The twilight years are times to take things easy. Retirement affords one the time to do things that would have been otherwise impossible to do while working. It gives you the chance to travel, spend more time with your spouse, visit your kids and engage in a hobby that you didn’t have time to do before.
Aging, however, carries with it the bane of various debilitating diseases that confines our elderly to the wheelchair or the four corners of a nursing home. High blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis are just some of the conditions that come with declining age. Instead of allowing retirees the chance to enjoy the fruits of their hard-earned labors while they were still in the workforce, they are left to live the rest of their lives making routine visits to doctors and agonizing in pain.
This isn’t to say that these diseases naturally come with age. A great deal of them could have been prevented through a healthy diet, exercise and lifestyle practices that promote better circulatory, respiratory and gastrointestinal functioning early on in life. However, it is still possible to stay fit during the twilight years. It is only important to understand that fitness for seniors requires another approach than that of the younger groups.
Exercise and a healthy diet are still the cornerstones of healthy aging. Nutrition for the elderly must be marked by a lower fat intake but with more protein, vitamins and minerals and dietary fiber. Because of their decreased metabolic rate, calorie intake must be reduced if they are to maintain their ideal weight. Moreover, to prevent aggravating any preexisting heart conditions, their diet must also be low in sodium, saturated fats and simple sugars. To promote health and prevent disease, those who are already in the twilight years should consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish. They should also strive to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day. A calcium supplement is also needed to abate bone loss.
The role of exercise in fitness for seniors cannot be overemphasized. Adults older than 70 years old suffer from degenerative joint disease, usually marked by complaints of back pain. Bone density loss also results in osteoporosis which interferes with safe mobility and the performance of the so-called ADLs or activities of daily living. When bone function and joint efficiency are impaired, hip and vertebral fractures cannot be far behind. Thus, aerobic, strength training and flexibility exercises are a necessary component of fitness for seniors. An interesting study involving a group of nursing home residents aged 90 years and above who participated in a high-intensity resistance program showed a significant increase in mobility and muscle strength.
Finally, fitness for seniors should also involve lifestyle changes that lessens stress and cultivates relationships. While putting elderly in nursing homes has become an accepted practice in America, it might interest family members to learn that the incidence of depression increases by as much as 30% among nursing home residents. It might mean more sacrifices in terms of our time, but the support of family means a great deal to those in the twilight years. It keeps them young at heart. And that’s part of keeping them healthy.