Active Aging: mind, muscle and mobility

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Some say that keeping young mentally is more important than bodily fitness as you age. That’s not entirely true. To ensure mental fitness in old age, you also need to keep physically active. Physical fitness contributes to both mental agility and good physical health. Being as active as possible is the critical key to all-round health in movement, outlook and energy.

Unfortunately, too many people lead sedentary lives after 65, spending more than ten hours a day sitting or lying down. This is not unexpected after many people have left the hustle and bustle of modern working lives, but the sudden inactivity that so often accompanies retirement will eventually extract a high price in terms of falls, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, depression and dementia – with all the concomitant problems these unfortunate events bring. As you get older, it is vitally important to remain active if you want to stay healthy and maintain your independence.

The way to beat dementia

For every day that you don’t exercise in some way, your body weakens. Working to maintain mental fitness through card playing or chess or even just reading – may not be enough. Within a week or two you may find taking a walk just that little more difficult than before, or a sudden spurt of gardening will leave you with a bad back that doesn’t go away. After a few weeks you may notice aches and pains that you never had before. Along with physical decline, mental decline has also been directly related to the levels of exercise an elderly individual may be exposed to on a daily basis.

If you allow simple pleasures such as playing with the grandchildren, walking to the shops, or meeting up with friends to become tiring and even onerous, you will find yourself eventually without energy or motivation for anything. Even worse, your solution might be to lie down to recuperate.

If you want to continue looking after yourself for as long as possible and doing the things you enjoy, you need to investigate all the possibilities of sport and exercise that you can introduce back into your life to create a regular personal regime. It’s not rocket science – if you want to remain pain-free, reduce your risk of mental illness, and stay independent and independently-minded well into old age, you are advised to keep moving.

Sports you can consider as you age

There is a sense that old people look ‘ridiculous’ when trying to exercise and many may feel embarrassed to try. But the idea of older people exercising is becoming increasingly pertinent and accepted. In many instances, governments take an active role in encouraging older people to participate in physical activities for as long as possible.

There are different types of sports out there to suit everyone, depending on your age and level of fitness, not to mention the habits of a lifetime that may have taken their toll. You will need to carefully assess the options before you begin exercises at an advanced age. Not all exercises are good and not all will suit you. 

 Maybe not good to try: soccer, badminton, table tennis, karate, tennis. These are sports that require youthful speed, strength and flexibility. Even if you have been playing these games for most of your life, they are not necessarily the best choice as the body ages. Sudden sharp turns can play havoc on an aging back, joints, tendons and ligaments.  

Good for all situations: walking, swimming, bowls, mini-golf, cycling, yoga, dancing. These are sports where you control the speed and application – but also require a fitness check before you engage and begin to slowly build up strength and endurance week by week.   

How to exercise as you age

Anyone who has ever tried exercising after a fairly long period of not doing so, knows how difficult it is to commit to a programme in the first few weeks. Three times a week is more than enough for an older person who is new to exercise – or returning to it after a long break. Walking at a brisk pace is possibly the safest way to begin. But if you’re wanting to work out gym-style, all exercises should be evaluated for safety according to your level of fitness.

  • Begin with only 10 minutes at a time and work up from there. Strength exercises should be functional and safe.
  • Weight-bearing exercises are very important for building bone strength as well as muscle strength. Build your confidence by using variable resistance machines.
  • Always include flexibility stretch exercises as well which are ‘light’ exercises but crucial to maintaining ease of mobility.
  • Balancing exercises are also very useful. These increase stability and confidence. For really good effect they should be done every day.
  • Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself – or on the other hand, modify exercises down to ensure you are capable of handling them.

Here’s what you will achieve in just a few weeks: healthier hearts, stronger joints, lesser probability of strokes or cancer, greater mobility, and improved psychological wellbeing. You will feel less lonely, less depressed – both of which can be more lethal to the healthy body than smoking and obesity.

How to keep mentally fit as well as physically fit:

  • Meditation: Keep your brain active with a range of interests: Five minutes a day in meditation improves concentration and focus.
  • Test your memory: Make a list of things to do and memorize it. An hour or so later, see how many items you can recall.
  • Learn something new: Learn a new language or learn to play a musical instrument; learning something new and complex over a period of time is ideal for the aging mind.
  • Mental sums: Figure out problems without the aid of pencil, paper or computer.
  • Do word puzzles: Visualize the spelling of a word in your head, then try and think of any other words that begin (or end) with the same two letters.
  • Take up a new hobby: knitting, drawing, painting, assembling a puzzle, etc.

If you push the body to exercise twice or three times a week – either with a simple exercise routine or a sporting activity you can manage – and you add the mental stretches as well – you are guaranteed to enjoy a more comfortable and stress-free life well into the ripening years.

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. Entertainment and engagement of our members is vital to our approach of keeping people happy, healthy and participative in activities that will enliven, motivate and enrich. We believe in safety, peace and quiet for our elderly – but certainly not loneliness or inactivity. We believe in encouraging life to the fullest for all the people within our services encompassing Independent Living, Assisted Living, Home-based Care and Frail Care. Read more on our website or contact us on 021 852 5130.

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Guest Sunday, 24 March 2019

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