Healthy Aging

healthy aging

It's a New Year! Go4Life

In this time of discussion about the government and healthcare, most are happy to have Medicare for us senior citizens. What not everyone may be as familiar with is the massive National Institutes of Health (NIH) that mainly sponsors research which over the years has led to incredible advances in our understanding of disease and new treatments for many of these afflictions.

An even more obscure part of the NIH is the relatively small National Institute on Aging (NIA). One of the most important things that NIA has done, aside from research in the field of geriatrics, is they have created a program for fitness for senior citizens. The program is extremely well done and offers a myriad of free materials for anyone who wants to learn about how to stay fit as we age. Simply go to the Internet and enter http://go4life.nia.nih.gov/ in your browser, and bingo, you have a wealth of information on your screen about health and wellness as you age.

You Have to Go to Stay

Regular readers of this column know how important exercise is to our health. In fact, exercise and diet are the two things we have total control over in our lives and they are two of the most important strategies for staying healthy and alive! Every new year, we like to remind you that regular exercise is a key method for you to use to ensure better health. It is that simple.

Types of Exercises

Not all exercises are the same. In fact, exercises can be categorized according to different types just like food has different groups. In exercise, as with diet, it is most healthy to have a balance. The types of exercise can be found in a most readable free book (which I strongly recommend) published by the NIA entitled Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging. ENDURANCE exercises are activities usually thought of as "exercise." They are aerobic, meaning they require increased oxygen consumption that improves the function of your lungs, heart and circulatory system. These exercises produce most of the health and aging benefits. STRENGTH exercises are generally done with light weights and are designed to build muscles which make you stronger and more independent. BALANCE exercises prevent falls and other accidents that often lead to disability as we get older. FLEXIBILITY exercises are essentially stretching and should be done before any of the other exercises, since they prevent injury that might occur with the other forms of exercise. You should stretch before performing endurance activities.

Endurance Exercises

These are the most familiar exercises and the most healthful. Any physical activity that causes your heart to beat more frequently and usually provokes perspiration qualifies. These exercises include gardening, walking, jogging, tennis, biking, swimming and so on. Because these exercises are the most important, we will help you decide how to incorporate them into your daily living by answering two common questions.

How Often?

Above we wrote daily. It used to be said that doing endurance exercises three times a week was sufficient. Well, three is better than two or one day, but now the scientific data show that some form of aerobic exercise for 30 minutes every day of most weeks is best for you. The NIA in answer to the question how much physical activity do I need responds: "The goal is to achieve at least 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of moderate-intensity endurance activity a week. Being active at least  three days a week is best, but doing anything is better than doing nothing at all. If you cannot do 150 minutes a week because of  a health condition, do as much as your condition allows. Try to do all four types of exercises - endurance, balance, flexibility, and strength. Try to do strength exercises for all of your major muscle groups on two or more days a week, but don't do strength exercises of the same muscle group two days in a row."

How Much?

Every person has an individual quantity of exercise that is right for them. The idea is to build stamina and endurance. The goal is not to overdo it and actually harm yourself. how do you judge what is right for you? For starters, exercise should not make you so breathless that you cannot talk (this is just one reason it is good to exercise with others). Likewise it should not make you dizzy or cause chest pain. The way to progress is to measure distance and time while working about the same amount. For example, for a week or so one might walk a mile in 30 minutes and then increase the distance to a mile an a half in the same 30 minutes using the same amount of exertion - which can be judged by counting your heart rate. In other words, exercising more and more but achieving the same heart rate over months is the best way to build endurance. In time you will need to increase both the difficulty and perhaps the duration of the exercise.

The Bottom Line

As we enter a new year, there is no excuse for us not getting on the go for life!

Healthy Aging

Health Library: Exercise and the Aging Person

The MUSC Wellness Center - Anyone Can Join!

Podcast: Dr. Reve's Top Ten New Year's Resolutions for Healthy Aging


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