by Gary Kobat
George Burns - who lived to be 100 - used to say:
"If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!
You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old."
Fauja Singh ran his first marathon at age 89, and last year became the oldest person to complete a full distance marathon at age 100 in Toronto.
For some, age is their "story", it comes with all sorts of cultural and self-limitations, but for many age is just another number on a calendar. There's a growing number of seniors, "an actual movement" that defy and define age and quality of life as how they feel inside, more biological than chronological.
The Numbers Don't Lie
Now that the average life expectancy in the United States is at 77 years, quality of life in one's later years is increasingly important. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, by year 2030, people 85 years and older will be the fastest growing segment of the population, and individuals 65 years and over will reach 70 million.
Ask anyone to guess which age group is least likely to be regularly meeting for physical activity and they'll probably say children. Not so, according to the Department of Health older people sit firmly at the bottom of the class with approx 15% over the age of 65 sufficiently active. Research shows that 44% of adults over the age of 70 years take a 20-minute walk less than once a year, or never.
Fountain of Youth
Studies show that regular exercise by elderly people can turn back the clock 20 years when compared to those who do little or no exercise. Regardless of our present age, exercise & physical activity is clearly the best thing that we can do for ourselves to counteract the effects of aging and dis-ease.
What's now inspiring is that we are seeing weekly media reporting about how simple, consistent and regular exercise can improve heart & respiratory function, lower blood pressure, control type II diabetes, increase strength, improve bone density, improve flexibility, quicken reaction time, relieve stress, prevent cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, reduce body fat, increase muscle mass, slow risk of Alzheimer's and dementia, and reduce susceptibility to depression - "one of the biggest causes of death in the elderly", says a leading senior health facility executive.
No wonder experts believe that exercise is one of the closest things we have to a Fountain of Youth - allowing one to maintain an independent status, one with social interaction, encouragement, self-love, self-care, thus not requiring aid-living for the remainder of life.
When we take care of our moving parts and the parts that keep us moving, we can easily plan to live to be 100.
Slow Down or PickUp the Pace?
We're never too old to create positive results. We were born to move at any age at any fitness level.
You’ve probably grown up with the idea that transitioning from middle age into “senior citizen” status means slowing down. It certainly seems like a lot of middle-aged-to-seniors have heeded this advice – taken it way too far, actually, and have slowed to a practical stop.
It turns out that this can be a prescription for trouble.
We know now that the physical decline associated with aging is not simply the result of getting older. In many respects, it’s a product of becoming less active as we age. In other words, it’s not aging that forces us to take it easy, it’s taking it too easy that makes aging more debilitating than it needs to be.
The human body is much better at repairing and maintaining itself when you keep it well conditioned through a program of regular physical activity, exercise, and nutrition. This doesn’t change when we get older — in fact, the old adage “use it or lose it” is probably truer when we’re 60+ than when we’re in our 30s. Slacking off on healthy habits is the primary factor in age-related challenges like excessive muscle loss, deteriorating bone density, declines in strength and aerobic fitness, and increased difficulties with balance and flexibility.
Start Here and Start Now - The Assessment
If you’ve remained active and continued to exercise through middle age, you probably know your body well enough to recognize your strengths, your natural limitations, and the areas where you should improve to better function in your daily life.
But if it’s been a while since you’ve done much exercise or regular physical activity, or you’re not sure if certain problems you’re having are “normal,” it’s vital to start with a good assessment of where you are right now. That will be your foundation for putting together an effective exercise and activity plan.
Of course, check with your doctor before beginning any program. Once cleared, you can do these self-assessments at home, and repeat every 30 days to see and feel your improvement:
Gear Needed: A 5 lb hand weight for woman, 8 lb for men, a tape measure, tape, a clock with a second hand, and an assistant, friend, trainer or coach to record and support your assessment.
The Arm Curl: Assessing upper body strength for daily chores and when with grandchildren.
The Test: Complete as many bicep curls as you can in 30 seconds - you are at a higher risk if your total is less than 11.
The Chair Stand: Assessing lower body strength for balance, getting in and out of chairs, the bathtub, the car, and climbing stairs.
The Test: Sit in a standard chair with arms folded across chest - hands on opposite shoulders. Stand up & sit down as many times as possible in 30 seconds, without using hands for support - you are at a higher risk if your total is less than 8.
The Step: Assessing aerobic endurance for activities for an extended period of time.
The Test: Face wall, put a piece of tape on the wall halfway up from your knee and down from your hip. Begin stepping, raising each knee as high as the tape mark, count right plus left knee-up as one - you are at a higher risk if your total is less than 65 in 2 minutes.
The Sit and Reach: Assess lower body flexibility for walking, in and out of cars, and balance.
The Test: Sit on edge of firm chair, extend one leg out in front with heel on floor, bend forward, arms straight towards toes, measure distance between fingers and toes - you are at a higher risk if more than 2-4 inches.
The Back Scratch: Assess upper body flexibility for seat belts, putting on clothes, brushing hair.
The Test: Reach behind back and slide hand up towards opposite shoulder, with opposite hand reach back over and attempt to touch the tip of other hand, measure the distance - you are at a higher risk if more than 2-4 inches.
The Get Up and Go: Assess ability to move in a hurry, on a bus, train, plane, to answer phone.
The Test: Place a mark eight feet out in front of a chair, sit in the chair, time yourself as you stand up, walk to the marker and back, and sit back down - you are at a higher risk if it takes you 9 seconds or more.
If you’re scores are in the high-risk zone, it will be very important to incorporate exercise -twice a week - for 90 days, to help you improve the functional abilities. If your scores are above average now, a regular exercise program (cardio, strength, balance and flexibility training) is the best way to keep them there, as you get older.
Getting Started - Gracefully
Start slowly, and build up gradually. There's no need to try and make up for years of inactivity overnight. In fact, you could get injured or burn out by doing that. Too much, too soon, too hard, and too long: adrenal fatigue is becoming an epidemic of the 40-50 year old crowd.
If that means starting with just five minutes of walking, then that's what you ought to do. In fact, one of my favorite plans is to recommend getting started with just five-minutes-out and five-minutes-back.
Just like it sounds, you walk out for five minutes, turn around, and walk back. That's it - 10 minutes of walking, and off you go about your day - as I have prescribed last month for my own 76-year-old Mother. If you feel ambitious, you can do 8 minutes out and back, and add some stretching when you finish if you like.
One of the best ways to get motivated and stay that way is to set goals - and use a journal. Set a weekly exercise plan, starting today for the week coming up. Write down what day of the week, what time of day, minutes of activity, the activity that you'll do, and the mood you have before, and after your activity session. Be specific, be realistic, be honest, be loving and responsible, walk your talk, follow your heart, and stay aware and present. Exercise is an amazing way to reconnect with yourself, so that you can reconnect to your family and others.
The message is clear: to get more from your years, it's time to get moving.
There are a variety of ways to move - most you already know -some you may desire to add a little "spice-of-life" to your movement program after you've developed a few weeks of consistency.
Here are a few ways to get moving:
Walking is by far the most popular low-impact aerobic exercise: start by walking three days a week - graduating one day extra every three weeks up to six days a week - once ready and you feel it.
Dancing has created a surge of energy of late, with classes, styles, and music to fit all tastes: start slow, with one class a week, graduating one extra class every three weeks to a maximum of three per week.
Aqua-Aerobics is another low-impact ideal exercise in water waist-deep. Classes and teachers are readily available at most pools: start easy with two times a week, and add one extra class every three weeks.
Swimming is a training session that works the whole body: start easy with once a week, and add one session every three weeks.
Cycling is another excellent low-impact aerobic exercise: start slowly, once a week and gradually add minutes on the bike each week, then an extra session each three weeks.
Yoga lifts your mood and wellbeing while improving your breathing, strength, balance, and flexibility: start with one day a week, add an extra session each three weeks up to 5 days a week.
Tai Chi promotes physical and mental wellbeing through a series of easy and flowing movements: start by using movement as a form of clarity, focus and breathing up to 3 days a week, adding one day a week every three weeks up to 6 days a week.
Pilates focuses on rebalancing the body and improving posture through slow movement: start with one day a week, add another day each three weeks up to 3 days a week.
Above is just a sample of popular aerobic, strength, and flexibility training available to you through clubs, private studios, community pools, YMCA's, gym's, spa's, health clubs, tennis clubs, and training centers - all featuring class schedules, teachers, private trainers, and specific groups focusing on age 65 and above.
Putting it all Together
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, as well as The American Heart Association, all healthy people aged 65 years or more should exercise 5 times a week for at least 30 minutes at a time, or intense exercise 3 times a week for 20 minutes. This exercise should include aerobic exercise and strength training with the strength training composed of 8 exercises - Twice a week.
Here's a suggested Training Plan for someone 65 or older, and just starting again:
M-W-F Aerobic Movement... Tue-Thurs Strength Movement... Sat-Sun Off-
Aerobic: Start with a M-W-F walk: begin with 5 minutes out, 5 minutes back, add one minute each session - the first week is easier, one can be compliant, consistent, and build good habits. By week 4 you're walking 30+ minutes each session and have built a foundation - by week 8 you're up to approx 60 minutes of walking. Anytime after week four you can substitute another type of aerobic exercise for one of the days, like swimming, biking, and or dancing for example.
Strength: Start with the following strength oriented exercises on Tuesdays and Thursdays to support your aerobic development; this will ensure your ability to begin cross training with a variety of new aerobic choices after week four:
1) The Arm Curl - from the assessment test above: 2 sets: one set of 12 reps, second set of 10 - 60 second recovery. Add 1 rep each week for 4 weeks.
2) The Chair Stand - from the assessment test: 2 sets: one set of 12, second set of 10 - 120 second recovery, Add 1 rep each week for 4 weeks.
3) The Wall Press - stand near a wall, lean into the wall with both hands and pretend you are doing a push-up - against the wall, you are! Do two sets: one set of 6, one set of 8 - 120 second recovery. Add 1 rep each week for 4 weeks.
4) The Calf Raise: - stand next to a chair or wall for balance and raise-up onto your toes and back down. Do two sets: one set of 12, one set of 14 - 120 second recovery. Add one rep each week for 4 weeks.
5) The Shoulder Press: with the 5 or 8 lb hand weights, hold them at shoulder height and raise them up above your head half way fully extended. Do two sets: one set of 6, one set of 8 - 120 second recovery. Add 1 rep each week for 4 weeks.
6) The Stairs: yes, that's right: let's strengthen our muscles and get better on stairs by doing sets of stairs just like the Olympians. Do two sets of 10 step-ups or two sets of a flights of ten stairs - 120-second recovery.
7) The Upright Rows: with the 5 or 8 lb hand weights, hold them in front of you by letting them gently drop just below your hips, arms straight, and pull up to your chest - that's one. Do two sets: one set of 6, one set of 8 - 120 second recovery. Add one rep each week for 4 weeks.
8) The Wall Squat: turn your back to a wall, lean up flat against it with your back, take your feet slightly out from the wall, and slide your back down and then back up, that's one squat. Do two sets: one of 6, one of 8 - 120 second recovery. Add one rep each week for 4 weeks.
You're Worth It.
I don't think anyone can argue with the idea that exercise is good for you, no matter what your age, and importantly, it's never too late to start.
Of course you don't have to be a marathoner or live to be 100 years old like Mr. Singh to enjoy the joy and satisfaction of living with exercise to an older age. Just getting started will do it.
So now here is the challenge… Give yourself a chance.
And Remember: You're worth it - always have been, always will be.
Gary Kobat, World Class Athlete and Olympic "Mentalist," is on a heart-felt mission to inspire millions of people to reveal their vibrational highest best self: mentally, physically, and spiritually. The author, international speaker, and Integrative Performance Coach mixes ancient wisdom with cutting-edge trends in human performance to focus his teachings and practice on the importance of self-love and self-worth.
Gary's client list includes the who's who in film, business, and sport: Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, Mariska Hargitay, and countless others - including a host of America's recent Senior-Olympic Medalists.
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