Does Greater Age Mean Greater Girth?
Hitting 50 and older means saying hello to that middle-age paunch and a few saddlebags to boot, right? It’s a likely scenario, especially in the recent past. A survey by the National Center for Health Statistics in the 1990s showed that for people ages 45-64, the percentage of overweight men and women in the United States was 70 percent and 55 percent, respectively.
But the senior years are starting to look a bit different, as baby boomers hit the gyms in larger numbers than ever to stay fit. People over 55 now represent nearly a quarter of all health club memberships, according to an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on October 3.
Many gyms are tailoring their services accordingly, hoping to lure more of this new fitness-conscious crowd. “Gyms that vied for the youth market with snazzy juice bars and tanning salons now offer low-impact courses like water aerobics, walking, or chair aerobics, which aren’t so tough on the joints,” according to the P-I.
Many of Gold’s Gym locations have partnered with Silver Sneakers, a fitness program offered to Medicare recipients. Gyms are scheduling senior-targeted classes during the day when retirees can take advantage of them, and tailoring their images so that the focus is not on “bodies of steel,” but instead on being healthy and feeling great at any age.
It takes more than a gym membership to stay active and healthy though. According to Jane Guiltinan, a naturopathic physician at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, exercise is anything where you move your body over a period of time. “Exercise doesn’t have to be jogging three miles or going to a gym,” she says. “It can be anything from gardening (especially if done vigorously), to cleaning house, to going up and down the stairs several times.” The point, she says, is to keep moving. The more you move, the more you keep your heart healthy, your mind healthy, your mood upbeat, and your muscles in shape so that you can continue your daily activities into your 90s.
The 50s are the perfect time to up the ante, since it’s in the 50s when memory starts to decline, diabetes becomes more of a health threat, muscle and joint elasticity decreases and menopausal symptoms take center stage, according to Dr. Guiltinan. Exercise can help ease all of those problems.
And while you keep moving, you also need to keep stretching and lifting. The three pillars of exercise are strength, flexibility and endurance, says Guiltinan. The strength component involves building muscle mass through some kind of weight-bearing or resistance activity (pulling weeds or using hand weights, for instance). To cultivate flexibility, it’s important to have a stretching routine to prevent your joints and muscles from getting stiff and restricting your activities. And heart-conditioning aerobic exercise, including walking, promotes endurance.
The goal is 60 total minutes most days of the week, and it’s all right to work it in throughout the day as you can, says Guiltinan. And even if you feel achy when you exercise, it’s important to do it. “Studies suggest that continuing to be active with osteoarthritis is actually beneficial, if you move within reason,” she says. But if your aches worsen, you can take glucosamine (1500 mg per day), plenty of fish and vegetable oils or an essential fatty acid supplement to reduce symptoms. (Consult with your naturopathic doctor for specific recommendations.)
By exercising regularly, not only are you keeping your muscles from atrophying, but, “A heart is a muscle like any other muscle. It can get weak,” says Guiltinan. If you keep moving, you will have fewer problems with coordination and be less prone to injury as the years progress.
Guiltinan notes that in the 70s, without exercise, we tend to have half the muscle mass and double the body fat of a young adult. And in the 80s, it’s still important to stay active physically, mentally, and socially, to stay current on news and events, to do what you want and do what matters!
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER READING
Ageless: Take Control of Your Age and Stay Youthful for Life, Schneider E., Rodale Press, 2003
Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life From the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development, Vaillant G., Little, Brown and Co. 2003
Healthwise For Life: Medical Self-Care for People Age 50 or Better, fifth ed. Mettler M, Kemper D, Masee K, et al, Healthwise, 2003
Strong Women Stay Young, Nelson M, Bantam, 2000
Successful Aging, Rowe J, Kahn R, Pantheon, 1998
Sources: Jane Guiltinan, ND; Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Writer: Sydney Maupin, staff writer