Exercise -- the Real Fountain of
Want to age gracefully? Keep moving.
Regular exercise can reduce the
risk of chronic disease -- such as heart trouble, diabetes, even
cancer -- and keep you feeling and looking younger as you age.
While the message is clear, it's
not getting through to the majority of older Americans. Only 11
percent of people aged 65 or older responding to a government
survey earlier this year said they engaged in strength training
two or more days each week, the recommended level to improve overall
health and fitness.
And only about 6 percent of the
respondents met the national objectives for engaging in both physical
activity and strength training, according to the survey, published
by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But minimal efforts at getting
more physical activity offer big payoffs, experts say.
"Many of the chronic health conditions
we experience as we age come from disuse rather than aging, and
exercise can retard the onset of many of those conditions," says
Colin Milner, head of the International Council on Active Aging,
a trade association of more than 3,500 organizations that specializes
in senior fitness.
Need proof? Consider this: Starting
at age 50, people begin to lose 12 percent of their muscle strength
and 6 percent of their muscle mass every decade. But weight training
can reverse these effects in a big way. Two to three months of
weight training three times a week can increase muscle strength
and mass by one-third, making up for three decades of loss of
muscle strength and muscle mass, said University of Maryland kinesiologist
And it's never too late to start,
said Julie McNeney, vice president of education for the International
Council on Active Aging.
"You can be as fit as you want
to be," McNeney said. Of course, she added, "you can't regain
the strength you had when you were 18 or 19."
Still, she said, seniors "can run
in marathons, they can participate in the senior Olympic games."
Or they can just get off the couch
and engage in less strenuous pursuits such as gardening and walking,
and reap benefits.
McNeney urges older adults to first
think about what their goals are, and what being fit means to
Whether your goal as an older adult
is to run a marathon or lift groceries without straining, some
of McNeney's advice is the same: Set realistic goals.
Dr. Jack Higgins is vice president
for health promotion for Fifty-Plus Lifelong Fitness, a Palo Alto,
Calif.-based organization devoted to the promotion of physical
activity for adults at midlife and beyond.
"Start slowly," he tells older
adults who have been sedentary. "Don't overdo. If you get hurt,
it stops you in your tracks."
The myth that fitness is for the
young is gradually fading, Higgins said. "I think people are starting
to understand you don't stop moving when you hit 40 or 50."
"Much of what happens with aging,
what goes wrong with the body, is due to under use rather than
wear and tear," he said.
Anyone resuming or starting an
exercise program should first get a doctor's OK, agreed Higgins
and McNeney. Beyond that, they offer a host of other tips and
guidance to get and stay motivated.
The goal is to work up to a minimum
of 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week.
If you're unsure of how much stamina
you have, start out with walking as your primary exercise.
Later on, you can add strength
training, such as doing weight machines or free weights. Get advice
from a professional.
And don't neglect two other aspects
of fitness -- flexibility, gained by stretching before and after
exercise, and balance, crucial to prevent falling, especially
as you get older.
With age, poor balance can make
falls more likely, and falls can result in painful and sometimes
life-threatening hip fractures, Higgins said. So doing a few balancing
exercises daily can help. They can be as simple as holding onto
a chair or a wall for stability, then raising one leg off the
ground, then the other.
Exercising in groups is especially
motivating for seniors, Higgins said. That applies double to those
who are social but reluctant to exercise, he added.
If the prospect of joining a gym
is intimidating, consider doing other, less-structured activities,
such as mowing the grass or doing housework.
Finally, be sure to fit in activity
throughout the day to get the recommended 30 minutes of activity,
McNeney said. "If you watch two hours of TV a day, instead of
sitting watching the commercials or channel surfing, get up and
walk around the house, up the stairs, or march in place," she
said. "If you would do that with a two-hour [TV] session, you
would accumulate the [recommended] 30 minutes."
Reference Source 101
August 16, 2004