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Tales from Tawa: Get Moving

Eve-Marie Wilson brings the very best advice on how to stay fit and healthy as the years go by.

For more of Eve-Marie’s varied and invariably entertaining columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/tales_from_tawa/

The physical and psychological benefits of exercising at any age are well documented.

However, it should be noted, one type of exercise alone will not ward off age related disability. To gain the maximum benefit from exercise there are three categories which need to be undertaken regularly.

Aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming and dancing maintain good heart and lung function. Walking is seen as the most ideal form of aerobic exercise and this becomes more important as we age. Thirty minutes or more, most days of the week is optimal. Even that doesn’t have to be done in one thirty minute session. Just as much benefit can be gained from walking twice a day for 15 minutes or even six times for 5 minutes.

Aerobic exercise, however, is not the whole answer, some form of stretching exercise several times each week to maintain joint flexibility is also recommended. Seniors who do stretching exercises find they remain more flexible than those who do not.

There are two types of stretching; dynamic and static. Dynamic stretching involves moving a muscle through its entire range of motion e.g. a hip swing. This type of stretching is usually used as a warm up prior to exercise. As we engage in aerobic exercise our muscles shorten, so to prevent injury it is advisable to do some static stretching afterwards to lengthen them again. Static stretching involves gradually stretching a muscle and holding the stretch for a few seconds while the body is at rest e.g. touching ones toes while seated.

As equally as important as that daily walk and stretching, is twice weekly resistance training to maintain muscle strength. Resistance training covers a range of activities from doing things like abdominal crunches to resistance cord exercises and lifting weights.

All the main muscle groups in the body need to be worked. These are the legs and pelvic area, the back and the shoulders, the arms, chest and the torso. There is little point in having strong abdominal or leg muscles if you can’t lift yourself out of a chair or the bath or carry shopping.

As we age we lose muscle tissue which causes our strength to decline. Experts say this occurs at the rate of 15 per cent per decade after age 50 and 30 per cent per decade after age 70. Older women are affected to a greater degree than men. Happily, engaging in some form of strength training such as weight lifting can reverse this. Experts believe that strength training may forestall declines in strength and muscle mass for decades. Furthermore weight training reduces the risk of osteoporosis as it strengthens bones and aids weight control because it increases muscle mass causing body fat to be burned.

Research conducted by the University of Queensland saw an increase in muscle strength and power of up to 50 per cent from basic twice-weekly machine based resistance training in those aged over 65 who participated in the research.
Not everybody has the desire to go to a gym or can afford to buy equipment to use at home. This should not be a deterrent, as special equipment is not essential. A senior can benefit from lifting household items such as books, cans and other moderately heavy items. Such low impact activity can even be done in a wheel chair.

A fourth type of exercise which is of benefit as we age is that which improves balance and stability. Loss of balance is responsible for a large number of elderly people being admitted to hospital with broken hips due to falling. Balance exercises can help you avoid injuries from falls and keep you independent and mobile.

In the hectic times in which we live many of us are too busy to bother fitting a structured exercise regime into our already overloaded schedule. Once we have hit middle or old age we reason it is too late to bother. The good news is it is never too late to start exercising. No matter how old you are there are benefits to be gained. Even those with chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure can exercise safely.

Furthermore, structured exercise is not needed, just movement. Nor does it have to be done in one big block. A few minutes walking to the supermarket each day, another couple of minutes climbing stairs, plus a few more spent gardening or doing housework all obtain measurable health benefits. Filling your day with incidental activity also helps burn extra energy and makes you feel good.

A word of caution; consult your doctor before engaging in any new form of fitness training.

There is no single exercise programme that will work for every individual; what suits one may not suit another. Once you have your doctor’s okay you can explore what is available and decide what is right for you. Any exercise is better than none so start with something easy and enjoyable. Most importantly remember an impaired quality of life through the loss of strength, endurance and flexibility as we grow older is more the result of becoming inactive rather than being an inevitable part of aging. So ensure you keep moving.


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