For Elisa, a 60-year-old mother of three grown-up children, it started with a persistent pain from the neck down to her left arm and hand that made it difficult for her to do household chores like sweeping the floor and doing the laundry. Later on, her shoulders down to the lower back started to hurt just by sitting or shifting her body from one side of the bed to another. The solution after medical consultation: 12 sessions of rehabilitative therapy; anti-pain medications; and regular application of ointment for muscle soreness. On top of this, she takes prescribed drugs to manage her hypertension and cholesterol level.
Elisa’s physical therapist encouraged her to regularly do low-impact exercises. Her first reaction was concern that these might further strain her, especially given a sedentary lifestyle often spent watching afternoon dramas.
Regardless of the initial discomfort, which is commonly experienced by senior citizens who struggle with different medical problems, regular physical activity is necessary. A recent pilot study by Wake Forest University researchers in North Carolina and three other universities found that people aged 70 years and older, with some physical disability benefited substantially from a year-long physical-activity program. ComfortLife, a health and lifestyle print and online resource for Canadian seniors, cites that even small improvements in physical fitness and activity, such as walking regularly, can prolong life and independent living.
Slow and selective
For elderly folk in the modern era who may have been sedentary for at least a year, Jeredan Conde, the general manager of the gym Planet Infinity and a personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise, advises a slow approach in getting back into shape. He recommends securing a medical clearance from their doctor before starting on a fitness program.
The International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) suggests choosing an exercise class appropriate for one’s health status and ability. Other seniors found their second wind through golf, which involves plenty of walking, as well as the exercise of hitting the ball; Tai Chi, a low-impact exercise regimen which improves strength; belly dancing, which offers the most complete and fun form of fitness for some; and working out. Some say the very best exercise for seniors is walking—an hour a day hiking on easy trails or walking with a pet or a companion.
To continually encourage themselves and sustain their participation in the program, ICAA suggests the following to seniors:
• Set your goals. Make them as specific as possible. For example, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, do brisk, 10-minute walks in the morning before your shower, at lunch time, and after dinner.
• Keep moving. All the time. Stretch, walk, march in place, stand, and sit as many times as possible when you are talking on the phone or during TV commercials. Also, do your own house and yard work.
• Ask for support from your friends and family as you share your new goals. Consider scheduling text or call reminders from your support network to help you stay on track.
For more tips on how to stay active and strong even in old age, get your copy of HealthToday September, out now in newsstands and major bookstores.