Active and Engaged: Senior Movement

Seniors enjoy a soothing hot springs soak

Active and Engaged: Senior Movement

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An increasing number of seniors are embracing aging, not by retreating but by engaging in life-affirming activities that boost both physical and mental health for older adults.

A cascade of scientific research confirms that getting out of the rocker and off the couch can make a healthy difference in quality of life for the older generation. The percentage of the U.S. population over 65 has more than doubled since 1950, to 16.5 percent, and is projected to reach 22 percent by 2050. Boosting their health would have a huge impact on the nation’s expenditures as well as their personal wellbeing. Exercise can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and even premature death; it also helps seniors stay independent.

Walking is the ideal activity for seniorsAn American Cancer Society study released last year evaluated aerobic and muscle- activities, sitting time, and mental and physical health self-reported by nearly 78,000 people over 65, with an average age of 78. The society recommends 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week as well as less sitting-still time.

“The findings reinforce the importance of moving more and sitting less for both physical and mental health, no matter your age or history of cancer,” said Dr. Erika Rees-Punia, who led the study. “This is especially relevant now as so many of us, particularly cancer survivors, may be staying home to avoid COVID-19 exposure, and possibly feeling a little isolated or down. A simple walk or other physical activity that you enjoy may be good for your mind and body.”

The leading recommended exercise for seniors is water aerobics, followed by chair yoga, resistance band workouts, Pilates, walking, bodyweight workouts, and dumbbell strength training. Seniors generally should avoid strenuous weight training, long-distance running, and rock climbing.

Seniors’ physical activity varies widely across the country. A study showed that Colorado has the most active older population, nearly 80 percent, while Kentucky has the least, less than 60 percent. Affordable programs have been developed to encourage more activity, such as EnhanceFitness and SilverSneakers. SilverSneakers, which is free in some Medicare programs and includes more than 17,000 locations and 70 fitness classes, was the subject of a study that concluded, “participation frequency is associated with higher quality of life for seniors.”

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Gene Stowe

Gene Stowe was a reporter for The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer for 13 years and head of the writing program at Trinity School at Greenlawn, a four-time U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School in South Bend, Ind., for 10 years before he became a full-time freelance writer in 2008. His first book, Inherit the Land: Jim Crow Meets Miss Maggie’s Will, was published in 2006. He lives in Monroe, N.C.

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