Exercise keeps the “golden years” bright

Water aerobics classes offer a low-impact strengthening workout that's easy on the joints.									Photo by Samantha Lyles

Water aerobics classes offer a low-impact strengthening workout that’s easy on the joints. Photo by Samantha Lyles

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

As 2016 gets rolling, many folks are following through on resolutions to eat better, exercise more, and improve their health. Though everyone can profit from these behavioral tweaks, senior citizens in particular can see immediate and valuable benefits from a little extra physical exercise.

The National Institutes of Health cites stronger muscles, better flexibility, and a healthier heart among the best results of exercise regimens, and seniors can reap additional gains that will greatly improve their quality of life.

“Exercise really helps with stability so they will have fewer falls. And for seniors, a fall can be devastating,” says Nique Knockemus, wellness coordinator for the Hartsville Family YMCA. “Working out even once a week can help, but going to a class three times a week would yield better results – especially if they are doing weight-bearing exercise, which improves bone density and helps prevent osteoporosis.”

Many gyms, including the YMCA, offer classes tailored to the needs of older people. Knockemus says one program – called Silver Sneakers – provides seniors with a series of resistance training exercises using free weights, medicine balls, and stretchy resistance bands, mostly performed while seated in a sturdy padded chair.

Silver Sneakers instructor Calvin Shaw says the light weights and high energy combine for a truly fun class that provides useful, real-life enhancements.

“Mostly it’s for everyday movement, like opening a jar, or if they fall they can push themselves up off the floor,” says Shaw. “These exercises can even help them with things like putting on a jacket or a sweater, or holding their hands forward and being able to look over their shoulder while driving. Most seniors have problems with their rotator cuffs, and that range of motion improves when you exercise.”

Though the Silver Sneakers classes are open to anyone (and can especially help folks recuperating from injuries) Shaw says that elders in his classes normally see a big boost in their stamina.

“Seniors tend to get tired fast, and in Silver Sneakers we keep them moving continuously for 45 minutes. When they’re done they need a nap,” says Shaw.

Knockemus says that since weight training has such a clear-cut positive effect on elder health, some health insurance providers will actually pay for a senior’s YMCA membership fee if they are participating in a Silver Sneakers class. Anyone interested in this benefit should inquire with their insurance provider.

Improved cardiac health and better stamina can be gained without picking up weights. For older folks seeking a low-impact aerobic challenge, Knockemus says taking spin classes or water aerobics classes geared toward seniors can provide a brisk, entertaining workout without stressing sensitive joints.

Socialization is often an unexpected reward for seniors who get out and exercise. Meeting folks in your age group who are also trying to improve their health can provide a valuable sense of community and reinforcement that keeps everyone on track.

“A lot of our seniors really bond in these classes. We have coffee and chairs in the lobby, and sometimes they’ll hang out and have coffee together and socialize,” Knockemus observes.

Seniors keep up a brisk pace at the YMCA spin class. Photo by Samantha Lyles

Seniors keep up a brisk pace at the YMCA spin class.
Photo by Samantha Lyles

While all these tangible benefits might be enough to convince seniors to eschew a sedentary lifestyle, there are several less visible positives that are equally as important. The Centers for Disease Control advises that even moderate physical activity can help seniors to increase mental capacity and promote cell growth in the brain, which could help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The National Institute of Aging advises that regular exercise might delay or prevent many age-related diseases, like heart disease and stroke, diabetes, and colon cancer. Also, those who are physically active experience improved wound-healing times and a healthier immune system.

If you’re interested in starting an exercise program, consult your doctor to determine what level of physical activity is safe for you. But remember that consistency is far more important for seniors than intensity, so a little exercise can go a long way. Just walking at a steady pace for ten minutes a day can be beneficial, and age should not be an impediment.

Shaw and Knockemus say that several YMCA class participants are in their 80s – but even those in their 90s or older can experience improved health and well-being by incorporating some exercise into their daily routine.

For more information on classes geared toward seniors:
Hartsville Family YMCA: 843-383-4547
Darlington Family YMCA: 843-398-0844
Fitness World Gyms: 843-206-4389

Author: Jana Pye

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