Age No Bar

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

If staying physically active holds the key to good health during our younger, or later years, it is amusing that only about 1 in 4 older adults exercise regularly.  This is also compounded by a major misconception — older people often think they are too old, or too weak, to exercise. This has sure made matters worse — and, we have more ailing people now who would, otherwise, have been in better shape and health if they were active with some form of moderate physical exercise.

Exercise sure helps older people to become more active, in spite of the presence of medical disorders; in addition to it, physical activity makes them feel better and have more energy than before. Reports actually evidence that exercise has helped even 80- and 90-year-olds grow stronger and more independent.

Physical activity of any kind — heavy-duty exercises, such as jogging, or bicycling, to easier efforts like walking — is absolutely good for you. While vigorous exercise can help strengthen your heart and lungs, a brisk walk would do us all a world of good too, apart from helping you lower your risk of heart disease and depression. Besides this, some simple, but neglected exercises, such as climbing stairs, aerobics, or ordinary housework, can increase your strength, stamina, and self-confidence. As for those who fancy being fit, weight-lifting, strength, or resistance, training offers a good avenue to stop muscle loss and slow down bone loss that often occurs in old age.

It is a simple premise — as your daily activities become easier you feel better. There is nothing better than regular, active exercise. Active exercise, like swimming and running, raises your heart rate. This helps you to greatly reduce your risk of atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] — which can, ultimately, lead to heart disease and/or stroke.

Research and statistics show that people who are physically active are less likely to develop adult onset diabetes. If they do develop the disorder, they are also able to better manage the problem than those who are physically inactive. Regular physical activity increases the body’s ability to control blood glucose level; what’s more, it may also lower the risk of intestinal affections by almost 50 per cent, besides heart disease. In fact, light exercise lowers your levels of anxiety — it helps you face life as it is, not what it could have been.

It may be highlighted that strength training, like lifting weights, or exercising against resistance, makes the bones stronger. It also improves balance, muscle strength and mass. In other words, these exercises can prevent, or delay the onset of osteoporosis, a bone disorder, which amplifies the risk of falls — a major cause of hip fracture. Additionally, strength training reduces arthritis [joint] pain.

What, How & Why?

Whatever the form of exercise, you should make sure that it meets your needs and skills. It does not matter how long, or how intense your exercise is. You need to choose the exercise you think would work for you, because different exercises do different things.

While some exercises may delay the onset of bone loss, some may improve the fitness of your heart and lungs, or risk of falls, as already mentioned. Also, some may offer you all the three benefits.

The best thing to do is to perform your exercises at home, or local gym. You may either do it alone, or with your spouse, or a friend. You could also join a group, if you feel you are not quite the ‘do alone’ type. It is, however, important that you talk to your family doctor before you begin, especially if you are over 60 and have a medical problem.

Helpful Tips

  • Do your workout at your own speed, not in a hurry [if you run through your exercise, it does you no good]
  • Don’t overdo, or go overboard, to begin with
  • Enrol in a course, or a class, if you are a beginner, or have not done physical exercise for a long time
  • Seek the counsel of a qualified physical trainer/teacher to make sure you are doing the exercise the right way
  • It is easy to start, once you have made up your mind. Also, it takes just a little effort to make exercise a regular habit, a part of your life. However, once you start, you should stick to it. Because, if you stop exercising, the benefits don’t stay after a while.

Easy Does Best

No one ever said that you ought to do heavy exercise to keep fit. Far from it. The best thing to do is — make physical activity part of everyday regimen. Just 20-30 minutes of moderate activity, such as a brisk walk, each day is an achievable goal. No need to do it at one go; you can also walk in short bursts — three 10 minute-spells, during the course of the day. You could also indulge in a few tricks — take the stairs instead of the elevator, or walk instead of driving. This can easily add up to 30 minutes of exercise a day. You’d also play actively with children and perform some household chores. All these will cumulatively count for you.

Early Effort

Always begin with stretching and strength training; you may add aerobics later. Aerobics are safe and easy once you feel balanced and your muscles are stronger. As for those of you who are frail, it is better to go slow — there is a risk of falling if you rush through your exercise programme.

Stretching

  • Improves flexibility, eases movement, and lowers the risk of injury and muscle strain
  • Helps loosen muscles in the arms, shoulders, back, chest, stomach, buttocks, thighs, and calves. It’s also relaxing
  • Increases blood flow and gets your body ready for exercise
  • A warm-up and cool-down period of 5-10 minutes should be done slowly and carefully before and after all types of exercise.

Strength Training 

  • Builds muscle and bone, which decline with age
  • Lifting weights, or working out with machines, provides exercises for the upper and lower body
  • Remember that it is easy to hurt yourself, so train with a trainer/instructor till you are comfortable doing the exercises on your own
  • Older adults can work with the same weight-lifting routines as younger adults, but they would need help
  • Simple strength training exercises can be done at home — a great advantage.

Just about 30 minutes of strength training exercise, 2-3 times each week is all you need. Also, experts advise that there is no need to exercise the same muscles on two consecutive days. However, check with your family doctor before you begin a programme.

Weight Exercise Plan 

  • You should always start with a weight which you can lift without too much effort. Do it five times
  • Once you have achieved some comfort at this level, you may now lift it five times and rest a few minutes, following which you can repeat the feat again [2 sets]
  • With practice, you can reach 10-15 lifts in each set — and, also slowly increase the weight, if you so desire.

Aerobics

This is also called endurance exercise. Aerobics strengthens the heart and improves overall fitness by increasing the body’s ability to use oxygen. Swimming, walking, and dancing are called ‘low-impact’ aerobic activities. Low-impact exercises do not pound the muscles and joints unlike ‘high-impact’ exercises, such as jogging and jumping/skipping with a rope. Aerobic exercises raise the number of heart beats, otherwise called heart rate, each minute. It’s always good for you to raise your heart rate to a certain point, and keep it for 20 minutes at this level. You need to start slowly, and increase your heart rate on a scale. A 20-30-minute aerobics programme, 3-4 times a week, would be sufficient.

Heart Rate

The number of times your heart beats each minute is called the heart rate. The maximum heart rate is the fastest your heart can beat. Exercise above 75 per cent of the heart rate is too much for most people. If you are, for example, 55 years old, your target zone is 80-120 beats per minute. It is always ideal to choose the lowest level possible, in consultation with your physician, to begin with. This can, over a period of time, be raised to a higher level.

The best way to measure your target heart rate is by determining your heartbeat immediately after your workout. It is easy — just place the tips of your first two fingers on the inside of your wrist, below the bottom of your thumb. Count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by six. You will get the number of heart beats per minute. You may, on the basis of the reading, adjust your exercise mode — if you find yourself being below the target, or above the target heartbeat. Your doctor will be able to recommend your target heart rate — and, also explain how to figure it out if you are on medications for high blood pressure [NB: The easiest thing to do is wear a good smart watch; it’s also accurate].

Useful Guidelines 

  • Always choose and pick activities you like, or are the easiest to do and enjoyable — not what others want you to do
  • Inculcate physical activity as a part of your daily schedule
  • if you develop sudden pain, shortness of breath, or feel ill, while doing exercises, or after, consult your physician at once.

Resources

If you need guidance, enrol at a local health-club, gym, or facility that offers training. They can also help you find a trainer, or programme, that suits your requirement. Besides, you can also buy equipment you want at the local/online shopping mall for exercise, wellness, or also walking programmes. For senior citizens, community centres often offer such programmes. This would be a sensible approach, because the old need to give enough thought to their special health concerns, such heart disease, or the possibility of falling. You can also acquire books, or tapes, about exercise and aging, from the local library, or online bookstore.

However, please make doubly sure that you get your physician’s okay, before you embark on an exercise-fitness programme, or regimen.

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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