Aging and exercise: The Most Important Steps Seniors Can Take To Stay Healthy

At some point, human beings lose the ability to respond effetively to the anging process. This myth has lived with us for generations, but it’s just that – A MYTH.

There are numerous factors that enter into a person’s attitude about growing older. Chronic illnesses play a major role. Sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle, is a key factor of the central problem. But it’s never too late to start exercising. There are strategies anyone can design no matter what age, no matter what physical condition. Study after study has demonstrated that the single most important activity a person can do to slow down and even reverse the aging process is to exercise.

Planning ahead
Being more active on a daily basis could be the most critical thing anyone can do. For some people this might be as simple as taking a 30-minute walk once a day. If this seems too challenging, then three 10-minute walks might be less threatening. For others it might be getting up from the couch to change the channels on the TV instead of using the remote control. Parking your car far away from the entrance to a store instead of finding the closest parking space can add a few more steps to your day and maybe a few more years to your life. Each physical activity a person disciplines himself to do will further his overall development. Each step can become a necessary component until the day comes when he or she is ready to start an exercise program.

Aging and exercise

Choosing a doctor
Many physicians are still caught up in the old fashioned thinking regarding what an older person can physically do. If your doctor tells you that you should not do a particular exercise, ask why you shouldn’t. If you are uncomfortable asking that question, then be sure to get a second opinion. This second opinion could be from another physician or an exercise specialist, such as an exercise physiologist or a certified fitness practitioner. Ask your physician if he or she has patients who are older athletes. Use your own judgement on the physical condition of the physician. Is he or she a good example of robust health?

Getting started
The most meaningful consideration for an older person is the ability to perform daily functions. This includes, for example, getting dressed, driving, using the toilet, shopping, cooking, and climbing stairs. As a person ages and muscle strength declines, each activity becomes increasingly difficult. Without muscle strength, everything becomes a difficult chore. Loss of muscle mass and strength are the primary factors in the aging process.

What kind of exercise to do
Now that you’ve started to include more physical activities into your daily routine, you’ve gotten clearance from your doctor, and you are ready to begin, what form of exercise should you participate in? Stretching? Aerobics? Cardiovascular? A sport? Resistance training? Yoga? All of these have value. But the foundation for each of these activites is the muscular strength to do them. Many older people limit their activities because of a reduction in strength, not because of a lack of cardiovascular endurance. As people age they frequently find that they walk more slowly. There are many elements that can cause this slower pace. But the single most important factor in the rate at which people walk is muscle strength. Progressive resistance training is the surest way to promote good health and fitness. Many physicians feel that resistance training causes an unwanted stress to the cardiovascular system. They think that resistance training can dangerously increase blood pressure or heart rate. Actually the opposite is true — resistance training will increase a person’s cardiac capacity and have a positive effect on blood pressure and heart rate.

What is progressive resistance training?
It is the resistance to the force of gravity by using weights, machines, or elastic bands. A person just starting an exercise program can even use common objects such as soup cans as weights. Resisting the force of gravity by lifting a weight for a number of repetitions will begin to increase muscle mass and increase strength. Progressively increasing resistance will produce a further increase in muscular strength, lean muscle tissue, and muscular endurance — all essential for functioning effectively in everyday life. A good rule to follow in determining how much weight to use is to lift a weight that will tire you out in ten repetitions. If a person can lift that weight 20 or 25 times, then it’s too light for muscle growth. The primary purpose of progressive resistance training is to increase muscle strength and muscle tissue. Once a weight becomes light enough to lift for more than ten repetitions, it’s time to increase the weight. This is true for elastic bands as well. A person might add a weight belt or carry small weights in his or her hands when walking as another method of resistance.

Value of resistance training
Through resistance training, blood pressure is reduced, stamina is increased, and a person’s balance is improved. In addition, for many postmenopausal women, bone density is increased from resistance training. Falling down is common for many older persons. Often a fall results in bone breakage and the end of an active ambulatory life. These falls can be caused by dizziness, loss of balance, reduced bone density, and weakened muscles. Resistance training improves each of these areas, making falling less frequent and less serious.

Exercise and body weight
Regular exercise causes an increase in the basal metabolic rate — BMR (rate at which food is utilized by the body). Aerobic exercise produces an increase in this rate for many hours after the exercise is complete, while resistance training, which increases lean body mass, will permanently effect BMR. This enables food to be utilized more effectively, and not merely to be stored as fat. Persons who regularly exercise often find themselves eating more and weighing less. Others will find that their weight does not change, but their proportions alter since fat takes up more room than muscle.

Activities older persons should not do
Unless a person has been an active runner, older persons should not take up running or jogging. The additional stresses placed upon the joints far outweigh the value gained from running. For many older people, connective tissue is not very elastic. Orthopedic injuries are common among runners of all ages. Forms of exercise other than running are preferable for an older person.

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