Aging Options

5 myths about exercising for older adults

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Have you eliminated your movement-based activities and replaced them with sitting-based activities?  In a recent survey, 65 percent of seniors admitted that they had two or more chronic conditions but the survey found that seniors are often apathetic about doing something to improve their health.  

The United States of Aging Survey by the National Council on Aging found that one-fourth of seniors indicated they did no exercise despite concerns about maintaining their quality of life and health and a slightly higher percentage expected their lives to get worse in the next five years.  A third of all seniors have taken no steps to prevent having a fall.  So you’d think that there would be a reason or a barrier of some sort to cause people to say that they won’t take even minor steps to improve their chances of aging healthy but in fact the survey found that 46 percent of all seniors did not find the lack of energy, money, willpower or insurance were the deciding factors to do nothing.  They chose to do nothing because that was their choice.

Exercise helps to build muscle and bone strength or maintain it if you already have it.  People with chronic pain conditions such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, back pain or other conditions can improve their overall condition by strengthening the muscles of their stomach, hips and thighs.    Stronger muscles can take weight and stress away from joints while repeated mild stress to bones helps them to maintain their calcium content and structure.  Repetitive motion can help lubricate joint surfaces and help lessen joint stiffness and achiness.  Here are some other reasons it’s important to stay active.

A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that despite our longer lives we aren’t living better.  Most of us will live a decade or longer with disabilities or poor health.   WHO recommends that older adults (65+) get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.  Here are the global recommendations from WHO for older adults.  If you are like most people, you’ve developed a list of reasons why their recommendations pertain to someone other than yourself.  Here are five of the most used excuses for not applying yourself physically to the task of staying out of a nursing home.

1. I’m already too far out of shape to ever recover.  It’s true that if it’s been awhile or you’ve never exercised you need to take some precautions.  Ideally you would have a chat with your doctor and he or she could recommend some light exercises for starting out.  One of the easiest exercise options is to go for a walk.  Walking requires very little equipment (appropriate clothing and comfortable shoes) and you’re liable to already have what you need.  The benefit to walking is that no one but you has to know your goal.  Your goal could be to walk to the mail box this week and then to gradually increase that distance over weeks until you reach the length of your block and then around the block.

When I moved into my neighborhood years ago, there was an older man who ran every day.  It’s an exaggeration to say he ran as on my slowest walks I was faster than he.  He puffed and sweated and I worried every day for him but that man now runs a giant circle through my neighborhood and has a weight room in his shed.  He no longer has the least problem breathing even if he is talking while he runs and while I couldn’t begin to guess how much weight he’s dropped, it’s substantial.  I’ve never asked but I assumed he’d had a heart attack and started to exercise because his doctor told him too.  That’s how bad he looked.  Today, he looks healthy and frankly he looks happy.  Being consistent is the secret to success with exercise

2. I’m too old.  Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru once said, “”The only way you can hurt the body is not use it.  Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it’s never too late.”  LaLanne said his life was transformed when as a 15 year old boy struggling with bulimia and headaches, he heard a lecture by pioneering nutritionist Paul Bragg.  “After the lecture I went to his dressing room and spent an hour and a half with him. He said, ‘Jack, you’re a walking garbage can.'”

He was an early proponent of lifting weights.  At a time when doctors were preaching that lifting weights would likely cause people to have heart attacks, LaLanne was opening one of the first fitness clubs and was one of the first to suggest that the elderly, women and disabled should also exercise.

As people age, they tend to lose muscle mass in a condition known as sarcopenia.  That reduced muscle strength is one of the major causes of disability as we age.   We might not even notice the first signs of our increasing disability (or age) thanks to what Dr. Mark Lachs, a geriatric physician and writer of “Treat Me, Not My Age” calls an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the human body.  We have so much excess capacity beginning at birth that it’s not until much later in life that we begin to notice the lack of capacity (for most people that time is between 80 to 90).  Lachs says that we can “tweak” that time-frame so that you never experience severe disability and you delay a future date with a wheelchair or walker.

3. I’m too busy.  How busy will you be when you can no longer live unassisted?  You can get a decent amount of exercise by working out 20 to 30 minutes three times a week.  You can do your exercises in 10 minute increments.  You could exercise simply by running (or walking) in place whenever a commercial came on.  I pick on television for a reason.  A 2007 study published in the “Monthly Labor Review” on how Americans spend their leisure time found that at that time, individuals 65 to 69 watched an average of 3.1 hours of television a day.  The study also found that those 70 and over watched an average of 3.8 hours of television a day.  Those numbers are for women.  Men watched even more television.  Robert Kane, Director of of the Center on Aging and the Minnesota Geriatric Education Center a the University of Minnesota was interviewed by author Dan Buettner about how to find time to exercise.  In “The Blue  Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” Kane suggests that rather than exercising for the sake of exercising, people should try to make changes to their lifestyle such as riding a bike instead of driving or taking the stairs instead of an escalator.  Those kinds of behavioral changes are easier to sustain over a lifetime and that’s the key to staying healthy.

4. I might fall.  Exercises not only build strength and tone muscles but they strengthen our balance.  For those people truly concerned that they might fall while exercising, there are exercise options that don’t require leaving a chair.  One such program is the Sit and Be Fit created by Mary Ann Wilson, an RN in the field of post-polio rehabilitation and geriatrics.  Her program has won awards for years and can be found on PBS and YouTube.

5.  Exercise is boring.  Routines can make work of even the most fun activities so it’s little wonder that many people consider the daily drudge of an exercise program to be… well the physical equivalent of going to the dentist.  But exercise comes in many shapes and sizes and while it can be a chore to create work outs that continue to be fresh and exciting day after day, you’ve only to hang out in the morning at your nearest shopping mall to find people who look happy and engaged as they troop around the inside of a giant box.  Mall walker make use of having buddies to chat with to help them stay engaged but you can achieve many of the same sort of benefits by having workout buddies, whether it’s a pickup game of hoops (yes, seniors can play basketball) or dancing, gardening, swimming or Tai Chi.  Having a group of friends in the same activity will make the time fly and force you to be accountable for your exercise routine.  Who knows you might get good enough to try out for the Washington State Senior Olympics. Here is a list of exercises your grandparents did without paying a gym fee.

Why should an elder law attorney be concerned about your health?  Everything to do with aging is wrapped around whether or not you remain healthy as you age.  Will you run out of money?  The chances you will increase dramatically if you need to move to specialized housing or need specialized care of any sort.  Will you be able to  remain in your home?  People with two or more chronic diseases often find that they cannot.  Will you be a burden on your children?  It depends upon what you consider a burden but the chances increase that your children will be involved in the financial, housing, legal or health areas of your life if you allow your health to slide to the point that you yourself cannot remain in charge of them.  From what we now know, good health isn’t something you start at 60.  I’m not saying you can’t start at 60 and see some real benefits.  You can start at 93 and see some benefits.  For the optimum amount of benefits though, you need to start being concerned about and working at being healthy when you are in your 20s, 30s and 40s.  Barring that, you should start today.

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