Stay active to stay healthy
by Juhee Shah, Exercise Physiologist
The elderly population is the fastest growing age group of the United States population. It has been projected that by the year 2050, almost 89 million Americans will be age 65 years or older. This is nearly double the United States’ population of elderly people in 2010. In light of the aging population, promoting and facilitating healthy aging has become a necessity.
As people age, their physiological function decreases, and their risk for chronic disease increases. The four primary fitness components – cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength and endurance, body composition, and flexibility – all deteriorate with age. In addition, chronic diseases pose the greatest health risk to the elderly. These diseases include heart disease, cancer, stroke, dyslipidemia (bad cholesterol), and diabetes. People living with any of these chronic conditions, in addition to the decline in fitness, can experience diminished quality of life due to limited mobility and functional fitness. Trouble with simple activities of daily living, such as eating, getting dressed, and taking care of household chores often arise.
Even with these inevitable changes that accompany age, it is possible to slow the rate of functional decline by eating a nutritious diet, taking precautions to prevent chronic diseases, and being physically active.
Physical activity is essential for older adults in order to keep themselves healthy, thus preventing many of the health problems that can come with age. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides information and recommendations for older adults on the amount and type of physical activity that leads to health benefits. Older adults should focus on three types of physical activity – aerobic, muscle strengthening, and balance training. These types of activity will help older adults improve their functional fitness, maintain functional independence, and avoid disability. The guidelines for older adults can be found online at http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter5.aspx.
“Physical activity is essential for older adults in order to keep themselves healthy, thus preventing many of the health problems that can come with age.”
There are many ways for older adults to be active and meet these guidelines. First and foremost, it is important to find an activity that you enjoy! You are more likely to stick with the activity if you have fun doing it. Second, be sure to choose a few activities that you like. By doing the same thing over and over again, you can often feel stuck, stop progressing, or get bored. Choose complementary activities to make sure you have variety. Healthyaging.net provides some tips for older adults who are ready to become active.
- Set a long-term goal and several short-term goals to incrementally work towards it.
- Keep working through setbacks. Although discouraging at times, they can be essential in showing you how your plan should change.
- Always keep your eyes open for ways to improve.
- Do not take on too much too quickly. Be patient and pace yourself.
- Put obstacles out of sight. For example, if sugar is your weakness, do not keep it around. Replace it with fresh fruit.
- Celebrate when you reach not only your long-term goal, but also the short-term ones! This will encourage you to keep up the good work and to keep working towards the big goal.
- Lastly, always make sure your goals and expectations are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound.
Juhee Shah is a fitness instructor, exercise physiologist, and personal trainer at Fort Sanders Health and Fitness Center. She has her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in exercise physiology at the University of Tennessee. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her sister and friends and practicing taekwondo, in which she has a 3rd degree black belt.