Medicine Is Now An Integral Part Of Fitness

The time has finally arrived. You have worked all of your life and stashed away every extra dime you could in savings. You’re living it up in “retirement land,” or so you thought. Now blessed with a great luxury of free time, many senior citizens stay busy with hobbies or activities. Hobbies have a mind/body connection and are an important component of healthy aging. Active seniors are proof that you can enjoy better health and have fun doing it, too.

As the headline suggests, medicine is now in fitness. I developed this motto as a student in one of Dr. Bill Riner’s exercise and physiology classes at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster. At the time, I was fairly new and green in understanding what he meant. With a few more courses under my belt, I started paying close attention to incredible benefits of exercise and its role in warding off disease.

Although exercise isn’t produced in a lab, prescribed by your doctor, or recommended by a pharmacist, it has the power to heal when it comes to preventing illnesses and chronic diseases. That makes it one of the most cost-effective natural solutions on the market today, especially for those who live on fixed incomes. Business research studies have shown that leisure time and physical activity promote a healthier lifestyle.

Our bodies are designed to move.

However, many as they age tend to become increasingly inactive, preferring to watch TV to pass the time. Finding fun activities for senior citizens can change that. I challenge senior citizens to be as active as possible and use hobbies are a piece of the fitness puzzle. Hobbies give an individual a reason to get out and share time with others.

Whether it’s painting, building model airplanes or playing cards, the benefits of a hobby will increase your chances for improved physical, social and emotional well being. It is important to have regular leisure time and physical activity.

Anything that promotes moving and being active will benefit you as you age. The health benefits of staying active can help with prevention of a chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and arthritis.

Did you know that physical activity also promotes brain fitness? This can help delay or prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies indicate there are great benefits of doing crossword puzzles, including keeping the mind sharp.

Reluctant to exercise

Many older adults are reluctant to start exercising, even though they know that it’s among the healthiest activities they can do. The reasons for that reluctance vary. Some seniors are afraid physical activity will do more harm than good; others assume they have to join a gym or buy special equipment they can’t afford.

Others may be too embarrassed to exercise because they think it’s for younger people or for those who look great in gym clothes. Some think exercise is only for people who are able to do things such as jogging.

But just about every older adult can safely participate in some form of physical activity at little or no cost. And you don’t have to exercise in a public place or buy expensive equipment, if you don’t want to (although some older adults choose to do that).

Everyday household chores can improve your health.

The key is to increase your physical activity by exercising, giving up automated devices and using your own muscle power. The following are the weekly physical activity recommendations for older adults who wish to maintain and improve health:

  • Thirty minutes a day which may be accumulated by breaking exercise into 10 minute segments. This should be done through moderately intense cardio exercise at least 5 days a week, but preferably done daily.
  • If appropriate, doing vigorously intense cardio exercise 20 minutes a day, three days a week is also fine.
  • One should also do eight to 10 strength-training exercises (10 to 15 repetitions each) two to three times per week. These activities should involve working the various major muscle groups.
  • For those at risk for falls, it is important to also include exercises that help maintain or improve balance.

Other exercise advice

While the new guidelines for older adults and adults with chronic conditions are similar to those for younger adults, there are a few key differences and points to consider:

  • Activities that maintain or increase flexibility are recommended for older adults.
  • Aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities are both critical for healthy aging.
  • During moderately-intense workouts, one should still be able to carry on a conversation during exercise. In the fitness industry, this is referred to as the “talk test.” Basically you should be able to complete a sentence during your cardio activity without big pauses or gasping for breath. This quick tip will help you estimate if you are out of your moderate range of intensity.

To be as accurate as possible, I would recommend buying a heart rate monitor watch, which can bough at any local department or sports equipment store.

According to the recent American College of Sports Medicine Development guidelines, “the promotion of physical activity in older adults should emphasize moderate-intensity aerobic activity, muscle-strengthening activity, reducing sedentary behavior, and risk management.”

Information on starting a proper exercise regimen is available at the American College of Sports Medicine Development web site, www.acsm.org. Tips on how to meet the new exercise guideline requirements are also available at the web site, along with other useful information.

I enjoy hiking and am always inspired by the senior citizens who give me a run for my money on walking trails. I often hike in the local trails around the Charlotte region and surrounding areas. Hiking is one of the most effective styles of cardio and strength training for senior citizens.

I use hiking as part of my conditioning program when preparing for bodybuilding contests.

The only equipment needed is a water bottle, a small back pack and a hiking stick. How simple is that? If you want to really add some upper body movement, a great tool to invest in is a set of Nordic walking sticks/poles. These walking sticks are very light and aid stability on loose terrain or when crossing streams.

Besides burning additional calories they can help relieve joint stress. You can find more information by going to the internet and Google walking sticks or walking poles.

And if you do decide to take up hiking, make sure to read the maps for the trail’s intensity level. Some trails are much more advanced than others so you want to start off at your level of conditioning. Another favorite is participating in deep-water aqua fit or water aerobics. This is a dynamic and low impact activity that works muscles and strength. Water aerobics improves flexibility, cardio respiratory conditioning and decreases body fat, which helps maintain core stability and strength. Water aerobics is an excellent choice for maintaining and improving these qualities.

Chronic medical conditions

Seniors with chronic medical conditions should not exclude themselves from activity. In fact, some research recommends that you should do just as much, if not more, than the average person. Those who suffer from multiple sclerosis and arthritis benefit from increased physical activity since exercise can increase muscle and bone strength.

In some cases it can help reduce pain, lessen mood swings and improve energy levels. Senior citizens with arthritis must stay active. Activity is key and movement is a must. Whether or not you are on medication for your condition, don’t let it rob you of life and movement.

However, it’s important to check with your family doctor or physical therapist before choosing any form of exercise. You have to be smart about this approach based on your condition. Once you are cleared by your family physician to exercise, I recommend that you do whatever form you choose in the company of a fitness expert or close family member or friend.

Until next time, train hard and eat healthy.

Fitness expert and bodybuilder Kennett Washington is president of Healing Strength Personal Training.