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Long gone are the days when ‘aging gracefully’ meant taking to a rocking chair on the front porch. Today’s seniors are more active than ever. They’re out jogging, walking, swimming, biking & hiking and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. &, say doctors, by remaining active, they’re increasing their chances of staying healthy and young.
Exercise, say many medical researchers, is a veritable fountain of youth. Seniors who engage in moderate to strenuous exercise on a regular basis are doing their bodies a favor in more ways than one. Recent studies released by the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health and the Arthritis Foundation all support regular, moderate exercise to help prevent or treat heart conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis. In fact, say most doctors, by including a half hour of exercise in your routine three times a week you can reduce your risk of nearly every physical condition that’s associated with aging.
“I love to travel and I exercise daily to stay fit so that I can enjoy my traveling more,” says Maddi McDonough, 66, of Pembroke, Massachusetts. “When we went to Switzerland, I was able to hike right up to the peak of Mt. Pilatus while others sat at the lodge and waited. In Alaska, I went mushing on a dog sled, and white water rafting in Colorado. I didn’t bungee jump in Australia, but it sure was tempting.”
For Maddi, exercising is walking” ten,000 steps a day, every day. Since she started walking, her cholesterol levels have dropped, her blood pressure is down and the sciatica that had confined her to bed for months at a time hasn’t reared its head in approximately 2 years. She’s one of millions who have snapped pedometers onto their belts to join the Ten,000 steps club. Walking is only one way of staying physically active, though. It doesn’t matter how you exercise, says the American Heart Association. The key is to get moving” and keep moving for about half an hour at least three times a week.
The Arthritis Foundation’s position on exercise reflects the changing attitudes of the times and the new information that research has brought to light. For decades, doctors advised patients with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis to take it easy’. Not any more. Nowadays, the advice is move it or lose it’. Just like muscles which atrophy if not used often, joints stiffen and become inflexible without regular use. Exercise helps keep the joints flexible, builds strong muscles approximately the joints and reduces joint pain. That’s not all, though, say the experts at the Arthritis Foundation. Regular exercise increases energy, promotes better sleep, controls weight, decreases depression and increases self-esteem.
And it’s fun. Just ask Marilyn Boynton, a 68 year old self-described ‘old broad’; Marilyn took up tap-dancing at the young age of 59. At one point, says the tap-dancing senior, her back hurt ‘really really bad’. Instead of retiring to her rocking chair, she joined a health club, and within a couple of months, the pain in her back had already begun to lessen.
For those who’ve been sedentary for some time, jumping right into a strenuous exercise program could cause injuries or strain. Instead, the American Heart Association offers the following advice for exercise success.
- If you haven’t been active for a while, are overweight or have a chronic health condition, see your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
- Choose a variety of activities that you enjoy so that you don’t become bored with just one type of exercise.
- Wear comfortable clothing and shoes that fit well.
- Make exercise a habit, but be flexible. If you miss a regular activity, make it up by fitting physical activity into your day another way.
- Don’t overdo it at first. Start slow and gradually work up your endurance and ability.
- Exercise with company. Finding a friend to work out with you can make exercise more enjoyable and help you stay on track.
- Remember to take the time to warm up before exercise and cool down after your workout.
“Exercising is good for you,” says Maddi McDonough. “It keeps you young and healthy. It gives you a good perspective on life and makes everything more fun.”