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Healthy Aging

Welcome to the July edition of Aging and Still Engaging.  The content of this month’s column has been provided by Maryanne Zarycka, B.A., who is a specialist in senior health and fitness, and a member of the Commission on Aging.  Today’s topic revolves around the importance of remaining fit through exercise and activity.

Some people believe that frailty and weakness are natural results of aging, but these are characteristics seen in inactive people whether they’re old or not.  The thought of exercise is an immediate turn off with visions of squeezing their bodies into some tight fitting Spandex and sweating for hours at a gym. When we stop exercising we lose our energy, and without energy we stop exercising, which can slip into the downward spiral that leads to inactivity, especially as we get older.

There are many pleasant ways to incorporate physical activity and exercise into one’s life that can become a compliment to the daily routine of living, rather than a dreaded nightmare. In a publication by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), “…just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as a brisk walk or washing your car, produce most of the health benefits from exercise. Moderate is best, but even low-intensity activity is better than nothing.” It is also important to add weight-bearing exercises, such as walking or weight lifting, to stimulate bone growth and make bones healthier. Start slow and remember every activity you add to your day is cumulative; 10 minutes of cardio or strength exercise 3 times a day is just as effective as doing 30 minutes all at once.

Inevitable physical declines in our body trigger emotional and mental concerns that can lead to poor attitude about life, depression from chronic pain or discomfort, loneliness, fear of falling, and anxiety. Unless addressed, these attributes can lead to isolation, withdrawal, and ultimately physical and mental deterioration. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “It is safe for most older adults to exercise, even patients with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis.” Exercise and activity can reverse or slow down the physical declines of old age.

There are four major areas to address in exercise; aerobic, strength, flexibility, and balance. Examples of aerobic exercise are brisk walking, swimming, and bicycling. Examples of strength exercises are walking, weight lifting, and using resistance bands. Examples of flexibility exercises are stretching, bending, and reaching. All of these contribute to building the strength needed to accomplish balance, along with specific exercises like one legged stance, or eyes closed finger to tip of the nose. Each of these exercises should be incorporated into a daily routine to keep the body functioning as efficiently as possible.

Some common activities enjoyed by seniors are daily walks, gardening, raking leaves, grocery shopping, dancing, playing with grandchildren, and dusting the house. There are also formal exercises that can be done in the privacy of a home such as chair exercises, weight lifting, stretching and flexing, wall presses and band exercises. Growing old gracefully is possible for anyone who chooses to take the first steps towards an active life. Staying physically active as we travel through life’s aging process is the keystone to healthy, independent, and successful living.

The San Luis Obispo County Commission on Aging invites the public to join us at the Veteran’s Hall on Grand Ave. in San Luis Obispo on Friday, July 21 from 10 a.m. – Noon. Our special topic that day is “County Adult Services Updates,” presented by Devin Drake, Department of Social Services Director. For more information about the Commission on Aging, visit www.slocounty.ca.gov/coa.htm, or call 235-5779.

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