Exercise and Seniors - Part I
by Diane Monroe
Board Member at Large, Bodies in Motion Inc.
NETA Certified Group Fitness Instructor
This is the first of a series of articles I am writing regarding Exercise and Seniors. Through research I will investigate the appropriateness, benefits and challenges of exercises for our golden-agers…in other words, "Why should seniors exercise?" I understand that those of us who maintain an active lifestyle preferred to be called "Active Older Adults" or "AOA" - to me, that sounds too much like "DOA" (Dead on Arrival). I prefer to call those in my age group "Seniors."
I am considered a senior. At least I fit into Wikipedia's definition. An older adult, or senior, or senior citizen, or elderly (I really don't like that word), is described as "consisting of ages nearing or surpassing the average life span of human beings." In the USA the age of 65 can be considered the beginning of old age because, until recently, people became eligible to retire at this age with full Social Security benefits. By the way, did you know there is a Respect-for-the-Aged Day in Japan? Really…it's a national holiday celebrated on the third Monday of September. It began in 1947 as "Old Folks Day" and the Japanese media feature the elderly, reporting on the population and highlighting the oldest people in the country. That's nice.
Wikipedia goes on to say that old people have limited regenerative abilities and are more prone to disease, syndromes, and sickness than other adults. There is often a general physical decline, and people become less active. Old age can cause, amongst other things: wrinkles and liver spots; hair loss; lessened hearing; diminished eyesight; slower reaction times and agility; reduced ability to think clearly (boy, I can relate); difficulty recalling memories; lessening or cessation of sex; and greater susceptibility to bone diseases. (Just shoot me!)
BUT, there are really, really simple ways to reduce the effects of aging and increase the length of your telomeres! I read recently that telomere length seems to be the real way to determine actual “biological age.” Huh? Telomeres are repetitive sequences (protective caps) at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with age and also shorten in certain metabolic and disease states. Shortened telomeres mean degrading of cells, or diminished biological age. The best means of slowing telomeres' shortening are life habit changes: exercise regularly, maintain healthy body weight, don't smoke and eat a healthy diet.
Research focused on older adults and how to promote successful aging and enhance overall quality of life, has garnered much attention in recent years. Many experts, including the American Heart Association, say that moderate physical activity helps improve health in many ways, for example:
- Some activities improve flexibility, build muscular strength and increase endurance.
- Activities involving the large muscles in the arms and legs benefit the heart by making it work more efficiently.
- Physical activity builds healthy bones, muscles and joints and reduces the risk of many types of cancer.
- Moderate physical activity decreases LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (good) levels.
- Endorphins, produced by exercising, decrease depression and anxiety.
My future articles will focus on the types, suitability and challenges of exercising for seniors.