Exercise and Aging By Carol Witham, CES

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Exercise has many benefits for the aging population. It is difficult to define the aging population since people are living and working so much longer, but as a result many people develop various types of chronic diseases just because they have lived long enough to get them. The aging population is one that I particularly enjoy working with because they give back to me as much as I give to them and when people have special issues, it is much more interesting, challenging and rewarding work.

Did you know that exercise is the only way to help reverse aging or at least slow its progression? Did you know that it is possible to reduce your blood pressure by 10 points or so just by losing 5 to 10 pounds? Exercise that is weight bearing is essential for anyone with osteoporosis. Heart disease can be positively affected by regular exercise. Remember, it is important to first consult your physician before you begin any exercise program. Let him/her know and ask for clearance.

As a Clinical Exercise Specialist, I am certified to work with people who have chronic disease, post rehabilitation issues or are post cardiac. Recently, I have specialized in working with people who have Parkinson’s disease. One of my Parkinson’s clients told me early in our work, that I saved his life and he meant that literally. People suffer differently from chronic diseases like Parkinson’s. They can feel isolated, feel their self-esteem erode, and even feel diminished as a person. Often times, a chronic disease does not allow one to work fulltime or perhaps to work at all because work stresses can place too much strain on an individual’s already compromised system.

There are things you can do to put yourself back in control of your body, your emotions and regain a positive outlook. Exercise is an important component.

Let’s talk a little about the many studies that clearly state that exercise helps to elevate mood by producing endorphins that give us a sense of well being. Exercise oxygenates your blood that flows throughout your body and to your brain. Staying active could potentially help slow the progress of dementia and will definitely keep you strong. These studies are coming from reputable institutions such as Harvard and Tufts.

Additionally, there are three psychological theories concerning the antidepressant effects of exercise. The first is that exercise may serve as a distraction from stressful input. Second, exercise is a form of mastery or control which allows a person to regain control over his/her body and life. It has been suggested that depression is a result of a perception of loss of control over one’s life. The third theory suggests the antidepressant effects are due to the psychological benefits derived from social interaction that accompanies group activity. This according to Jeannie Patton, MS, CSCS (Personal Fitness Professional, 7/2002).

If you find a group of people with whom to exercise, for example, a group that is specific for seniors, the group can become a strong support system for you and a chance to make new friends. Getting out and interacting with others in a healthy setting is a positive way of spending your time. It is time that you are using for yourself to make yourself feel better, and don’t you deserve this time? A specific group is not completely necessary however it does give you an easier way to enter the exercise arena. The group at our facility meets on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10:00 am. This group strength trains on Monday and Friday and does Tai Chi on Wednesdays. The Tai Chi not only helps with lower body strength but also helps with balance and coordination and boosts the immune system. A number of the members of this group have been coming to us since 1998. They are almost religious about coming all three days each week. They all say the same thing, “When I can’t come to my exercise class I really miss it and my body doesn’t feel nearly as well.” Most of them have also said at one time or another that they had a hard time getting to class on a particular morning but they felt so much better after they had been there. These classes can bring you a lot of enjoyment and camaraderie in addition to exercise and can help take your mind off your physical ailments.

We are living and working longer and sometimes our joints are not always lasting as long as we are. Joints give out because of arthritis and old injuries that can lead to arthritis. Also repetitive motion injuries from work or playing sports can lead to painful joints and joint failure. Falls are by far the most traumatic type of injury and seniors need to be aware that this can lead to them being incapacitated or even death. A high rate of people who fall and break a hip have a difficult time recovering. I can tell you about a fall that I took in my forties. One afternoon while raking leaves I jumped down from my yard to my driveway that was on a lower level. My leg went out to the side on slippery leaves and there I was; I couldn’t get up and it was a one floor stair climb to the phone. Fortunately, because of what I do, I had enough upper body strength to get myself up the stairs and to the phone to call for help. One of my clients was not so fortunate. She was in her driveway taking something out of her car; she turned and heard her femur snap (osteoporosis) and went down in her driveway. It was evening. She lay in her driveway yelling for help. Finally a neighbor heard and called 911. This is a traumatic experience and a very good reason for having an alert button when you live alone. It is also traumatic to know that once you have had shoulder surgery, knee replacement or hip replacement, you are probably going to spend six months to a year in rehabilitation before the muscles around the joint are strong enough to be fully utilized. You’ll be happy to know, in the case of my client, she received good care and even with a rod in her leg she is on her way to Florida for a well -deserved vacation. And me, well I am usually working with clients for 9 to 12 hours a day and they help keep me strong. I’m always amazed at the resiliency and fortitude of my clients who inspire me daily.

Never think it’s too late to begin a program. Never think it’s too late. I have two clients, married for over 60 years and 91 years of age this year, who started exercising about a year ago. They feel they can perform their activities of daily life much easier. They did more gardening this year than the year before. This is what happens, as you exercise, your daily activities become much easier. When your daily activities are easier, do you think you will feel better? You will! And don’t forget, always check with your doctor first.

For more information on aging and exercise you can visit the websites of
The National Institute on Aging, http://www.nia.nih.gov/
American Heart Association, http://www.americanheart.org/
Journals on Gerontology, http://www.gerontologyjournals.org/
The Alliance For Aging http://www.agingresearch.org/

Have fun and stay healthy.

Carol Witham: Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist. Carol is a personal trainer and a certified T’ai Chi instructor. She is also a Level III Essentrics Apprentice Instructor, as well as a Reiki Master with eight years of training experience and 16-years of T’ai Chi experience. She operates two personal training studios called Optimum Performance on the coast of Maine, where in addition to personal training, she offers group strength classes, classes for seniors, T’ai Chi & Chi Kung, and cycle classes.