At 7 a.m. each weekday, a group of Del Ray seniors meet at Starbucks to embark on a brisk, 45-minute walk. The women return to their starting point for coffee and conversation. Their goal is to stay active and socially engaged
“Even those of us who’ve never exercised and aren’t necessarily fit enjoy our walks,” said Joyce Herrington, one of the group members. “It’s mostly social and we enjoy it. The fact that we’re getting some exercise is a bonus.”
“The most important thing is to find an exercise or activity that you enjoy. If you enjoy what you are doing, you will be more likely to continue.” — Susan P Thompson, Ph.D., Northern Virginia Community College.
Learn more about Go4Life at go4life.nia.nih.gov.
Late last month, representatives from Go4Life, a program created by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), held a pilot workshop in Potomac, Md., that was designed to test methods for motivating older adults to increase their physical activity. Workshop participants were from Potomac Community Village, one of several Go4Life partner organizations of seniors who are helping to design strategies to engage seniors in exercise programs.
Sheila Moldover, Potomac Community Village Communications Chair believes that local seniors can benefit from Go4Life.
“We're going to include some easy and simple flexibility, balance and strength exercises at each of our Potomac Community Village meetings, and distribute Go4Life materials to our members, including to those who are already exercising,” she said. “We want to encourage everyone to pay attention to their balance, flexibility and strength as well as to endurance. We see that as enabling us to age in place, to thrive in place, and be healthy and active.”
Go4Life, an exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is designed to help those who are over 50 incorporate exercise and physical activity into their daily lives.
“We want people to know that it’s never too late to start an exercise program, and we focus on four types of exercise: strength, endurance balance and flexibility,” said Stephanie Dailey of the Go4Life program at the NIA. “It’s important that they’re doing all four components. Older adults can gain a lot from exercising. In fact, people have a lot more to lose by not exercising than by starting exercising.”
WHEN BEGINNING an exercise program, Dailey recommends guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“About 150 minutes per week of moderate activity is recommended for adults,” she said. “If you are going to start a fitness program, see your doctor first.”
For older adults exercise is important for maintaining function, physical strength and fitness, managing and preventing diseases, improving your mood and giving you more energy.
In spite of a popular misconception, older adults can gain strength and improve their muscles with these exercises, says personal trainer Christian Elliot, CEO, Founder TRUE Health and Wholeness in Arlington, Va. "I work with people who are in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s and I’ve never met a person who couldn’t improve their fitness,” he said. "We’re not going to stop aging, but you can certainly slow it."
Elliot recalls a client who was in her late 50s who didn't have a history of physical fitness, but wanted to get in shape. "She has hit some of the most phenomenal milestones, like being able to hold a 12-minute plank, do 50 push-ups and five push-ups on one arm,” he said.
FOR THOSE WHO are new to fitness, there is good news. “There’s a lot of evidence that middle age is a great time to get fit,” said Julie Ries, Ph.D, professor of physical therapy at Marymount University. “You want to be active and healthy in your middle age so that will keep dementia at bay in your old age. Exercise is not only for your physical health, but also your cognitive health.”
A well-rounded exercise program should include exercises that focus on aerobic exercise, flexibility, muscular strength and muscular endurance, and balance, says Susan P Thompson, Ph.D., assistant dean, Health Physical Education at Northern Virginia Community College.
“Cardiovascular exercises should be done most days of the week for a minimum of 20-30 minutes,” she said. “Walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, hiking and any activity that uses your large muscles in a continuous movement will increase your heart rate and improve circulation.”
Stretching and moving your joints through their range of motion will keep the joints lubricated and less stiff. “Stretching will also help decrease pain and stiffness in the back, neck, hip and feet,” said Thompson. “For the sportsman it will increase your power and ability to improve your follow through motion. For the hiker, it will let you lift your arms and legs higher. You can stretch daily. Yoga and dance are activities which focus on stretching.”
Improved muscular strength and endurance will allow you to do everyday tasks with less energy with less chance of injury, advises Thompson. “Leg strength will enable you to walk faster, get up and down from chairs with more ease,” she said. “For resistance, [you can use] hand weights, resistance bands, weight machines, water walking and exercise or your own body weight. Resistance training should be done two-to-three times a week working the major muscles. Pilates and other floor work focus on the core muscles.”
Balance training is important to prevent falls, one of the leading causes of disability in the senior population. “Although muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and cardiovascular exercises contribute to better balance, specific balance training is focused on body awareness, controlling your center of gravity, being able to navigate your environment and react quickly,” said Thompson. “The most important thing is to find an exercise or activity that you enjoy. If you enjoy what you are doing, you will be more likely to continue.”