weakness. 

The combined effect of both physical conditions seemed to be responsible for this group's difficulty in walking. Initially, this seemed to be in contrast with previous studies on the matter. However, the researchers point out that at least one of the published studies used a sample with "higher gait speed [and] greater strength at baseline, [so] the decline might only be evident in a longer follow-up period."

This suggests that if you enter your later years with good muscle strength and lower fat levels, even if your body changes as you age, you're less likely to see such severe impacts on your everyday activities.

If you need some help knowing where to start when it comes to these fitness factors,  we've got some recommended reading. For muscle strength, try bodyweight exercises that target specific areas of the body, such as the best workouts for arms and the best leg workouts.

Meanwhile if belly fat is a concern, read our guide on how to get a slim waist, along with the best exercises for weight loss.

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.