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Feature Story

Fit through the years

Making the best of your golden years.

By Bernice Varona


During a mountaineering club’s orientation, Dik Arvesu was called to talk about his own experience as a member. What makes him different from the other speakers is that he’s a senior citizen and well over 60 years old—but fitter than most members half his age. “I am a triathlete,” he says, when he describes what he does. He adds that he joined the UP Mountaineers and started climbing mountains in his 50s. “Everyone should engage in physical activity and get fit. If I can do it, so can you.”

Vibrant later years

Clearly by Arvesu’s example, getting older isn’t an excuse to be sedentary and miss out on the benefits of physical activity. Quite the opposite: With age, one must actually engage more in regular exercise to boost energy and the immune system, maintain one’s independence, and manage symptoms of illness or pain. “It is at this stage that physical activities are of utmost importance for the senior population. Even just performing the basic range of motion of each joint will ensure that no stiffness of joints will occur,” explains Ethel Fortuno, an occupational therapist. Exercise can also reverse symptoms of aging and improve one’s overall sense of well-being. It’s the key to staying strong, energetic and healthy as you get older.

What deters most seniors from getting all these benefits is the notion that either they are too old to start a regimen, or that exercise is expensive, time-consuming, or too strenuous. Becoming active is actually just adding more movement and activity to your life, even in small ways, whether you are homebound, managing an illness, or a novice.

Get started on getting fit

Before embarking on any physical activity, it’s best to get medical guidance and clearance especially if you have a pre-existing health condition, or if you have previously never exercised. Aside from this, the choice of activity or exercise will also depend on your current health concerns as these could interfere or affect with certain regimens. It’s best to see what will fit your personality, interests, health status and issues so that you can continue the program until it becomes a part of your lifestyle.

Here are some guidelines if you’re above 50 years old, and embarking on your own fitness journey:

• Start slow. It is better to do 10-minute increments per day at first before increasing the length of time. A total of 150 minutes a week will produce benefits.

• Warm up and cool down with every session.

• Drink lots of fluids.

• Commit to a schedule for about a month so that it becomes a habit.

• Be conscious of your current condition. Stop exercising immediately and call your doctor if you feel dizzy or have difficulty in breathing, develop chest pain or pressure, break out in a cold sweat, or experience pain.

To reap maximum benefits and to beat boredom, you can mix different types of exercise. The four different types of fitness for seniors are cardio endurance, strength and power training, flexibility, and balance. It’s important to incorporate as many of these different types of exercise in one’s regimen. “I always use the person's lifestyle and usual activities to determine their medium of exercise,” said Fortuno. “I incorporate the exercise in functional motions or movements so it will be easier for the elderly to understand and appreciate why it is necessary to move.”

Cardio endurance uses the large muscle groups in rhythmic motions over a period of time. The workout gets your heart pumping and includes various activities such as walking, stair climbing, hiking, cycling, dancing and more. This can also be achieved by doing everyday activities like gardening, house cleaning, walking the dog, or washing the car. Cardio endurance helps lessen fatigue and builds endurance for daily activities.

Strength and power training build up muscle with repetitive motion using weights or external resistance from body weight, machines, or elastic bands. This prevents the loss of bone mass and also improves balance— which is important to stay active and to prevent falls. Power training also helps improve your speed and reaction time. Lifting your grandchildren and carrying groceries could be considered as your daily dose of strength and power training.

Flexibility challenges the ability of the body’s joints to move freely through a full range of motion. This can be done through stretches and activities such as yoga and tai chi to keep muscles and joints supple and less prone to injury. Increasing flexibility also increases your range of movement for everyday activities such as playing with your grandchildren, bending over, and more.

Balance is maintaining stability whether you are stationary or moving. Improving one’s balance also reduces the risk of falling and can help in carrying one’s self and staying mobile.

Determine how physically ready you are for exercise by taking the self-assessment test in the September issue of HealthToday magazine.

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