Seniors take action

Activity keeps body strong and able, but seniors often must work through pain and trepidation

Activity keeps body strong and able, but seniors often must work through pain and trepidation

August 22, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

Every morning, Anna Guyer's 87-year-old joints scream with the pain and stiffness caused by her arthritis.

Such pain makes it hard to think about moving, let alone taking the initiative to exercise.

Still, Guyer knows that, without doing something, her condition could become worse.

Guyer can't push it too much, but she still walks around her apartment several times a day, bending and stretching to keep herself limber.

"You get stiff if you just lay around," she says.

It's a reality that most people discover as their bodies age. Slowly, but surely, the body starts to resist activity and lose muscle mass.


That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that senior adults exercise as much as middle-aged people.

Getting older is no excuse for reducing activity levels, according to information from the CDC, which suggests seniors get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five or more days of the week. Seniors should stretch every day and participate in strength-building activities two to three days each week.

"From a joint, mobility and strength standpoint, moving and staying active is critical," says Jeanni Moyer, program manager for Total Rehab Care at Robinwood Medical Center. Just like with younger people, lack of exercise leads to a host of problems including weight gain and weakened heart health.

Argie Harris knows just how important it is to stay moving.

Five years ago when she was 65, she had a brain aneurysm that paralyzed the left side of her body. Through a physical therapy program that included lots of walking and using exercise balls, she was able to regain control of her body and get back on her feet.

Now, Harris, 70, heads up a morning exercise group at Potomac Towers in Hagerstown. With a handful of other seniors, Harris does seated aerobic exercises most days of the week and sometimes "chair dancing" that incorporates 1-, 2- and 3-pound hand weights to build upper body strength.

"If you just sit around you're going to get really stiff and your muscles are going to be really lax," she says. Exercise "keeps you limbered up and you can get around a lot better."

Harris admits it can be difficult for seniors to get motivated and sometimes it just seems easier to not do anything.

"It's just in your head," she says. "If you want to exercise, you're going to. If you don't, you're not going to."

Members of the Washington County Commission on Aging Southeastern Senior Site in Keedysville started a summer walking program in June to keep themselves motivated.

They planned to walk at least five days a week from the first of June through the end of this month. Site members keep track of their individual accomplishments and encourage each other.

The group walks outside in the senior site parking lot, but when the weather is too hot or wet, they make laps in a large community room. Drennen says most seniors have noticed that their stamina has increased over the course of the summer and many plan to continue walking into the fall.

Jennings "Jinks" Bailey, 72, has walked every day for two and a half months. He enjoys the activity so much he's walking on his own in the mornings before the senior activities start.

That's particularly impressive since Bailey has suffered from the effects of polio his entire life. He feels he maintains his independence by staying active.

The 30 minutes of exercise doesn't have to be about going to the gym or even putting on workout clothes. Everyday tasks and chores can help add stretching and strength training to a daily routine.

Annadean Criswell, 75, of Boonsboro, says she stays active by maintaining her home by herself. She does all her own cleaning and gardening, which helps her stay limber. Every part of her body feels exercised after gardening, she says with a laugh.

John Walsh, 70, of Boonsboro, says he cuts his half-acre lawn every week with a push lawn mower to stay fit. He also works part time to get out of the house and interact with others.

"If I didn't have this part-time job, I'd end up being a coach potato," he says.

Lucia Rice, 71, of Mapleville, north of Boonsboro, and Fred Mongan, 68, agree that working and volunteering keep them active and feeling as if they are contributing to their community.

The benefits of maintaining a high activity level long into life cannot be measured by vital statistics alone, Moyer adds.

Giving the body strength and endurance can actually help prevent some common senior injuries.

Many older adults say they stay away from exercise because they are concerned about hurting themselves or falling, Moyer says. In fact, exercising and staying active prevent falls, she says. "The stronger (seniors) are, the more nimble they are, the more likely they will be able to catch themselves."

Strength training for seniors also prevents muscle deterioration and helps maintain bone mass so that, if an older person falls, they will be less likely to break bones.

Senior activities to stay healthy, fit

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