Aging is inevitable. It is possible, however, to curb many of the effects of aging with regular physical activity. We all want to maintain quality of life and good health as we age, and exercise is essential to maintaining good health.
Typically, as human beings age they become more susceptible to diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, cancers, and strokes. As a result of these seniors become less active. The less we move, the more susceptible we are to various conditions and diseases, and thus the vicious cycle of inactivity begins.
Don’t Slow Down
Maybe you’ve been under the impression that we should take it easy as we get older. Now we know just the opposite is true. Researchers are now finding that many of the conditions commonly believed to result from aging really result from not using the body enough. Health Canada reports that sedentary older adults are at a 50-percent higher risk for all diseases.
As we age, it is important that we remain active–with inactivity comes muscular shortening, tightening, and weakness. Lack of weight-bearing activities contributes to bone-density loss and osteoporosis. Lack of movement can also lead to loss in joint range of motion and mobility. Prolonged sitting or resting also contributes to loss of balance, as the body is not challenged and reactivity quickly diminishes. According to the Canadian National Population Health Survey, only 14 percent of seniors are sufficiently active to maintain good health.
To combat the effects of aging, we need to get up off our sofas and actively engage in life.
Some may feel that starting an exercise program involves an overwhelming commitment, beyond what they feel is achievable. The good news is that exercise is not strictly limited to attending fitness classes or going to the gym and lifting weights.
Functional fitness means being active for a purpose beyond sculpting a beautiful, toned body or being able to run 10 kilometres. Functional fitness relies on doing tasks that engage the body on a daily basis. These exercises involve challenging the muscles needed to be able to get in and out of a chair or car with ease, tackling a long flight of stairs without being breathless, or simply maintaining the ability to engage in active play with a grandchild.
Do It Inside…
There are a variety of ways to attain and maintain functional fitness. If you plan to start exercising at a fitness facility, aerobic classes of various types and formats abound, from yoga and Pilates to core conditioning and indoor group cycling. Find a class that fits your needs and get moving. Lifting weights will aid in your fight against osteoporosis and will also combat the loss of muscle mass that occurs with age. Perhaps the water is more your medium; check out an aquacise class, a water running or walking program, or simply take the plunge for a few laps of the community centre pool.
Despite the popularity of such facilities, there are many individuals who would prefer to exercise outdoors.
Or Do It Outside…
If you hear the call of the great outdoors, consider any one of a number of activities, depending on the season and your locale. In the winter months, cross-country skiing combines great muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and challenges in agility and balance. In spring, summer, or fall, consider using moderate hiking trails for brisk walks that provide a challenge to the cardiovascular system.
Regimented exercise schedules aren’t for everyone. Get out and throw or kick a ball with your grandchild in the park; retrieving the ball on an unstable surface will challenge your coordination, balance, and cardiovascular system. If your grandchild isn’t yet old enough to play kickball or catch, go for a brisk walk while pushing the stroller, going uphill for an increased cardiovascular challenge.
Just Do It
The clear message from health practitioners and fitness professionals alike is that whatever exercise modality tickles your fancy, you need to just get out there and do it. The most important thing is finding something that you enjoy that will contribute to leading a more functional life.
Regular exercise will aid in combatting a number of diseases generally associated with aging; however, many of the benefits will come in the form of increased energy, better stamina, restful sleep, and a better mood. Exercise is the key to increased longevity and a better quality of life.
Aging + a Sedentary Lifestyle =
- loss of muscle mass
- increased body fat
- poor circulation
- chronic pain
- reduced range of motion
- heart disease
- various forms of cancer
- inadequate restful sleep
Fit as a Fiddle
For muscular strength and endurance, a disease-free sedentary adult needs to use strength training at least twice per week, one exercise each for each major muscle group to include legs, back, chest, shoulders, arms, and abdominal muscles.
Lift weights approximately eight to 15 times, gradually working up to 70 to 80 percent of your one-repetition capacity; that is, a weight that you could lift only a single time. It is recommended that a very sedentary individual begin at an even lower level and gradually work up in intensity. The strength training session need last only about 30 minutes.
For cardiovascular efficiency, it is recommended that you work up to at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise on most days. The exercise can be almost anything that will gradually raise heart rate and can include walking, bicycling, and many other activities, in or out of a health club setting. Sedentary adults can begin with as little as 40 percent of estimated maximum heart rate and work up to a range of 50 to 85 percent.
In as little as six to 10 weeks with a weekly investment of just three or four hours, you should notice a change in your energy level, appearance, and even outlook. It is understandably easy to find reasons not to embark on a functional fitness program, but the benefits are so great that it makes sense to bite the bullet and just do it.
Source: Therry, Leonard D. “Goal for Senior Exercises: Functional Fitness!” © American Senior Fitness Association: seniorfitness.net/Therry_Functional.htm.