Exercise to fight many detrimental effects of aging

By Sally Anderson, Special to the Times

In Print: Wednesday, February 23, 2011

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Use it or lose it? “Physical inactivity is one of the strongest predictors of unsuccessful aging for older adults and is perhaps the root cause of many unnecessary and premature admissions for long-term care,” according to a study published Jan. 25 in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Marco Pahor of the University of Florida and Dr. Jeff Williamson of Winston Salem, N.C., both geriatricians, shared the findings.

Fortunately, many of the detrimental effects of aging can be prevented. How physically independent you are will depend on how well you can function physically. And the good news: Regardless of your age, exercise can improve your quality of life.

Before you begin, it is important to get checked out by your doctor. If you have special issues such as arthritis, osteoporosis or heart disease, you and your physician need to assess what type of exercise is best for you. You will be selecting activities based on your personal level to build endurance, strength, flexibility and balance, the four most important types of exercise for seniors, according to the National Institute on Aging. And on this journey, you will be increasing energy levels, reducing risk of falling and improving your cognition and memory.

A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University found seniors who exercise just three days a week healed 30 percent more quickly than seniors who did not exercise. Here are four good reasons to get a move on.

Increase in endurance

Aerobic exercises will help to build up your endurance by strengthening the lungs and the entire cardiovascular system. When you have not been exercising, even small doses of 10 minutes of cardio exercise can make a singificant impact. Walking, dancing, bicycling, swimming and water aerobics are all good endurance exercises for seniors — anything that keeps you moving and increases heart rate. If problems with mobility are a concern, chair exercises are always available; you can lift weights, stretch and do chair aerobics.

Prevent muscle and bone loss

The No. 1 reason why older adults need assisted living is lack of leg strength. “They can’t get out of a chair, walk up stairs or function on their own.” says Colin Miner, CEO of the International Council on Aging. Even small changes in muscle strength can improve your ability to climb stairs or stand up from a chair, especially in people who have already lost a lot of muscle. Stronger muscles, which ultimately mean stronger bones, will reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. If you are on the frail side, it would be better to begin a progressive strength-training program for all major muscles at least two to three times a week before beginning moderate-intensity aerobics.

Restore flexibility

For seniors to remain active and independent, they need to maintain range of motion. As we age without activity, muscles will lose their elasticity, causing decreased range of motion in the shoulders, spine and hips. Static stretching, which is stretch and hold for 10 to 30 seconds, is a safe way to increase range of motion. For seniors, stretches should be performed two to three days per week, repeating each stretch there to five times and holding for 20 to 30 seconds. Always warm up a little before you stretch. Cold stretching is not recommended. And do not hold your breath or bounce while you are stretching.

Improve balance

As an inactive body ages, lower limbs begin to weaken. A study published in Geriatrics and Gerontology International tells us because of this weakening, something as simple as ankle exercises can be effective in helping to maintain balance and prevent falls. When performing balance exercises, hold onto a support if needed and contract abdominals — the deep ab muscles help you maintain balance. Another tip is to concentrate and focus on a spot on the floor about 10 to 12 feet in front of you.

If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at slafit@tampabay.rr.com.

This month’s workout focuses on balance exercises that can be incorporated into your everyday routine. Monica Dalton, 62, shows you the moves.

Walking the tightrope

Extend arms to sides for balance. Focus, looking straight ahead, while walking heel to toe; walk alongside a countertop if support is needed.

Standing side leg lifts

This is a balance exercise that strengthens legs, hip flexors and muscles supporting the knee. Standing straight, slowly lift one leg out to the side, toes facing forward. Hold for a second, then lower leg, repeating 10 to 15 times for each leg, working toward two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. You may want to begin with eight reps.

Standing back leg raises

This exercise strengthens balance, buttocks, lower back and hips. Keeping back straight, slowly lift one leg to the back, hold for about a second and then lower. Keep the standing leg slightly bent at all times to protect the back, and do not raise the working leg higher than you are comfortable with. Repeat 10 to 15 times with each leg, working toward two sets. You may choose to do eight reps in the beginning.

The Karate Kid

This is a yoga posture that improves balance and strengthens legs, arms and shoulders. As you inhale, raise arms out to the sides in line with shoulders, parallel to floor. As you exhale, bend one knee, lifting knee toward chest, keeping other leg straight. Hold for four to five breaths, then repeat with other knee lift.

[Last modified: Feb 22, 2011 03:30 AM]

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