The Best of…Experts: Eat Less, Exercise

             Published January 2007, Senior Digest

            As we begin the New Year, many people launch promises through New Year’s resolutions or take this time to reflect on overall better lifestyle improvements.    State aging and health care experts say that if your goal is to live longer, consider squeezing in time to enhance your fitness and health through ongoing exercise and better eating.

           Phillip G. Clark, ScD, Professor and Director Program in Gerontology and Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center, notes that exercise is key to living a healthier life.  “Use it or lose it,” he tells Senior Digest.   If older adults don’t continue to use their capabilities, whether physical or mental, they may eventually lose those abilities. So, it is important for aging baby boomers and seniors to continue to be as active as they can, within the limits of any impairments or health problems they may have.

           Before beginning any program always check with your doctor to be sure it is okay. “Your doctor will advise you on other special conditions or limitations you may need to address in developing your own program,” Dr. Clark says.

Exercise, the Best Pill

          Dr. Clark believes that exercise is the “best pill,” Regular exercise for older adults are linked to all sorts of positive physical and mental health outcomes and advantages, he says.  People just feel better physically and mentally especially if they exercise properly on a regular basis.

          The University of Rhode Island (URI) gerontologist compares physical activity to a savings account.  Dr. Clark says, “If you ‘put’ deposits into your exercise savings on a regular basis, you can ‘draw’ on these when you are sick or have to hospitalized to help minimize the impact of any setback on your functioning.”  

          To exercise, costly weight machines and bikes are not necessary, Clark says.  “Keep it simple,” Dr. Clark recommends.  “For many older adults, just walking regularly can have a number of positive benefits. In the winter when the weather is bad, some folks walk around inside their local senior housing building or at the mall,” he says.

             Deb Riebe, PhD., a Professor in URI’s Department to Kinesiology, says that research has found resistance training is another viable option for aging baby boomers and seniors to consider staying fit.  .

 Consider Resistance Training and Balance Exercises

             The URI exercise physiologist notes that muscle strength peaks at age 30 for most people.  After age 50, there is a real decline in muscle strength.  By your 60s or 70s, if you don’t exercise or participate in a resistance training program it will become more difficult to perform simple activities of daily living, like carrying the vacuum cleaner or groceries, says Riebe.

             Strengthening your muscles can be done simply by lifting small hand weights that can purchased in local stores, adds Riebe, noting that you can use your own body weight to strengthen your muscles in your legs by sitting in your dining room and than standing up.  Perform this simple resistance training exercise 10 times.

             “Balance exercises are also very good to prevent a person from falling.  “A good example of a balance exercise is to stand up on one leg using a chair for support,” she says.  

             Don’t use lack of time as a reason to not exercise, warns Riebe.  “Fit 30 or 40 minutes of exercise into your daily routine.  But for those who chose not to you can always park your car far away from a store and walk a little longer distance.  Or you do a few exercises during a television commercial, “combining leisure with a quick work out,” she says.

              Even when socializing with friends or family, Riebe recommends going out and taking a walk around the neighborhood.  “Everyone will benefit,” she says… 

               Anne Marie Connolly, MS, Director of Rhode Island’s Get Fit Rhode Island, Program, oversees Governor Donald Carcieri’s worksite wellness initiative for state employees.  Programs like Rhode Island’s are being launched nationwide by the mandate of state health commissioners and insurance companies attempting to reel in spiraling health care costs. 

               To improve health behavior, brochures, on site lectures (controlling stress and high blood pressure) and behavior change classes (physical exercise and smoking cessation) are aimed at the 20,000 state workers, whose average age is 47 years old.

 Good Nutrition Important, Too

              Connolly, a professor and research associate at URI’s Kinesiology Department stresses the importance that nutrition plays in maintaining one’s good health.  “Research tells us that people should eat smaller portions, increase their fruit and vegetable and decrease fat, high calorie foods and sweets from their diet,” she recommends.

              For persons with high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, consider asking your physician for a consult to see a nutritionist.  Connolly notes that this visit is covered by most of health insurance companies.  “A change in your diet can make significant improvements in many chronic conditions.” 

              Connolly observes that some people don’t buy vegetables and fruits because of cost.  “Look around for supermarkets that offer smaller packaging or portions of vegetables and fruits. Salad and fruit bars enable a person to buy to portion or quantity they need,”: she says.  Even in senior housing, you can work with others to buy cheaply.  Split a head of lettuce with a neighbor. Create a schedule to rotate the purchasing of fruits and vegetables, too.   

              As to exercise, Connolly suggests people start off slowly, more important find an exercise that you will like to do.  As a consultant to Club Med, she came to believe that exercise should be fun and not a chore.  “Look back and see what you did when you were younger,” Connolly adds.  “One woman who took tap dancing in her younger years picked it up again.  It does not have to have to be the same intensity as when you were younger.”   

              For persons with arthritis, try going to a local senior center or YMCA and enroll in exercise programs specifically designed for that chronic condition.  “Water exercise is extremely wonderful for people with arthritis,” she says.

               Connolly notes that some Medicare providers even give special discounts for senior citizens who join health care club chains, costing the older person just $10.00 per month.  Check out your Medicare health care plan’s benefits to see if you are eligible to participate.

              Experts agree that the exercise benefits both young and old. “What is remarkable about the human body, people of all ages respond to physical exercise in the same way,” Connolly says.  .

               Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based writer whose articles on health, medical and aging issue.  This article was published in January 2007 in Senior Digest. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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