I am thrilled that the days of prescribing exercise and intensity based solely on age are gone. Hallelujah to that! I fought that battle for many years and, thankfully, the time has come to base activity on everything except age. Yes, there are valid reasons to slow down or alter the way we work out -- physical limitation, chronic disease, frailty, health history -- but with the exception of frailty, these factors could just as easily limit a 30-year-old.
If you are an inactive older adult and wondering how to become more physically active, talk with your health-care provider and ask for guidance. Walking and/or water exercise is a great place to begin, but classes like SilverSneakers that promote strength and bone density and cardiovascular fitness are sensible choices.
How can two 75-year-old people free of disease look and feel so different? Don't we all just naturally wear out? The aging process is impacted by lifestyle and my SilverSneakers members understand this. They see prime examples among them in class.
A study by Taylor and Johnson in 2008 theorized about wear and tear on our bodies and our cells. They suggest all cells, tissues, organs and systems wear out because of continual use throughout life. However, they also say that while the life of our cells has a biological clock, how we treat our bodies may hasten the aging process. This is why two people of the same age can look and go through life in entirely different ways.
In addition to the wear and tear of our bodies, we must also consider the implications of physical activity on our brains. Cognitive health will also diminish at a pace based on lifestyle. Wellness plays a key role in mental processes such as intuition, judgment, recall, language, following directions and the ability to learn new things. We know that if the brain remains free of disease, it can perform normally as long as we live. But we need to challenge it just as we do our muscles and heart.
In a study by neuroscientists (Nussbaum 2006; Abbott et al. 2004; Verghese et al. 2003), it was concluded that swimming, dancing, gardening, knitting, frequent use of the nondominant hand and leg, and walking 10,000 steps a day were positive options to preserve brain health. When seniors gather to exercise, they also socialize -- this is a bonus for the mind and body. Recreating with others and maintaining a network of friends stimulate brain function while building in support.
Each week when I lead a SilverSneakers class, I am reminded of what successful aging looks like. These people are my friends, my mentors and my role models for life.
Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified instructor/trainer since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to her at YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail cindys...@aol.com. Look for Cindy's award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World," on her website, www.cindysays.com, or contact the YMCA at 304-340-3527.