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Exercise for Seniors
Many of the problems that people associate with "aging" are actually not due to aging at all. Instead, they are due to a lack of activity. In particular,
deaths from heart disease could probably be reduced if all people participated in mild, regular exercise. Many people feel that it is dangerous to exercise after a certain age. Actually, it is probably more dangerous not to.

Older adults who exercise in moderation tend to:
  • look younger
  • feel better
  • have more energy
  • sleep better
  • have fewer medical visits and
  • stay more active in all areas of their lives.
One of the most important aspects of exercise is to pick an activity that you like. Physical activity such as walking & dancing for 30 minutes a day, or even looking after the grandchildren can have big benefits. If you have not been exercising at all for years, start slowly. Begin with even a minute or two of exercise and build up by a minute each time. Always ask your healthcare provider about any exercise plans you may have, especially if you have a medical condition.

To exercise your heart, think about an aerobic activity. Aerobic exercises work the heart and lungs as well as the muscles, and can improve overall health. Walking, swimming, cycling and dancing are all aerobic activities.

To stay strong, think about weight training. Resistance training builds lean body mass, which is important for metabolism and your heart.

To stay flexible, think about stretching activities like yoga or tai chi.

Make sure that you get the right equipment for the right sport. Good, supportive shoes are especially important in order to reduce stress or injury to the feet, knees, hips, and lower back. Besides health clubs, many other centres often have exercise programs for seniors. These include senior citizens' clubs, retirees' club, community centres, YMCA, religious groups, recreation centers, and other voluntary organizations. Regular exercise can vastly improve the quality of life for older adults.
A recent study conducted by Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania indicated exercise may slow some effects of aging. To get the desired results, people--with their doctor's approval--need to participate in strenuous exercise for at least a half-hour three times a week, according to researchers. That conclusion is from an analysis of 37 studies including 720 adults aged 46 to 90. The findings are published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.

In those studies, people who participated in at least 30 minutes of exercise three times a week and achieved at least 80% of VO2 max* can slow the decline in cardiovascular health that accompanies old age. The investigators found no difference in fitness between people who walked and jogged, and those who cycled. According to the authors, their study findings provide support for the idea that physical activity can help slow the decline of the cardiovascular system seen in elderly people. "Despite the inevitable decline in VO2 max (maximum oxygen consumption) with aging, exercise training imparts favorable adaptations in functional capacity in individuals well into the seventh and eighth decades of life," L.M. Lemura and colleagues conclude. The researchers write that the heart's capacity to use oxygen declines at a rate of about 1% a year, due in part to a lack of physical activity. "The scientific evidence has suggested that significant improvements in cardiovascular and musculo-skeletal function can occur as a result of a sufficient training stimulus; that is, an adequate intensity, duration, frequency, and mode of exercise," the authors explain.

* VO2 max is the maximum oxygen consumption, a measure of the ability to transport and use oxygen during exercise

SOURCE: Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 2000; 40:1-10.
The health benefits of exercising regularly, keeping weight down, and not smoking are supported by a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study found that a 50-year-old man who had never smoked, was physically active, and had a low body mass index (BMI) was more than twice as likely to survive for 15 years free of coronary artery disease, stroke or diabetes as a sedentary, overweight smoker the same age. That's according to an analysis of more than 7,000 healthy men aged 40 to 59. This new study agrees with other research showing that smoking increases the risk for many serious health problems, including coronary artery disease and stroke. The study authors emphasize the importance of developing a healthy lifestyle early on, but they point out that reducing risk factors later in life appears to have health benefits as well.
So you are convinced that there is huge health benefits to an exercise program. The question is how to get started. It is never too late to start exercising. These are strategies anyone can adopt 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 just to exercise. The most meaningful consideration for an older person is the ability to perform daily functions. This includes, for example, getting dressed, 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.
First Step
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 two 15-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. Getting off the bus a stop earlier or taking an extra flight of stairs will 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.

Check with your doctor before you get started. If your doctor tells you that you should not do a particular exercise, ask the exact reason for not doing it. Then you can modify your exercises accordingly and get on with your exercise plan.
Next Step
Now that you have started to include more physical activities into your daily routine and you have gotten clearance from your doctor, you are ready to begin. What form of exercise should you participate in? Think in terms of two types of exercise:
Aerobic exercise - which will increase your cardiovascular capacity and keep your heart healthy OR
Strength training - which will help maintain and build muscle strength for the body to do its daily work.
Brisk walking - remember the 30-minute walk you have been doing. After you have been doing it daily for 2 weeks, you should be feeling ready to increase the pace. Walk a little faster, maintain a pace that will deepen your breathing but will not make you out of breath. You should still be able to carry on a conversation with your walking partner. Swimming, stationary bike, tennis, etc. - if you have done any of these sports before, it is a good idea to get back into them gradually. You don't have to be good at these sports to gain health benefits from doing them. The idea is to do an activity you enjoy and will get your heart rate up for about 30-40 minutes each time. Don't forget you need to warm up for 10 minutes at the beginning and cool-down for another 10 minutes at the end. Doing some stretches after will help to prevent muscle soreness after each session. Ballroom, line Dancing, softball, etc. - these are fun activities which will get you moving without thinking about the time although they may not get your heart rate up for a sustained period unless you are a very good dancer! They can be included one or two times a week, but you should do other aerobic exercises as well.
The newest trend in fitness is strength training for seniors. We don't mean that we want grandpa to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But many older adults are going to enjoy stronger muscles, firmer bones and an improved quality of life because they spent 60 minutes per week performing some simple exercises. Strength training is being emphasized because it can result in dramatic physical benefits. These include: increased bone density, improved leg strength and balance (thus decreasing risk of injury from falls) and overall increased strength which can make it easier to perform many ordinary activities, such as lifting objects and climbing stairs. A strength-training program does not require expensive or complicated equipment. Strength training means working a group (or groups) of muscles against resistance so that the muscles become fatigued. The stimulus of the resistance eventually causes the muscles to contract with greater force (increased strength), and maybe increase in size. The resistance can be applied in a number of ways. Machines, barbells, air cylinders, water, rubber tubing, elastic bands and even canned food can be used as resistance when designing a strength training program.
What is Strength Training?
Beginners can start with mild resistance exercises and gradually progress as strength levels increase. It is important to perform the exercises properly. Maintaining good form will minimize the risk of injury and maximize results. The best way to learn good technique is to work with an exercise specialist. Strength workouts are structured according to repetitions and sets. Lifting the weight one time is called a repetition. A set is a group of repetitions performed without stopping. Strength-training guidelines consist of a list of specific exercises; each exercise is performed for a prescribed number of repetitions for one or more sets. The purpose of each set is to work the muscles to fatigue. This means the last repetition you can perform with proper form and without excessive strain. The number of repetitions it takes to reach the point of fatigue will depend on the goals of the program and strength level of the individual. A beginner would usually choose a weight that works the muscles to fatigue in 12-15 repetitions. Lifting the weight more than 15 times means you should increase the weight. A strength-training workout should include all major muscle groups. This includes the thighs, hamstrings and calves, chest muscles and middle back, shoulders and upper back, upper arm and back of arm, and abdominal muscles. A complete workout will include 8-12 exercises. A personal trainer can design a program for you that is safe, effective and enjoyable. No matter what your age, you can become stronger. Start today, and put some real "heavy metal" into your life.
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. Orthopaedic injuries are common among runners of all ages. Forms of exercise other than running are preferable for an older person.

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