A Healthier Future

A Healthier Future

At any stage of life, we know that exercise and physical activity is beneficial for health, emotional well-being and the prevention of many lifestyle diseases. And as people age, the benefits start to go beyond just physical health. "As we age physiologically, we lose [physical tone and function] faster," says William Macy, director of Avamere Health & Fitness Club in Medford, a situation that puts physical, emotional and financial strains on older people. "You become more dependant on medical care," he points out as your health begins to take more of your time, activities, independence and finances.

Just last month, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) launched a new program called "Exercise is Medicine." "This is exactly my philosphy and what we do here," says Macy, a certified ACSM professional. "This is a true community partnership." The focus is to encourage health care providers to discuss exercise and its full implications with their patients. Exercise is beneficial on so many levels that seniors can actively take part in preventing and treating chronic health conditions.

Dee Gillen, ACSM health & fitness instructor and manager of the Barnett location of Superior Athletic Club in Medford, agrees. "The encouragement to exercise by the medical community is a big step to gain support for helping seniors feel more comfortable with starting an exercise program."

Like any age group, both Macy and Gillen say, seniors face a unique set of obstacles to beginning an exercise program. "Older people face many problems with their exercise programs," says Gillen. "Physical constraints can range from an injured joint (back, knee, shoulder or hip), cardiovascular disease, foot trouble with diabetes, or balance. Fear of falling, getting injured, or simply being uncomfortable is also a factor." Poor health and lack of transportation can also deter older people. And for many seniors, particularly from a generation more likely to be involved in a manual workforce, Macy has found there is a perception that "I was physically active. Why would I want to do more? I want to rest."

"There's some work needed to achieve any goal," reminds Macy. If a healthier body and lifestyle are your goal, the key is to find both the activity and the environment that you enjoy. "If you like something, typically you'll have greater success," Macy adds. And there are a variety of fitness activites to choose from: water classes, dance aerobics, flexibility or balance classes, strength training and more. "Exercise should be something you enjoy and feel comfortable doing," Gillen sums up.

What should you look for? "Exercise programs for older adults need to address strengthening muscles and cardiovascular endurance. Strengthening will not only increase bone density, but also emphasize strengthening muscles involved in acts of daily living and balance," says Gillen. "'Functional' exercise is the emphasis for everyone, but with older adults it is especially important to exercise in a manner that will reflect daily movements at home, in social settings, or shopping."

Along with talking to their physician, both Macy and Gillen say it's especially important for seniors to consult a qualified exercise professional when starting a program. Meeting with a professional is important because the older adult needs to share any past history of health problems. This could include surgeries, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, dizziness, or joint troubles "¦ many of these problems can be addressed and properly improved. And remember to keep up the discussion with your trainer or physician.

"I like to encourage seniors to start new activities slowly and to listen to their bodies. If something hurts, it may not be appropriate to do the exercise. "No pain/no gain" went out the window years ago," says Macy. The ultimate goal for both you and your trainer is to find an activity you'll stick with and a safe forum to do it in. Even small changes will make a big difference over time.

Far from being "work," exercise can be an investment in your future and that of your family and friends. "It can be fun. It can be interactive," says Macy. "And you'll see the health benefits."

Share This Story