The Golden Years

Exercise is for everyone, and that includes both the aging and the elderly. While the natural life cycle consists of growing old, the quality of the aging process can be enhanced by exercise.

Golden years are defined as the time of life after retirement from active work, during which a person is normally in a particular life state. Sadly, the life state for most retirees is sedentary or mildly active. Physical fitness and good nutrition practices are often abandoned at a time when they are needed most.

We have been conditioned to think of the golden years as a time when we no longer have to work; a time to sleep in, play golf, spend time with the grandkids, visit old friends, or just plain kick back. The tendency is to slow down with age, and ignore the physiological facts that lack of use causes bones to lose their density and become brittle; it also causes muscles, tendons and brain cells to weaken.

Medical research continues to offer evidence that many of the normal physiological effects of aging can be retarded by regular activity and specially designed exercise programs.

As we age, it is important to increase our activity level. This includes resistance training. Muscles atrophy from lack of use, not from old age. The realization that we should always be active, fit and physically strong, regardless of age, is the recipe for long-lasting good health. This is accomplished by acting on the scientific evidence that the need to participate in a balanced physical fitness program increases with age.

Regular programmed exercise: aerobics, stretching, balancing and resistance training, is a routine with the specific intent to improve physical and mental function. The counterpart to physical fitness, physical activity, is work done with the intent of accomplishing a task such as gardening, house cleaning, cutting the lawn, and chopping wood. In the realm of our existence, both exercise and physical activity have a major impact on our well-being and quality of life.

Most older people understand that they should be involved in regular aerobic exercise: walking, running and swimming, for example, to maintain good health. However, the majority of older individuals disregard weight/resistance training as a necessary component of good health. In reality, resistance training can significantly slow down and even reverse declining muscle mass, decreasing bone density, and overall physical strength loss. Also, it contributes to an improved state of mental well-being.

Endorphins, a chemical release into the blood stream during exercise and physical activity, has a positive influence on cognitive abilities, and can greatly reduce the risk of memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise also helps create new brain cells, reduces stress levels, and even lessens the chance of brain damage.

Weight training is the most effective way to strengthen muscles through its ability to increase the size of muscle fibers. Working the large muscles of the body, along with balance, flexibility exercises and abdominal work should be performed two to three times per week. Exercising the whole body and keeping it agile will help decrease pain and stiffness associated with lack of mobility often occurring as we age. Weakened muscles from years of inactivity put older people at high risk for falls. That is why resistance training is the primary reason that a fitness program should start for those people 50 and older if not younger.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has published specific weight training guidelines for people 50 and older. It recommends lifting a heavy enough weight to perform sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, targeting the major muscle groups two to three times a week. More repetition with less weight enhances muscle tone and endurance while fewer repetitions (8-10 reps) are best for building muscle mass.

To make weight training a safe, efficient, effective, strength developing activity, adhere to the following:

  1. Develop good form and proper breathing techniques by starting with lighter weights.
  2. Condition the entire body by including a variety of exercise.
  3. To lessen the chance of injury and to maximize the effectiveness of the workout, always focus on good form.
  4. Breathe properly. Inhale through the nose on the relaxing phase and EXhale through the mouth when Exerting energy. Adhering to good breathing techniques allows for more oxygen to be pumped through the blood, thus a more effective and safer workout. The breath should never be held while training with weights. Holding one’s breath can cause increased blood pressure, dizziness and even more serious complications.

During weight training sessions, pain should not be part of the experience. You should work to muscle fatigue, not pain. So, get started on increasing the quality of life through exercise today!

Resources: AAHF, WPTA Inc.

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