October 7, 1999
Use It or Lose It
Preparing for old age, with the right diet and fitness, can be fun
Just because we're getting older doesn't mean we can slack off on exercise. You can choose to be 20-years-old or 50-years-young. The difference is often in how well we take care of ourselves -- and that means exercise and eating right..
Throughout history our mere existence demanded a level of physical activity and movement that made resting time a luxury. Nowadays, we have become so sedentary that we need to exercise apart from our daily living. Most people do not fish, hunt or work the fields anymore. Nor do they walk or run long distances to work or chop down trees. Most of us sit while we work, travel and navigate through our daily activities. We therefore have a need to create "the exercise period."
The same goes for what we eat. Thanks to modernization and industrialization, fast foods have become a part of our daily diet. Too bad, because diet has the unique distinction of being one of the few major health determinants that is completely under our control. You can't always control the quality of the air you breathe, the noise you are subjected to or the emotional surrounding climate, but you can control what you eat.
The American food pyramid for the 50-plus population recommends the following daily portions:
A vitamin supplement with calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, all the B complex vitamins, vitamin E and Minerals (especially selenium). The use of fats, oils and sweets sparingly.
At least two 3 ounce servings of protein (including poultry, fish, beans, eggs or egg whites, nuts, soy, and less frequently meat)
2-3 servings of nonfat milk, cheese, yogurt.
At least 3 servings of cooked or raw vegetables.
6 (70 calorie) servings of high fiber, whole grain breads, cereals, rice, pasta.
At least 8 glasses of water.
In addition, small amounts of flaxseed and the use of green tea is also helpful. Obviously these new recommendations evolved to partially address the health related risks in an older population, including cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, diverticulosis and anemia.
This modified pyramid coupled with a regular exercise program will help seniors get on the right track to health.
The five core elements of exercise for this group include:
Aerobic Conditioning. Aerobic fitness is the ability to take in, transport and utilize oxygen more efficiently. Aerobic fitness can be influenced by heredity, age, gender and current body fat status. There are many ways that disease processes can interfere with the ability to reach this aerobic fitness. Individuals with emphysema and other lung diseases will be limited in the ability of the respiratory system to extract oxygen from the environment and deliver it to the blood. Those with heart disease will be limited by the ability of the heart to deliver oxygenated blood to the muscles being used. In addition, those with circulation problems will find it difficult to use certain muscles for exercise if blood cannot reach them when needed in greater demand. Your aerobic fitness program should be designed individually, taking into account various possible limitations. Examples of aerobic exercise include bicycling, use of a treadmill, outdoor walk/jog, cross country ski, stairmaster and step/dance aerobics. Your choice should be based on your abilities and limitations, but more importantly whatever brings great enjoyment. Remember, a warm up period before starting your activity as well as a cool down/ stretch period will protect you from annoying post exercise complications.
Strength and resistance training We can now, thanks to studies done in the last decade, emphatically state that muscular fitness tremendously impacts one's health. Fit muscles increase muscle mass which in turn helps to burn fat. In addition, exercises that cause muscular development also help prevent the crippling bone demineralization known as osteoporosis. In this age population, strength and resistance training helps insure one's independence and mobility in the coming retirement years The old adage "use them or lose them" has never been more important. Methods of this discipline include the use of free weights. This is the cheapest and most versatile application, however supervision is often needed for safety. Weight machines are another convenient option and require less supervision. If you are inexperienced, invest in several sessions with a trainer to familiarize yourself with the set up and use of the equipment. Make sure that the training session is appropriate to your age needs, level of fitness and abilities.
Flexibility This aspect of training focuses on altering the limits of motion imposed by connective tissue restriction and lack of muscle use. Injuries often occur due to decreasing flexibility in individuals. Low back pain specifically is commonly associated with poor back and hamstring flexibility as well as weak abdominal muscles. A warm up prior to stretching will help enhance muscle and joint flexibility. At minimum, stretching should take place for several minutes after aerobic or strength training.
Balance and agility Dancing, tai chi, martial arts and tennis are few enjoyable options that can help you in this area.
Stress Reduction Through yoga, tai chi, meditation, walking and swimming will round out the fifth component in the five core elements to long-term fitness and health.
Clearly there are specific eating plans and exercise programs to address individual health issues. Allied health professional with specific expertise can help in these areas. The reference books listed below can help you get started. But the important thing is to start, now. Getting older should be an adventure, not a problem.
Amy Hendel R-Pac, AFAA, IDEA is a certified personal trainer/nutritionist as well as a physicians assistant. She runs a private consulting firm "One on One Fitness" in Encino, Ca. She is also originator/coordinator of "Body Jam" a bootcamp and kickboxing facility in Encino.
Recommended reading and reference books for healthy aging:
"Natural Health, Natural Medicine" Andrew Weil, M.D.
"Fitness and Health" Brian J Sharkey, PhD
"ACSM Fitness Book," 2nd Edition