…doesn’t mean you can also retire from exercise.  If you do, woe to you!


          If there’s one group of people that doctors and medical practitioners like to watch closely, it’s the elderly.  Health experts are particularly concerned about older people who have led sedentary lives and who have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and joint and muscle disorders.


          Sedentary individuals are strongly encouraged to exercise particularly when they reach the age of 50 because this is a crucial pre-retirement stage in life.  The normal wear and tear that accompanies aging is one factor we need to contend with, and one of the ways to ward off health problems is a good exercise and fitness program tailored especially for seniors.


          On the other side of the fence, seniors who have pursued an active lifestyle and have stayed with a health and fitness program should be encouraged to continue because the tremendous benefits of exercise, even at a later age, can not be ignored.  As we advance in years, our bodies will have to exert double the amount of effort to stay fit and healthy.  Optimum health becomes a more difficult challenge as birthdays come and go, and seniors can outsmart their younger counterparts if they maintain their fitness; their emotional involvement with loved ones and the community in which they live are also key factors because a perfect balance of physical and mental health is essential. 


          Reputable organizations like the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health have focused on certain illnesses that vulnerable seniors are prone to.   One such disease is arthritis.  Even if arthritis can strike at any age, it is most often associated with the elderly.


          Studies have proven that exercising helps arthritis-stricken people in more ways than we realize.  The right exercises can reduce pain inflammation and relieve stiffness.  It also increases flexibility, muscle strength, cardiac power, and stamina.  Older people can also benefit from the usual benefits such as weight control, improved self-confidence, and the capability to manage the daily stresses of life.


          Of course it doesn’t mean that arthritic pain will be 100% relieved by an exercise program.  Doctors at the NIH recommend a comprehensive program combining rest and relaxation, a balanced diet, supervised medication, and guidance on the correct use of joints.  Pain relief methods that are non-medication based are also strongly recommended. 


          As for the types of exercises that are most appropriate for individuals suffering from arthritis, these fall in three major categories:


          (a)  range of motion exercises (for example, dance classes) – they play a significant role in normal joint movements and help relieve muscle soreness and stiffness.  These exercises also increase an individual’s degree of flexibility.


          (b)  strengthening exercises – these take the form of weight training.  They help to increase muscle strength; note that muscles protect ligaments, tendons and joints that are susceptible to arthritic attacks.


          (c)  aerobic or endurance exercises – a perfect example would be bicycle riding.  These types of exercises contribute to cardiovascular efficiency, control weight gain, and enhance overall body functions.  For elderly people, weight control is critical because excess weight puts pressure on joints.  Aerobic exercise can, and does relieve joint inflammation, a common symptom of arthritis.


          The Mayo Clinic also says that exercising almost every day can reduce an older person’s risk of premature death.  A fitness program helps curb depression (another typical disorder that affects seniors), reduces the risk of some cancers and minimizes the development of brittle bones.  When an elderly person exercises and strengthens his leg muscles, the risk of falling and needing a wheelchair are markedly reduced. 


          Caveat:  seniors who have never followed an exercise program before must not begin exercising – even at a moderate pace – without consulting their family doctor.  To avoid possible injury, their exercise routine must be designed and monitored by a certified fitness instructor who is experienced in dealing with the elderly.