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Getting physical: It’s never too late to start working out

Special to The Dallas Examiner | 10/6/2014, 9:45 a.m.
Most people know exercise can help you feel younger and healthier, but recent research shows that even older people can ...
D.A. and Lorita Davis dance for their health and the health of their relationship. File photo

Special to The Dallas Examiner

Most people know exercise can help you feel younger and healthier, but recent research shows that even older people can benefit from physical activity regardless of age and health condition. According to a study published this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, structured, moderate physical activity significantly reduced the risk of losing mobility. Inability to walk without assistance is a leading cause of the elderly losing their independence.

This finding has significant implications for a nation whose population continues to age and live longer, according to Parkland Health & Hospital System experts. With September designated as National Healthy Aging Month, Parkland geriatric providers want to emphasize the importance of regular exercise for older people.

“The truth is that it’s never too late to exercise or even to begin to exercise,” said Chiffon Okuda, RN, BAAS, Geriatric Case Manager of Parkland’s Senior Outreach Services. “Many people do not start regularly exercising until they are 50, 60 or 70 years old. And, many have exercised into their 90s and beyond.”

Okuda said exercise is beneficial for older people in many ways. It can strengthen bones, improve balance, increase energy and metabolism and help lower blood pressure, control diabetes, promote heart health and improve blood circulation.

“It boosts mental health, as well,” Okuda said. “Exercise can lift a person’s mood, even in patients with depression. Group exercise can also help a senior stay connected with his or her community.”

And, exercise can help a person avoid mobility issues. Stronger bones and muscles can reduce the risk of falls, a major health risk for aging individuals.

One of those who say exercise has been good for her is 78-year-old Roberta Brown of Dallas, who has been exercising for the past five years. Brown, who suffers from arthritis in her knee, said she learned about the benefits of exercise when she attended arthritis education classes at Bluitt-Flowers Health Center, one of Parkland’s Community Oriented Primary Care clinics, and at Parkland’s Geriatrics Department. The classes were presented by Parkland’s Senior Outreach Services.

“I didn’t know how important it was or that I could still start exercising at my age,” Brown said. “But the physical therapists showed us all the things we could do, and even got us on the floor to do some exercising.”

At home she rides a stationary bike for 20 to 30 minutes a day, three times a week, does chair exercises and when temperatures are cooler, walks for several blocks.

“The more I do, the better I feel,” she said. “When I stop exercising for a while, I notice my knee hurts more.”

Researchers in the JAMA study found that a structured, regular and moderate exercise program followed for about two and a half years reduced the risk of major mobility disability by 18 percent. The people in the study were between 70 to 89 years of age, and they had an assortment of chronic illnesses typical for their age group.

Okuda urged people to check with their doctors before starting any exercise program. And she recommended that people find a physical activity they enjoy, such as walking, swimming or a stationary bicycle.

For most people, walking may be the easiest form of exercise, starting with 10 to 15 minutes and gradually increasing to 30 or 45 minutes daily. Swimming is great for those with joint problems. Lifting light weights can help strengthen bones and increase muscle. You don’t even need to have weights – canned food or water bottles work well.

And always remember to stay hydrated, drink plenty of water and do not walk outside during the hottest parts of the day; walk early or late to avoid heat exhaustion.

“Check out local gyms and YMCAs for older adult classes,” Okuda said. “Always ask for a senior discount, and always have fun.”

For more information about Parkland’s Senior Outreach Services, call 214-590-0646.