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Exercise and the Senior Citizen

by: Barbara M. Devine,
Licensed massage therapist, Reiki master practitioner, physical therapy assistant, certified weight trainer

Exercise is always that all-important New Yearís resolution that we make along with loosing weight. Then we falter and the excuses begin: I am too tired, I did it for a week but my back started to hurt. Excuses go on and on. So, when I began work on this article I thought to myself, "how can I write an article on exercise when, honestly, I am the perfect example of a resolution breaker?" Or at least I was a resolution breaker, but this year that changed. Why? It had to change, and I made that change for myself.

Earlier this year, I began an exciting new career in massage therapy that allowed me to work more independently with people. However, I also continued pursuing physical therapy, the profession I chose long ago. I was excited about these new ventures, but knew that my physical health needed to improve in order to be successful in this field. How could I impart to those who came into my office the sense that I was reputable if I had bad posture, was out of breath after a short period of time, and used poor body mechanics? Thus began my physical self-improvement through exercise. Furthermore, I began my work on this article, with hopes that at least a few readers would make a change in their own lives, as I did.

Ladies, it is a scientific fact that if you are over the age of 25, your bone density is diminishing daily due to Osteoporosis. And Gentleman, Osteoarthritis is an ailment that can do a serious number on your golf game. In addition, there are also the continuous stresses of hypertension and cholesterol. Who can keep it all straight? Granted, there are vitamins, calcium tablets, hormones, and medications that all can slow or alleviate these disorders, but the greatest gift you can give yourself is exercise.

The average human has approximately 400 skeletal (or voluntary) muscles. There are two other types of muscles as well: cardiac and smooth (involuntary) muscles. Now, everyone knows about the cardiac muscle and itís imperative function. Moreover, the smooth muscles make up the hollow organs of the body; the stomach, intestines, bladder and blood vessels. But the focus of this article and the primary goal of exercise is the strengthening of the skeletal muscles of the body. Research has shown that skeletal muscles can be strengthened at any age. A study conducted recently at the University of Florida College of Medicine found that older adults who initiated a strength training program and held to it three times a week not only improved their strength but improved their cardiovascular fitness and bone density as well. So we see that exercise is truly a gift that "keeps on giving."

A balanced exercise program has six components: warm-up, stretching, aerobic exercise, cool-down, strength training, and stretching. There are a variety of exercise types. Hatha Yoga, for example, improves the posture, relaxes and tones the muscles, and helps to relieve mental and physical stress. T'ai Chi is a form of eastern exercise that is extremely beneficial for improving balance, breathing technique and concentration.

On Cape Cod, there are numerous exercise groups that occur at senior centers and human services buildings. The most popular of these groups is the "Young at Heart Program." You can call the VNA for specific times and locations for the "Young at Heart Program" or your town offices for more information. Also, the Cape Cod Mall opens its doors daily at 7:00 am to provide open space, level surfaces and shelter for senior citizens that wish to participate in the "Mall Walkers" program. An added benefit of this program is the overwhelming support you will receive from other seniors just like yourself.

Before beginning any type of exercise program, remember to clarify your intentions with your primary care physician, as certain precautions may be necessary for you. Also, the National Institute on Aging offers an excellent website where specific exercises can be viewed via your computer:

Now that we have covered the benefits and means of exercise, the most difficult task begins: initiating the program. Beginning a journey so beneficial yet daunting must start with a positive self-image. Think positively about yourself and your decision to better your health through exercise. Affirm yourself with encouragement. Believe in yourself. Good luck.


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