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Get the facts, then get going
By Sally Anderson, Special to the Times
Published December 18, 2007
Although we all have heard the numerous benefits of exercise, an estimated 40 percent of people ages 45 to 54 are considered sedentary. That number soars to 60 percent for people older than 64.
Dr. Steven Blair, professor of exercise science and biostatistics at the University of South Carolina, calls inactivity "the biggest public health problem we face. I think it actually accounts for more morbidity and mortality than anything, except maybe cigarette smoking."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that older adults have even more to gain than younger people by being more active, because seniors are at higher risk for the health problems that physical activity could prevent. The sedentary lifestyle can lead to many losses: of strength, of bone density, of endurance and of energy (and thus vitality).
The significant gain is body fat.
With all the helpful information available in newspapers, magazines and the Internet, why are so many people not exercising? Here are four common reasons:
- "I'm too old to exercise." The fact is, you are never too old to begin to exercise. A study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reported that people 80 years and older can receive significant improvement in their endurance and fitness levels by exercising several times a week.
Other studies have found that people in their 70s and older can triple their strength through conditioning exercises.
- "I'm too frail to lift weights and do aerobic exercise." First, check with your physician before you begin any exercise program. Many older adults deal with the frailty issue by not lifting heavy weights. Their benefit comes from working muscles longer with lighter weights, building up their endurance.
As for cardiovascular exercise, people with frailty issues can do low-impact exercises (walking, swimming, riding an exercise bike). If they are unable to use their legs, they can do just upper body exercises.
- "I don't have the energy to exercise." You may feel that way now, but if you begin your exercise slowly and gradually build up strength and endurance, you will gain stamina. Strenuous exercises are not required for gaining health benefits; consistency is much more important for seniors than intensity. Low-impact exercises including yoga, tai chi and Pilates can be enjoyable and relaxing.
- "I'm afraid of falling and getting injured." According to the CDC, one of every three Americans older than 65 falls each year. For that age group, falling accounts for 87 percent of all fractures and is the second leading cause of spinal cord and brain injuries.
Many studies report that muscle strengthening and balance exercises in men and women older than 65 reduced the risk of falling and subsequent injuries by 35 to 45 percent.
Balance has everything to do with quality of life for seniors. The loss of balance can impair mobility, health and your ability to live independently.
You might want to contact a qualified personal trainer or physical therapist to guide you in gaining confidence and in finding ways to avoid risky movements.
The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine have updated guidelines for those 65 and older:
The basic recommendations call for healthy adults of any age to engage in moderate-intensity aerobic activities 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or vigorous aerobic exercise 20 minutes a day, three days a week. For those 65 and older, eight to 10 strength training exercises (each with 10 to 15 repetitions) are recommended two to three times a week. The new recommendations also have added balance exercises.
Give these a try
Here are exercises you can do at home; work toward eight to 15 repetitions:
Wall pushups, for upper body. Standing a few feet from the wall, place palms flat against the wall. Slowly lean the upper body toward the wall, contracting your abdominal muscles to keep from arching your back. Push away from wall and return to original position.
Chair squats, for lower body. Sit in a chair and lean slightly forward, then stand up. When sitting back down, do not let knees go beyond toes. Try not to use your hands to rise from the chair.
Biceps curls, to strengthen arms. Holding a weight in each hand, with palms facing upward or inward, place elbows close to sides. Pretend someone is holding your upper arms, to keep them from moving. Bend arms at the elbow, lifting weights toward your shoulders, then lower your hands to waist level.
If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning ANY exercise program. Write to Sally Anderson in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.i