Let's start the new year of 2007 by resolving to fight the “aging process. " The idea of taking it easy as we get older should be discarded and replaced with a new outlook. Let's decide to release that old fashioned belief that “decrepitude" is inevitable as we age. Let's give up complaining about Uncle Artheritis, Aunt Diabetes and Cousin Osteoporosis.
Many of the health and mobility problems experienced as we age are caused from immobility and in our society we make it easy to be immobile. Dr. Walter M. Bortz II, who studied the deleterious effects of bed rest, came to the conclusion that “…at least a portion of the changes that are commonly attributed to aging are, in reality, caused by immobility. As such, they’re subject to correction by mobility—meaning activity and exercise. ”
What if we didn’t encourage seniors to move to homes with no stairs? What if there were more strengthening programs available to help seniors regain and retain strength and independence? What if seniors in assisted living homes weren’t treated like children and told to exercise while sitting in a chair? What if they were asked to exercise as do younger people—by lifting weights for upper body and doing squats for lower body strength?
Why not work on keeping strong as we age-so we will remain independent and not need the aids that are so accepted in our society? Why don’t we attempt to change the mind set that has produced this problem?
The answer for most of us is that we don’t know any better. We are not aware that we can choose to remain independent as we age because we have been told all our lives that we should take it easy as we grow older.
To illustrate how deeply embedded is the idea that we should slow down as we get older, here are two quotes from a book published a few years ago about preparing for being unable to live independently as you age.
”. . . Eliminate the need for strenuous physical exertion where possible, especially the need to climb stairs…”
“…Reduce physical exertion: Keep bending, lifting, and reaching to a minimum. Replace heavy iron cookware with lighter weight …pots and pans. ”
This mind set enables us to progressively become weaker as the muscles in our arms and legs atrophy. Why not climb stairs as long as we are able? Why not suggest that lifting heavy pans can help keep your arm muscles strong? Why not stress that being active actually causes you to have more energy—not the opposite?
The truth is that the more you exercise, the more energy you will have. Yes, I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way our bodies were designed.
Tufts University in Boston has done much research into the aging process. They have proven that even 90-year-olds can become stronger just by doing resistance training. Muscles do not forget how to be strong, they atrophy because they are not used.
I teach strength exercise classes to senior citizens. I have watched people in their seventies, eighties and nineties become stronger. I watch them become more independent and self-sufficient. I see their self-esteem increase as they begin to realize that they are not doomed to a continuous spiral of becoming weaker and weaker with every passing day.
Class participants tell me that they can get in and out of the car easier, that going up stairs is easier, that the arthritis is their knees is gone, that the creaky shoulder is without pain. And most of all they tell me that they feel better and have more energy.
They work at exercising. They come to class barely able to lift three-pound weights. In only a few weeks, they move up to five pounds. Then they laugh at how three pounds used to feel heavy. They move up to eight pound weights for some of the exercises. They feel better about themselves. I love hearing their stories about how strength training has changed their lives.
If you are a senior, get moving and get lifting. Climb up and down stairs, carry bags of groceries, work in the garden—make your body work. Get involved in a exercise program or set up one of your own. Include walking, stretching and strength training for a complete program. If you don’t use your muscles, you will lose them.
If you are younger, encourage your loved ones to remain independent, to get up and move around their homes, to take care of themselves. If you have a parent living with you, encourage him or her to be self-sufficient. Don’t try to alter the living space so they hardly need to move. Make sure they understand that they need to be active.
If you are a health care provider, encourage your patients or residents to do things for themselves, to walk, to participate in exercise classes, to do anything that will cause them to move and stretch. Investigate how strength exercise might be included in the lives of those for whom you are responsible.
Let’s all work to change our attitude toward aging. No longer let us sit and rock while our muscles atrophy. We can begin in 2007 to create a new paradigm for aging.
More information is available in my book “Over 40 & Gettin’ Stronger. " It is on sale for $15 which includes shipping. Also included is an audio CD which gives verbal instructions for doing a strength workout. Send check for $15 to Phyllis Rogers, P O Box 4912, Marietta, GA. 30061.
Phyllis Rogers is a senior citizen certified as a Specialist in Senior Fitness. She has taught over 1500 strength classes for older adults and can be reached at email@example.com