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Exercise adds years to your life

July 1, 1993

The evidence is clear: a healthier and fitter lifestyle—not to mention a younger attitude—can delay, prevent or even reverse much of the physical decline normally associated with aging.

Yet, many retirees do no meaningful exercise, and half of American retirees are completely sedentary, according to the latest research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“A common misperception is that by the time someone is 60 or 65, it’s too late to start exercising, that the damage is done and can’t be reversed,” says Denise Spiewak, director of Kelly Home Care Services, a business of global staffing company Kelly Services. “It has been proved that exercise for seniors can produce a variety of benefits.”

Benefits of exercise

Older inactive adults lose ground in four areas that are important for staying healthy and independent: endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. Fortunately, exercise programs can maintain or restore these areas.

Endurance—Exercise increases breathing and heart rate. It improves the health of the heart, lungs and circulatory system. Having more endurance can improve stamina for the tasks needed to live independently.

Strength—Exercise can do more than just increase strength. It gives the elderly the ability to do things on their own. Even very small increases in muscle mass can make a big difference in ability, especially for frail people.

Balance—Exercise is designed to help prevent a common problem in older adults: falls. Falling is a major cause of broken hips and other injuries that often lead to disability and loss of independence.

Flexibility—Exercise helps keep the body limber by stretching muscles and the tissues that hold the body’s structures in place. Physical therapists and other health professionals recommend certain stretching exercises to help patients recover from injuries and to prevent injuries from happening in the first place.

“For the most part, when older people lose the ability to do things on their own, it is not because they have aged,” says Spiewak. “More likely, it is because they have become inactive.” A program of regular exercise has been proved to slow several key aspects of aging—such as loss of muscle and bone—allowing physically active adults to perform like someone much younger.

Based on her experience with more than 17,000 Kelly Home Care specialists annually, Spiewak advises that it’s never too late to incorporate fitness into a senior’s daily regimen. First, she says seniors should talk with their primary care physician before starting any exercise program. “They need to find out what form of exercise is beneficial, safe and consistent with their lifestyle,” Spiewak said. Unless they have major medical problems that prevent them from exercising, chances are their doctor will encourage them.”

Keeping it going

Seniors who decide to begin exercising need to start at a level they can manage and build upon. More importantly, commitment and enthusiasm need to last a lifetime. The benefits of exercise and physical activity come from making them a permanent habit.

How much one exercises depends on his or her unique situation. For some, muscle-building exercise might mean pushing more than 100 pounds of weight at the local gym to keep their legs in shape for hiking or jogging. “For others,” says Spiewak, “it might mean lifting 1-pound weights to strengthen their arm muscles enough to use a washcloth. That might make the difference in being able to maintain their own care needs instead of being dependent on someone else. The goal is to improve from wherever you are right now.”

For more information about Kelly Home Care Services, visit www.kellyhomecare.com.

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