I saw this report and others like it over the last few weeks watching the evening news. “Living Strong“. These stories are inspiring but I have found there may be a downside to these kind of stories too. Sometimes people can think they do not “measure up” to this kind of exercise and they may stop exercising altogether. For me, I have found it is easy to “over do it” or try too hard with exercise. Seems for me, if I focus on performance or high levels of motivation I end up tired, stiff, and sore.
Medical science tells us exercise benefits of improved health, strength, and endurance etc all come with consistent training over time. Performance and extreme motivation are not necessary and may even be detrimental to your program.
At the time of my last physical exam, the first thing my physician asked me was how my exercise program was going. I thought, that has never been the first question before. Why now? Turns out, in recent years science has taught us a lot about exercise. In a nut shell, this is what science has taught us recently.
1. Inactivity causes physical decline and decay at a cellular level. This decline and decay accelerates as we get older.
2. Exercise, a good work out or a brisk walk, reverses this decay at a cellular level. Growth resulting in improved strength and function also occurs at a cellular level. Advancing age does not change this from occurring.
3. If one stops exercising, decay starts again. It is automatic. Decay happens automatically with inactivity. Growth and strength return automatically with exercise. It is about as simple as that.
Two books that explain this amazing science in understandable ways are, “Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley and “The Art and Science of Aging Well” by Mark E. Williams, MD
When Patients asked me what was the best kind of exercise for them I routinely advised doing a variety of different exercises to keep your body functioning well. For example, resistance exercise for building muscle strength and aerobic exercise for building the cardiovascular system and other kinds of exercises for balance and flexibility. My thoughts were on making the body function better. I did not really think too much about brain function when it came to exercise recommendations. At least, not until recently.
Brain science in recent years has discovered amazing happenings in our brain function when we exercise in unfamiliar places or on uneven ground or in new and non routine places. It turns out surprises and surface unpredictability can do good things for brain function. A great book that deal with this topic and much more on brain science and function is “Soft-Wired” by Michael Merzenich, PHD. In it he discusses what happens to our brains when we mentally prepare for the unexpected or unpredictable surface or environment while walking, running, cycling or whatever. and then the amazing benefits of these kinds of surprises to our brain function especially for our senior aging brains.
Changing your exercise environment even a little reaps benefits in brain function. One simple change I would like to suggest is simply not holding on when exercising on a treadmill. It is the challenge to our brains that makes our exercise program more effective.
In July of 2016 I closed my outpatient physical therapy practice. I was in business for 36 years and enjoyed it immensely. One reason I closed my practice is so I can pursue my interest in improved fitness and function for me and my readers. My experience working with patients and my study has taught me a lot about fitness and better function.I am anxious to share what I have learned with you. I have also learned that the challenge of staying fit and active as we get older grows and grows with each passing year.
Fitness for older people has it’s own challenges that include chronic illness, joint pain, low motivation, low energy and many more factors. My goal is to help you and me deal with and possibly overcome these challenges and put you and me on a life long path of optimal fitness and function.
With due humility, I will share my experiences, my knowledge, and what I learn along the way in this pursuit. I welcome your comments and I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences too.
Yehuda has been playing soccer and basketball most of his life. He is a competitive individual who has not been content to sit on the sidelines as he has gotten older. Yehuda has had to resort to playing competitive soccer and basketball with people much younger than him because people his ages have a hard time keeping up with him. Reports are that his three sons have a hard time keeping up with him on the soccer field too. In addition to playing soccer and basketball, Yehuda works out in a gym several days per week. Back, hip, knee, shoulder and ankle surgeries have not slowed down Yehuda. Through his dedication to exercise, he has been able to bounce back to full functional capabilities in spite of these surgeries. Yehuda is looking forward to continued participation in soccer and basketball as he approaches retirement age. Yehuda is 64 years old.
Milli is a very active Master Gardener. She has many responsibilities that include leading major projects. These projects involve planning, growing and trailing varieties of flowers. She is responsible for activities such as growing from seed thousands of flower seedlings for an annual Spring Garden Market fundraiser. She is involved in workdays three days per week that require physical and mental fitness. Milli has a large home with a half acre of complex gardens that she manages. Her garden includes vegetables, fruit trees and flowers.
Milli has advanced spinal stenosis. She has had a hip replacement and she has recovered from two major accidents with large dogs. Her dedication to her exercise program has helped her overcome the negative effects of these health issues. She remains an active leader and participant in her professional field. Milli is 84 years old.
MUSCULAR SKELETAL SYSTEM. CARDIO VASCULAR SYSTEM. NEURO MUSCULAR SYSTEM. These are examples of systems in our body that need training if we are to maintain optimal function as we get older. If our exercise program focuses on just one system, such as treadmill training for cardio vascular training, and other systems are ignored, our overall function will not be maintained. Our fitness level and functional level will drop. The likelihood of falling and sustaining other injuries will increase.
Advancing age does not stop us from improving our function, but lack of training in any of our body’s systems does result in rapid loss of function as we get older. All of our bodies’ systems need training as we age. That is why I believe exercise is more important for us seniors than our younger friends.
Effective January 1, 2014, you are no longer required to have a physician referral to see a physical therapist. Long waits to see a physician are no longer necessary. By seeing your physical therapist first, you can save money by eliminating unnecessary physician visits and long and expensive time delays.
Seeing your physical therapist first enables you to more quickly access high quality care, safe and effective treatment for relief of pain and restoration of lost function.
Most health care plans will cover physical therapy services without a physician referral.
The following is a quote from a report in the Wall Street Journal by columnist Jason Gay and reporter Chris Herring, who covered the just completed NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
“But what about the Spurs? Do they keep the band together and give it another go? Tim Duncan is 38 and Manu Ginobili will soon be 37, but this does not feel like a team on the verge of dissolution. They didn’t steal the finals, they romped away with it. They’ve shown they can ration minutes and keep the geezers fresh. Why not make another run at this? Give me your next-year Heat and next-year Spurs. And just because I’m annoying, tell me who’s in the 2015 Finals.”
This quote is a demonstration of what older players can do. It also offers, I believe, encouragement and hope to all of us fighting the effects of aging with physical activity. Sometimes “rationing” minutes/activity is a necessity as we age.
When I started practicing physical therapy in the early 1970’s, most of the patients I saw were recovering from accidents or had serious diseases. Many had severe injuries resulting from auto accidents. Many were stroke victims and patients recovering from the effects of Polio. Safer cars, better high blood pressure medicine and polio vaccines have resulted, to a large degree, in the prevention of the devastating effects of these problems.
Now most of the patients I see have problems associated with inactivity and the negative effects of aging. Pills, vaccines and safer cars, which were effective prevention for the health care problems of the past, are not effective prevention for our current health care problems.
So what is the key to the prevention of problems associated with inactivity and the negative effects of aging? Well, the way I see it, engaging in a rehabilitation exercise program and engaging in a preventive exercise program (which is essentially the same program) will have two effects. It will result in effective rehabilitation and effective prevention. How cool is that! The rehabilitation program is also the prevention program.
It is exciting to know that engaging in an ongoing exercise program can prevent most of the health problems current in our modern society.