Column 28 - Seniors Need to Exercise Too.

Original publication date: March 14, 1984

The elderly are a growing force in our society partly because of the upgraded health care, and partly due to the decline in the birth rate. They are also the sickest of all age groups, not only due to the aging process but the lack of concern for exercise.

This lack of concern does not come only from the individual, but from society in general. To build an exercise room or walking path when developing an old-age home or housing complex for senior citizens is almost never considered. A common television room or recreation room for sedentary card games is almost always included, leading the elderly down an inactive, destructlve path.

Muscles and bones are not static pieces of machinery but moving, vibrant parts that are vital to our physical health. Prolonged sitting or lying in bed enhances the degenerative process.

Aged bones can become brittle and joints lose their natural resiliency and flexibility. A fall can result in a broken hip or other major disability. Although these facts must be taken into consideration, encouragement should be given to help improve muscle tone and flexibility through physical activity. For many elderly who gave up exercising years ago, a careful evaluation as to the limits of renewed exercise by a trained therapist is a first step.

Some of the most important remedial exercises are those improving joint flexibility. The elderly are often characterized by his or her lack of movement in a number of joints. Usually this begins with a little inflammation of the joints (arthritis) or from bursitis, an inflammation of the cavity containing fluid to reduce friction as between a tendon and a bone near the shoulder or hip. Soon the individual, through disuse, has subconsciously limited the range of motion of that joint. After a surprisingly short time, the joint becomes "frozen," unable to move at all, rendering it useless.

For those who can afford it, an exercise bicycle is great for increasing the flexibility and strength in the legs as well as providing sufficient aerobic endurance. If the Internal Revenue department accepts three-martini lunches as a deductible item for businessmen or women, a similar deduction for the elderly who wish to maintain their fitness by purchasing an exercise bicycle, should not be too much to ask.

Another important exercise for increasing circulation, aerobic endurance, and flexibility, is walking. If, however, there is poor muscle tone, lack of balance, and inflexible joints, a slow progressive effort with the help of a trained therapist is necessary. A safe environment is also necessary. Many elderly are nervous of busy roads and feel threatened by them.

Dance, mostly ballroom and square dancing, is a natural way to enhance the movement of the elderly and has valuable social functions as well.

Swimming with its relative weightlessness is an excellent conditioner. It is free of some of the potential injury-producing effects of other certain sports, making it an enjoyable activity.

A Canadian fitness promotion campaign done many years ago made much of the fact that a 60-year-old Swede was as fit as a 29-year-old Canadian male. It was enough to get the fitness ball rolling. Let's hope it never stops.

Copyright 2021 K.L. McCluskey, all rights reserved.