By Jeffrey Howard
Photos by Jillian Clark
We are living longer, healthier and hopefully happier lives. I normally give you a work-out you can do at home but I would rather talk about what is happening to us as we get older physically. You have already heard plenty about diet, exercise and cardio. I wanted to give you a few tips that you might not have known, but will help you with your journey to live a long, healthy and active life.
For years, loss of balance over the age of 65 has been attributed to gait, or the way we walk. It is common to observe a “shuffle” of the feet among those maturing in age. The reality is that the body starts to turn inward from our hips to our knees, all the way up to our shoulders. It’s important to incorpoate balance activities as we age. Tai chi, yoga, aqua fitness, dance and cardio workouts as well as simple “mall walking” or strolls around the park can address this. The desired outcome is that we simulate balance techniques in a controlled environment. Therefore, when we are making that dash to the restroom or out the door and we happen to slip, muscle memory will engage and the muscle will respond like a symphony and recruit!
A new study was conducted on slow and fast twitch muscle response. Have you ever watched Funniest Home Videos and seen a person fall with no reaction to break that fall? This is due to lack of fast twitch muscle firing. When we are younger, our fast twitch muscles look like grapes, but with age they start to look like raisins. Aging and inactivity lead to atrophy in the fast twitch (FT) and make us unable to catch our fall. Luckily, this can be reversed through muscle conditioning three to four times a week along with cardio exercise.
“If you don’t move it you lose it.” We are designed to move, but as we age this becomes more difficult. Not only does lack of mobility mean less freedom for the aging population, but it also puts them at risk for social isolation and lack of community which can lead to depression.
A January 2010 British Journal of Sports Medicine article suggests that people who sit for lengthy periods of time have an increased risk of disease. A 2008 Vanderbilt study of 6,300 people estimated that the average American spends 55 percent of waking time (7.7 hours per day) in sedentary behaviors. Women who were inactive and sat over six hours a day were 94 percent more likely to die during the time studied than those who were physically active and sat less than three hours a day (men were 44 percent more likely). Standing more each day will tone muscles, improve posture, increase blood flow, ramp up metabolism and burn extra calories.
Here’s a story close to my own heart: My folks planned a vacation of a lifetime. My mom (86) has severe arthritis in her hips and wrists and severe asthma. My dad (89) has scoliosis and knee issues as well as vertigo. Yet they were determined go. I had them start by walking in the mall and bought them a very inexpensive step counter to monitor their steps. They started at 15 minutes and gradually increased to an hour. They loved seeing the steps calculated and even did extra on days they hadn’t met their goal. It took a few months, but they soon became comfortable with their progress. My dad became nervous about carrying the luggage (he knows my mother). We then added one shopping bag with a light item in it, gradually increasing the weight and finally added another shopping bag and repeated the process. Happily, they had an amazing holiday and returned with memories they cherish. The moral of the story is start small. Instead of the elevator or escalator, try the stairs, maybe not every day, maybe every other day. I invite you to move!
You heard mom say, “stand up straight.” Turns out, she knew what she was talking about. With the process of aging, time and gravity, we tend to slouch forward. Sit up straight—ear over shoulder.
Head forward posture can cause the loss of up to 30 percent of lung capacity (primarily due to the loss of the cervical lordosis). The large intestine may be effected, resulting in sluggish bowel function and evacuation. Slouching also contributes to chronic pain conditions including lower back pain, neck related headaches and stress-related illness as well as jaw disorders such as TMJ. Head forward posture is one of the most common perpetuating factors of fibromyalgia and people with head forward posture have a greater rate of mortality.
Lets help one another by reminding each other to stand tall with shoulders back. Stand against a wall bringing the back of your head against it with head over shoulder and shoulder over hips. When you are engaging in fitness activities that require laying on your back (supine) and your chin tilting to the sky feels uncomfortable on your neck, go ahead and grab a towel, blanket or small pillow and support your head. We do not want to put undue stress or strain on the upper part of our spine (vertebrae). VT
Tips to live a longer healthier life:
• Stand up every 30-40 minutes if you have been sitting.
• Go for a walk 10-15 minutes 3-5 times
• Try something new—yoga, tia chi, aqua fitness (the internet or library are a great free source for this).
• Join a club (book, games, church) that you must attend at least every other week.
• Turn on the radio and simply dance for at least 3-4 songs.
• Carry one bag of your groceries to the house at a time.
• Use the stairs when you can.
• Stand up straight as much as possible.
• Make lunch your biggest meal of the day.
• Get a step counter. See how many you do in a day, week and month. It’s your journey, you are the one keeping count!