Older Americans Month: Active, fit in the game plan
Melba stepped on the scales and frowned. She had been fighting the same 10 pounds for a long time. Lose them. Gain them back. Her knees hurt when she went up and down stairs. Her feet hurt when she walked or stood in one place for too long. She hated that she was getting old. What a depressing thought!
She was not going to take this whole getting old thing lying down. She may not find the fountain of youth, but there must be something she could do. Inside she was not old. She felt the same now as she always had. In her mind she was still youthful, even if the mirror told a little different story.
Her friend, Alta Gether, just turned 86. Alta and her mother were the same age. Alta was feisty and active. She walked on a treadmill. She rode a bicycle. She walked everywhere that she could. Melba’s mother had sat down, weakened and died. Alta and her mother were polar opposites, she decided, and Melba preferred to follow Alta’s example.
It was time for a life change. She didn’t want to end up like others her age who used canes, moved slowly, painfully, through their days and used scooters at Walmart. She didn’t want to stumble around, feeling unbalanced and inflexible. She just hoped she wasn’t getting started too late!
The National Institutes of Health’s Institute on Aging provides a lot of information about senior fitness, advising that it’s never too late to start being more physically active and exercising. Someone over the age of 50 who hasn’t been active for a long while should check with their doctor first. Then, start slow and build up your endurance, strength, balance and flexibility.
At least 30 minutes of activity each day is recommended. Those 30 minutes can be broken down into several 10 minute workouts. The activity shouldn’t hurt but it should get you breathing hard. “If you can speak easily while doing the activity, you aren’t working hard enough. If you can’t speak at all you are working too hard.” And that discomfort you feel the next day? It will go away as your body gets used to the activity.
Melba particularly favored gardening and brisk walking. She hadn’t gotten around to her flowerbeds yet but in years past she’d felt some discomfort from using muscles she had forgotten that she had. The discomfort came from stretching, reaching, getting down on her knees to dig, plant and transplant and standing up again. The discomfort had gone away as she puttered everyday in her gardens.
Walking didn’t just clear the cobwebs from Melba’s mind and put things in a better perspective. She breathed deeper and felt more energy as she drank in the beauty of the world around her, stopping to smell the roses, so to speak. She just didn’t do it often enough to form a routine. She’d work on that.
Exercise for older adults has a lot of benefits. Melba knew it helped her to manage her stress and attitudes. It also reduced her pain. Her friend, Mariah, hadn’t been going to yoga very long but already her pain level was reduced and she got around without her cane. Melba was onto something here.
“When older people lose the ability to do things on their own … it’s usually because they’re not active,” says the National Institute on Aging.
To learn more about staying fit as you age, visit www.nih.gov or www.nihseniorhealth.gov. There are encouraging stories there from older Americans who are still physically active in their 80s. Tennis, golfing, strength training, dancing, whatever your favorite physical activity, get up on your feet and boogy! Keep moving and feel better. They say it’s never too late to start.
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