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Staying fit as you age

Hospital news | Sunday, August 4, 2013

Contact: Kris Lawrence

“Physical inactivity results in a decline in cardiorespiratory endurance, muscle strength and flexibility.  As one ages, physical activity levels decline in amounts and intensity, often due to physical, functional or current disease impairment associated with the aging process,” explains Tammy Thompson, M.S., RCEP, Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Cardiac Rehab Director at Prairie du Chien Memorial Hospital. “Studies have shown that physical function, muscle strength/endurance and flexibility can be preserved or improved with regular physical activity. You’re never too old to exercise. It is important for all adults, especially senior adults, to maintain an active lifestyle and get the recommended amount of daily physical activity and exercise.”

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends all adults accumulate at least 30-minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each day. Such activities may include brisk walking, stationary cycling and water exercise. Gardening, yard work and housework are other suggested activities. No matter which activity is chosen, it should be accessible, convenient and enjoyable to the participant. In the end, the overall goal is to reduce the amount of time we spend sitting in a day. Also remember that exercise need not be vigorous or continuous to be beneficial.

Obtaining the best results from exercise comes from a sound, balanced routine consisting of three parts: 1) cardiovascular or aerobic training, 2) strength/resistance training and 3) flexibility. First, cardiovascular exercise or aerobic training should be performed daily for 30-60 minutes. Walking is the best and most recommended form of exercise because you don’t need equipment. However, if you have arthritis or artificial joints, walking may not be the best option. Participate in low-impact activities, such as stationary cycling, recumbent stepper or water exercise.

Second, muscle strength decreases as age increases. Over time, lifting a gallon of milk or a sack of groceries becomes difficult. Strength/resistance training keeps your muscles strong. Strength training doesn’t have to take a lot of time; it may be performed at home with small hand weights (1-10 lbs. depending on your strength level), which can be purchased at many stores selling sporting goods equipment. Strength training only needs to be done 3-4 times per week, choosing a weight that you can comfortably lift 10-12 times. Examples of exercises might include: arm exercises (bicep curl and tricep extension, shoulder press, upper back exercise and 2 leg exercises). 

Finally, as age increases, muscle and joint flexibility decreases. Flexibility or daily stretching reduces muscle stiffness, and lowers risk of injury with seasonal activities (ie., raking leaves, gardening and snow shoveling). Stretching should be performed daily, concentrating on major muscle groups, the arms, back, shoulders and legs. Stretches should be held for 20-30 seconds, repeated 2-3 times and never bounce!

Pat Stovey, Exercise Specialist at PdCMH, adds, “Starting an exercise program and sticking to it isn’t always that easy, find a buddy and schedule a time. If you are thinking of becoming active in an exercise program, it is never too late to start. Always consult with your physician first and start slow. Over time exercise intensity may be progressed, but give yourself a few months, and most of all, listen to your body. Also remember that the key to leading a healthy lifestyle over age 50 is dedication and time commitment.”

Benefits of physical activity include: increased energy, increased self-esteem, maintain and increase bone mineral density, increase HDLs (good cholesterol), and reduce LDLs (bad cholesterol). With consistent exercise, the heart becomes a more efficient pump, decreasing resting heart rate, resting blood pressure, and increasing exercise threshold for the onset of disease symptoms (angina). Consistent exercise also reduces body fat, increases muscle mass, and increases resting metabolism. Other benefits include improved glucose tolerance, reduced insulin needs, decreased anxiety and depression, enhanced performance of work, recreation and sporting activities, as well as decreasing the development or progression of chronic disease.

Prairie du Chien Memorial Hospital offers an individualized exercise program known as Healthy Hearts. The program is available to anyone wanting a medically supervised and monitored exercise program. The Healthy Hearts program is appropriate for individuals with known risk factors for heart disease, such as hypertension, obesity, history of smoking, peripheral artery disease, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, marked stress, family history, and lack of exercise. A physician referral is required and includes monitoring of blood pressure and heart rates; with professional assistance in exercise program progression. Regular exercise reports can be furnished to your physician upon request.

The Healthy Hearts Program is conducted by Tammy Thompson and Pat Stovey, as well as Registered Nurses certified in CPR and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), and a Registered Dietitian. For additional information, please contact Prairie du Chien Memorial Hospital’s Cardiac Rehab Department at 608-357-2349.