May 22, 2008
[Editor’s note: MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Eldercare Services, is coordinated by United Jewish Communities and brings together professionals and lay leaders from MetroWest agencies that provide services to older adults. Each month, a MetroWest CARES agency presents an educational column on an eldercare issue. This month’s column is presented by JCC MetroWest. JCC MetroWest, with community centers in both West Orange and Whippany, offers activities, services, and programs for every age and interest. JCC MetroWest teamed up with Plus One Health Management, Inc. after completing a renovation and expansion in 2006. Plus One took the reins of the new Bildner Family Fitness Center at the JCC in West Orange, allowing JCC staff to concentrate on core activities, programs, and services.]
When you think of the Fountain of Youth, images of beauty, energy, and vitality usually spring to mind. Nowadays, you should also add dumbbells, sneakers, and sweat pants to your fountain.
Both the National Institute of Health and the National Institute on Aging have confirmed that regular exercise and physical activity are important to the health and abilities of older adults. When they lose the ability to perform physical tasks that result in declining independence, it is not necessarily due to aging, but rather to the gradual decrease in regular physical activity.
In other words, use it or lose it.
The four areas where adults decline are strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance. Sounds depressing? Not at all.
The good news is that no matter your age, physical activity can improve your health and delay the onset or progression of many chronic diseases. The value of physical activity in preserving functional capacity and reducing frailty has resulted in a wide variety of programs designed for older adults.
Even if you start a program in your seventies and keep at it, you’ll be in great shape in your eighties. It all adds up. Here’s the four-part recipe for improving your strength, vim, vigor, and overall health:
1. Endurance: We all know that endurance exercises improve the abilities of your heart, lungs, and circulation. Not only does improving this area make normal daily tasks like climbing stairs, getting up to answer the phone, or shopping for groceries easier, but it can prolong how long you can do these tasks without assistance and thereby remain independent.
Regular endurance exercise can also improve your overall health and delay the progression of chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The improvement in health means less time in the doctor’s office and more time playing golf or with your grandchildren.
You don’t need to endure endurance training; it can be enjoyable. Plan your life to include activity. If you’re booking a trip to Santa Fe, make it active. Now you’re sightseeing, vacationing and improving your health. Try a Zumba! Latin dance class, splash into Aqua Fit classes, walk outside and enjoy the spring flowers.
2. Strength: Not only will strength allow you pick up your grandchildren from the floor but it can enhance your metabolism, too. This will help you keep your weight and blood sugar in check which will decrease your chances of developing obesity and diabetes. Strength training will also keep your bones strong which can decrease the effects of osteoporosis.
3. Balance is important for keeping the lower body strong and preventing falls. It is well documented that falling increases your chances for fractures. Yoga and tai chi classes have demonstrated improvements in balance and confidence. Such classes can also enhance flexibility. The surer you are of your ability to move yet be stable, the more likely you’ll continue to be active and independent.
4. Flexibility: The more limber you are the easier it is to move and can therefore decrease the possibility of injury. Being able to easily put on your socks and shoes or bend to pick up something off the floor can decrease the possibility of an injury, like pulling a muscle.
Several classes are designed to enhance all four aspects of fitness and Forever Fit is just one example.
These physical and physiological areas are only some of the components for successful aging. The World Health Organization has also identified the social and psychological aspects for remaining vital. Having a wide and active social network of friends will keep adults actively engaged and provides a vital connection to society which is extremely important to the overall purpose in life.
The importance of being mentally stimulated cannot be underestimated either. Research has documented that keeping the mind and body strong through activities can decrease the prevalence of dementia. Lectures, music, and games like Scrabble and bridge are all excellent ways to keep the mind sharp, strong, and stimulated.
There are few places that can incorporate all of these aspects that contribute to successful aging. The JCC MetroWest offers plenty of opportunities to combine fun, fitness, mental stimulation, social support, and spiritual well-being. Whether it’s a class, social function, spiritual, or cultural event, there is something for everyone and at every level. The team of experienced professionals will support, engage, and stimulate you to better health so you can remain young in body, mind and spirit. Make a choice to include activity into your life. Every day adds up to a younger you and a longer healthier life!
Nancy Belli and Grace DeSimone are director of physical activity and director of group fitness, respectively, at Plus One Health Management, Inc.
Families and caregivers needing answers to broader eldercare questions and help with community resources can contact Elderlink – a portal to all MetroWest services for older adults and their families. Elderlink or 973-765-9050 X 511.
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