It’s never too late: Age should not weary you

Sandra Siagian ,  The Jakarta Post ,  Jakarta   |  Wed, 10/14/2009 2:10 PM  |  Lifestyle

Aging is inevitable, but there are ways to slow it down. One of the most important is exercise.

As the years roll by, our bodies begin to break down, bones and muscles shrinking.

The key to reversing or retarding this shrinkage is to use those bones and muscles, to build them up in exercise. Which is why keeping the body moving is so important, especially for older people who might think their exercising days are gone.

The average person’s body muscle mass declines by 2.2 to 3.2 kilograms per decade and our metabolic rate declines by 2 to 5 percent per decade, according to Bianca Cumines, an exercise physiologist from Perth, Australia.

“It is very important to exercise to stimulate muscles to maintain bone density and improve coordination and balance,” Cumines said.

“There is a high prevalence of death with the elderly associated with hip fractures, as healing times lengthen which leads to inactivity and causes secondary illness such as pneumonia.”

Cumines, who is accredited with the Australian Association for Exercise and Sports Science, said that among the benefits of exercising for people of all ages – and especially for seniors – include the decreased risk of numerous lifestyle diseases and a reduced risk of injuries.

“By exercising you decrease the risk of heart disease, decrease your blood pressure, decrease lower back injuries and decrease arthritic symptoms by keeping your joints mobile and flexible,” Cumines said.

“Exercising also improves your body mass composition *BMI* by increasing lean muscle mass; you can prevent osteoporosis by maintaining or improving bone density and exercise can improve coordination, perception and balance to decrease risk of falls.”

Cumines said that, in particular, seniors can benefit from exercising as it increases energy levels, decreases depression and stress; it can also improve memory and concentration as slow cognitive symptoms are associated with dementia.

“Overall, exercise can improve and maintain the quality of life of a person,” said Cumines. “It can also increase mobility and functionality for active daily living, which is beneficial for the elderly.”

The best type of exercise for seniors depends on the individual, as each program must be customized and have the doctor’s clearance.

So what kind of exercise should a senior consider doing?

“All exercise is suitable depending on *the person’s* level and previous activity,” Cumines said.

“Guidelines suggest a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most, if not all days, to maintain health, like walking. But for greater health benefits like weight loss and cholesterol lowering, it is best to walk more at a higher intensity.”

Budi Priyono, a senior fitness instructor at Fitness First, Semanggi, in Jakarta says that new clients, both young and old, undergo a fitness test to evaluate their fitness, health and lifestyle before starting a program.

“We put them on the treadmill to walk for 15 minutes to see how they are physically,” Budi said.

“We then check their heart rate and from there we devise a program suited to their abilities.”

For elderly people, Budi said, low impact exercise is the best option.

“Walking and swimming are good options as they are both aerobic yet easy at the same time,” said Budi.

“We also have beginner classes available for members like yoga, which is a good activity to maintain and improve mobility with gentle stretching activities.”

Erwin Situmorang is well aware of the benefits of exercise. The 50-year-old walks seven times a week, mixing it up between a treadmill, gym and around Tangerang, his local area.

“Walking has helped me lead a better life as it gives me more energy throughout the week,” said Erwin, who has been walking regularly for the past 10 years.

“The days I don’t exercise, I feel tired and less motivated in my daily activities. Exercising makes me feel better on the inside and I can’t see myself stopping anytime soon.”

To maintain bone density and increase muscle mass, light resistance training (weights) should be included. Budi said the major muscle groups should be worked twice a week, with two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, with light weights.

“We encourage older people to do functional training which involves training the body and doing activities to help lead a better life,” said Budi.

“For seniors they should try use the medicine balls, as they are easier to use.”

Incidental activity is also another way to increase the amount of energy one expends and keep the body moving. Cumines said an easy way to keep healthy could be just as simple as doing some household chores.

“Mopping the floor or doing the gardening is a simple way to increase energy,” Cumines said about incidental exercise.

“Keeping the body moving is a good way to keep up energy levels. Seniors can pretty much do any form of activity as long as it is in the pain free range.”

While exercise can be taken up at any age, the results and benefits are not all equal.

“Unfortunately, at an older age you cannot regain the bone mass that has been gradually lost over the decades,” said Cumines. “However, it is possible to maintain what is left by starting to exercise.

“By starting at an older age, exercise is a great way to improve one’s psychological well-being through being social and independent and essentially improve their death age.”

Budi says some of his older clients at Fitness First Taman Anggrek have benefited from taking up the exercise at an older age.

“I have a 60-year-old client who two months ago could not perform simple strengthening exercises like squats and found it quite difficult to move,” Budi said.

“Now, he can perform the exercises perfectly as his muscles have strengthened and he can comfortably complete light walking and cycling.”

No matter how old you are, you can start to exercise at any time. However, for people over 50, it is important to have the all clear from the doctors.

Cumines said the key is to start small and gradually build on it.

“First timers should just start off with 10 minutes of walking,” Cumines said of seniors.

“Once they build their strength, they can increase the time and accumulate up to 30 minutes a day.”

The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post

The benefits of exercise for seniors

Thinking about getting more active? With just 30 minutes a day of a low-impact exercise, you could:

lower your risk of heart disease

lower your blood pressure

lower your cholesterol and improve your blood lipid profiles

improve your body mass composition by increasing lean muscle mass

improve your insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake (for those with diabetes)

prevent osteoporosis by maintaining/improving bone density

improve your coordination, perception and balance to decrease risk of falls

improve or maintain your quality of life by increasing mobility and function for active daily living tasks

reduce depression or stress

increase your energy levels

decrease any arthritic symptoms, keeping your joints mobile and flexible

decrease lower back pain