Seniors: Exercise – are you ready to start?
by Sharon Simpson
I’m always surprised when I read about a 90 year old swimmer, diver, gymnast, ballroom dancer or runner who started the sport in their 50’s or 60’s. The headlines read: Meet the 80 year old bodybuilder – Amazing 91 year old gymnast – 72 year old cross-fit trainer – 58 year old pole vaulter breaks world record. Tri-athlete Edwina Brocklesby, 76, says, “I didn’t do any exercise at all until I was 50.” Ida Keeling, sprinter, 104 started running when she was 67 and deeply grieving over the loss of her two sons to drug-related violence.
Taking up exercise takes motivation. Research shows that younger people need “the fun factor” more than older groups who know they need exercise to continue healthy living, flexibility and strength. Elderly men are more often motivated by “achievement” than elderly women. It seems that elderly women are more focused on the “anti-ageing” functions of sports than men. They see the benefits in preventing frailty, gaining flexibility and staying independent as a result.
Strong Women Stay Young is a leading book on exercises for older women. In one year, after taking up strength training twice a week, women’s bodies were 15-20 years more youthful. They became more active and energized. This book emphasizes simple weight-exercises that can be done with small weights in your own home. The two-minute exercises are achievable – even for someone who doesn’t like sports. The book is written by Miriam Nelson, Ph.D. She has written multiple books for women and can be found on YouTube if you are interested in learning the exercises. Search ‘Strong Women Stay Young’.
If you are a man reading this – don’t tune out! You also need encouragement to strengthen, stretch and increase balance. I once heard an Occupational Therapist tell a group of older people that the most dramatic loss in strength and flexibility occurs when you can no longer use the toilet without assistance. Keeping your muscles strong and gaining flexibility will keep you independent longer.
Resistance bands are an effective way for you to exercise – even while seated. Resistance training enhances muscular strength and endurance. It uses the tension of resistance bands to improve muscle strength, balance, coordination, flexibility and range of motion.
How do you get started?
If you haven’t discovered YouTube, you need to spend some time with a younger person who can show you around this amazing library of videos. In a search for “exercise elderly resistance bands” on YouTube, I easily found several beginner resistance band workouts for seniors. You can purchase resistance bands online or at a sports store in your community. They are under $50 for a set. Do you want to shock your family? Ask them if they can help you to adapt your television to be a SMART TV using an Amazon Fire Stick. With a wi-fi connection, you will gain access to YouTube on the big screen of your television. On sale, the Amazon Fire Stick is less than $50.
If you live in a retirement community, there are likely exercise classes for you to join. Do it! Even if you are the only man in the group, do it. It is good fun to exercise with others and it is motivating to keep going on days when you really don’t feel like doing much.
How about hiring a personal trainer? If you have the funds, a personal trainer will come to you to show you how to do daily exercises and will set up a personalized plan for you. This is not just for young people who are joining boot-camps – this is for you! A personal trainer shows you best technique for the exercises so that you can gain the most benefit. They are motivators, helping you to see your progress and the benefit of the program. Many are also able to help you with a healthy-eating plan to maximize your health.
Have you heard of smart wearables? These are accessories that you can wear that will enable you to track your health. They can tell you how many steps you took each day, measure your heart rate, monitor your sleep and give you your Body Mass Index. Some give you even more – the Apple Watch 4 has a built-in gyroscope accelerometer that can tell if you’ve fallen and ask if you’d like to call emergency services. It has a GPS (global positioning system) that can indicate exactly where you are located (longitude and latitude). It’s pricey, but it’s more than an exercise calculator – it’s a communication tool that goes along with you wherever you go.
As you plan for the coming year, add in these elements of exercise:
Stretching – Stretching can help you manage back pain, reduce risk of falling, help improve posture and increase your energy levels.
Strength Training – Helps you reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis, back pain and even depression. Helps you manage your weight, improve your balance and raise your metabolism.
Aerobic Exercise, such as brisk walking – Can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and helps you manage your weight. It sharpens your mind. Strengthens your heart.
You may not become the world record-breaking pole vaulter or the next jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, but you’ll make your own life better – and likely even longer when you exercise.
Sharon Simpson is the Director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Home.