Too many of our older population give up and give into aging because they feel it is too late to start being active. But you know what? That is a bunch of prunes! So you are a little slower, your reflexes aren't as sharp as they used to be, and your joints make more noise than a jackhammer. While you may not qualify for that job as a ballet dancer at the academy, it doesn't mean you need to roll over into that great big television chair and watch everyone else lead active lives.
Ask yourself: Do you want to feel better on a daily basis? Are you willing and motivated to work toward personal fitness? If so, you have a great opportunity to increase your mobility, get physically stronger, and decrease your risks for heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity and falls from lack of balance and strength. How does that sound to you? If your attitude is positive and you are ready to kick start yourself out of that reclining chair, tell "Spiderman" to move over ... here come supergranny and supergrandpa!
It's Too Late, I'm Old!
It's never too late to get active and fit. Being active may be as simple as making physical activity a part of your everyday routine. You see, part of aging well is keeping both mentally and physically active. Even folks who are usually inactive can improve their health and well-being with moderate activity on a daily basis. This activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits because the dividends of health can be achieved by increasing the duration, intensity and frequency of your fitness program.
No, I'm not talking about being the next champion body builder at your local healthclub, but I'm saying that you may be surprised at how much better you will feel by increasing your body's "giddy-up and go."
Does Fitness Really Matter?
Improving your fitness makes a difference in your life. Physical activity can help promote "functional fitness," which is the strength, balance, flexibility and endurance needed to carry out activities of daily life, including playing with the grandkids, which can drain even a 20-year-old. Other benefits? You will be better able to stand up, sit down, go up and down stairs, and stand at a sink long enough to prepare meals. You may even notice that you are better able to operate your car.
Regular exercise also reduces your stress and anxiety while improving your overall quality of life. And, for those of you who live by yourself or feel a little lonely, exercise can provide social support because it can get you out of the house and help you reconnect with people.
The Starting Line: Where to Begin
Ready to go? OK. Let's get started!
First, easy does it. Before you begin any exercise program, talk to your doctor to ensure that you work within your healthy zone. Next, sign up to take a class at the "Y" or other recreation center where there is a certified fitness instructor who can devise a safe program for you. Once you've done that, concentrate on these four areas:
- Heart and respiratory fitness. Any activity that increases your heart rate and breathing (ask your physician for safety guidelines) over a period of 20 to 30 minutes per day is great. Choices include walking, dancing, swimming, and for you domestic folks, raking the leaves or scrubbing the floor. But the best bit of advice I have is to do something you enjoy.
- Strength exercises. These can help build or maintain your muscles, which in turn help to increase your metabolism, which can help to keep your blood sugar in check and either help you maintain or reduce your weight.
- Balance exercises. This means Tai Chi or other similar techniques that can help to decrease the risk of unwanted falls, broken bones and other injuries.
- Flexibility or stretching techniques. Yoga is a great example. I remember one instructor who said, "In yoga, we don't tell a person by their age, but by their flexibility." These types of exercises help to maintain posture and joint health.
My last word of advice: Please do not exercise to the point where you are out of breath, dizzy or have any chest pain. You can get great results by starting slowly, while incorporating a regular routine of physical activity into your daily life.
For more information on safe activities for seniors, call 1-800-222-2225 to obtain the free book called Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging.
Copyright 2003, Dr. Rob Danoff
Robert Danoff, D.O., M.S., is a family physician. He is program director of Family Practice Residency Frankford Hospitals, Jefferson Health System, Philadelphia, Pa. He also is a medical correspondent for The Comcast Network, CN8, contributing writer to the New York Times and writes a weekly medical column for the Bucks Courier Times, Bucks County Pa.