Fitness is a coin with two sides; it is a concept we associate primarily with the body, but it is also an attitude which can be either restrictive or liberating.
As for the “golden years” – in order to find fulfilment, no matter our age, it is important to break out of the mental set that makes us think of our age first and our potential for contentment and wellbeing second.
It is generally accepted that many individuals in their later years feel better able to express themselves as they no longer have to be hemmed in by society’s rules and regulations. They have progressed from the relatively petty and egocentric concerns of youth to the phase where they realise they don’t have to be constrained by the opinions of others. This is a precious freedom. It can most accurately sum up the necessary psychological fitness we need in our latter years: having a cheerful, upbeat attitude towards aging is one’s choice. We shouldn’t let age define us, for we may lock ourselves out of potentially joyous and rewarding opportunities.
Most of us are familiar with the famous poem of this title by Jenny Joseph, which begins with the following unforgettable line: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple.”
It celebrates more than nonconformity; it is an uplifting reminder of our unassailable right, especially as senior citizens who have earned it, to be true to whom we are as individuals and to ENJOY doing so. In the words of Albert Einstein: “I have reached an age when, if someone tells me to wear socks, I don’t have to.”
Equally, becoming and remaining physically fit in our own unique manner can only increase enjoyment of our latter years.
Before we rush off to celebrate this freeing aspect of aging by hiking up the Andes or freefalling from an aeroplane, it’s First Things First: Check with your doctor. Increasing your activity level can be dangerous if you suffer from a heart condition, bone or joint problems, or if you are taking blood pressure or cardiac medications.
It’s never too late.
As we become elderly we tend to avoid exercise because we are afraid of causing ourselves injury, but the true danger lies in this very avoidance. As we age, our bones, joints and muscles begin to deteriorate, and the only way to combat this is by exercise to stimulate the body to produce new cells and increase muscle and bone density. It’s never too late to start an exercise programme and improve your fitness. Studies have proved that life expectancy is increased even in persons who did not begin to exercise regularly until 75 years of age. There are low-impact exercises that improve mobility, circulation and balance.
Be sure to have fun!
In order to gain long-lasting benefits of regular exercise, it must be a pleasure. Find something which YOU love to do in order to stay motivated. For increased energy, weight loss, improved heart condition and strong bones, or simply to improve your balance to avoid falls, you can try swimming, dancing, cycling, or simply stick with strengthening and stretching. These activities can happen at your own relaxed pace and with soothing music to enhance the pleasure. Becoming and remaining fit must not be exhausting or cause pain. This will be discouraging and cause you to discontinue activity.
Who needs a gym?
It doesn’t matter if staying at home is your only affordable or comfortable option while becoming fit. Exercising for the elderly does not require investment in expensive equipment. To increase your strength and endurance, you need simply the following:
- a sturdy dining room or kitchen chair
- shoes that offer good support
- comfortable, loose fitting clothing
- a 500ml water bottle or can of soup to use as weights
Increasing strength and endurance
- Using the chair for balance, select a stretch to perform for the upper or lower body.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
- Repeat the stretch 2 to 3 more times.
- Only hold your neck stretches for 5 seconds if you feel any dizziness.
- For increased flexibility, try stretching at least 5 days per week.
During the same session, use your selected weights for upper and lower body strengthening. Lift and lower them according to what feels comfortable for you. Gradually increase the frequency of lifting and the weight to suit your needs and abilities.
- Start with 1 to 2 pounds for women and 3 to 5 pound weights for men.
- Perform 8 to 12 repetitions.
- Rest 1 minute and perform another set.
- When you can comfortably perform more than 15 to 20 repetitions, you should consider increasing your weight by a pound or two.
Recording your progress
Exercise logs and goal setting will help with achieving success. Keep count of the increasing time you dedicate to any fitness exercise. Being faithful to your schedule will soon mean more time out in the garden, socialising, shopping with your family and playing with your grandchildren without becoming tired and disheartened.
‘‘Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.’’ ~Samuel Ullman
The Helderberg Society for the Aged
The Helderberg Society for the Aged provides a variety of secure lifestyle options for elderly people in an environment of compassion and care. We encourage our members to exercise for increased physical and mental pleasures in their golden years. We believe life should be lived to the fullest for all the people within our services which encompass Independent Living, Assisted Living, Home Based Care and Frail Care.
Learn more at: www.hsfa.org.za