My mother was 92 years old when she passed away last month. In most all respects she had a good life. She had a good family, an active faith life, a successful career, and lots of friends. She enjoyed good health most of her life. Like most people in her generation, she associated weakness with getting old. Exercise was not a part of her life. She thought she got enough exercise at work. I tried but could not convince her otherwise.
It was hard to watch her loose her functional capabilities as she got older especially during her last 10 years. Even thought her general health was good and her mind was sharp, she gradually became weaker and weaker during this period. She lost her ability to walk. Later she could not even stand up. During her last several months of life she could not feed herself.
We are fortunate to live at a time when science has taught us the importance of exercise to maintain our strength and function. We know the danger of letting our function slip away through inactivity. With this new knowledge comes responsibility. We know, we need to make exercise and an active life a priority through out our lives. Now, for our sake and the sake of those who love us, we need to do it.
I have been on a self directed knee exercise program since I had left knee surgery earlier this year. I have not been able to run during this period so i have substituted walking on a treadmill and engaging in strength training using some lower extremity machines. I usually do cardio in the mornings and strengthening training in the afternoons. I have not been listening to music when running for years but during this rehab period I have been listening to music while exercising in a gym. I listen to old country music in the morning and easy listening gospel and older familiar Christian music in the after noons. I use my Beats ear phones so no one else hears the music. I do not know of any one else who listens to this kind of music but I find it really helps me get through the more boring exercises with added pleasure, especially the hopeful Christian music. Exercising outside seems to require more brain power for me making music distracting. It is sure nice listening when inside a gym though.
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.