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Exercising & Ageing

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Exercising & Ageing
Summary
  • Many people can maintain physical endurance, strength and flexibility into old age with moderate, regular exercise.
  • Medical approval must first be sought before beginning an exercise programme.
  • Endurance fitness can be safely, conveniently and efficiently gained and maintained through walking.
Description

With age most people accept an inevitable increase in the risk of disease and illness. While the ageing process cannot be reversed, many people can maintain physical endurance, strength and flexibility into old age with moderate, regular exercise. This improves quality of life and independence.

Medical approval must first be sought before beginning an exercise programme. This is prudent, even though the benefits of exercise far outweigh the potential risks. Always begin exercise slowly. The improvements may be gradual and not noticed straight away, however, if exercise is made a part of the daily routine, fitness will improve. Endurance fitness, strength and flexibility all decrease with age. It is necessary therefore to put some effort into maintaining these three areas.


ENDURANCE

Endurance fitness can be safely, conveniently and efficiently gained and maintained through walking. A daily walk for between 20 and 30 minutes is ideal. Brief sessions of activity, (1 to 5 minutes), repeated several times per day may have similar effects on health as a single bout of continuous exercise. It is thought that the body cannot discriminate between single or multiple bouts of exercise. It is advisable to exercise at least three times a week.

A key query is: "How hard should we exercise?". Being able to talk while walking indicates that a person is exercising safely. If it is impossible to carry out a conversation with someone, taking a few puffs between sentences, slow down; there is no need to work that hard. If walking does not appeal then cycling, swimming, dancing and aqua aerobics are also suitable exercises. As long as the large muscle groups (e.g. arms and legs) are being used in rhythmic movements such as walking, then there will be benefits. Do something enjoyable. For example, golf and tennis (and in fact most ball sports) are perfect providing there is some sort of control over the intensity of the exercise.


STRENGTH

Improved strength can help maintain general mobility and enables a person to cope more easily with tasks such as climbing stairs and walking up hills. Research has shown that it is not only possible, but desirable, for us to maintain a degree of strength training as we age. This need not involve going to the local gym. Rather, exercises at home can include 'step-ups', which involve stepping up and down onto stairs, and calisthenic exercises which involve moving body parts against gravity.

If a person is going to the gym, there are several points to bear in mind. Firstly, concentrate on exercising the legs and arms. Secondly, try and train three to four days a week and be sure to rest in between these sessions. Thirdly, train with light weights to begin with and learn the right techniques from qualified instructors. Fourthly, be sure to warm up before exercise and cool down afterwards. This helps to prevent injury and reduce stiffness.

Strength training is unlikely to significantly increase over-all muscle size. However, the muscles will improve in strength and tone. Above all, it will help to make tasks easier and to maintain independence.


FLEXIBILITY

Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move through its range of motion. The degree of movement is largely determined by the tightness of muscles, tendons and ligaments that are attached to the joints. Flexibility responds to regular training (i.e. stretching); it increases with training and decreases with inactivity. Flexibility is also specific which means that good flexibility in one joint does not mean that another will also be flexible.

Good flexibility is often related to pain-free movement. For example, lower back pain can often be caused by poor flexibility (and weak muscles) in the back, pelvis and thighs. Excessive tightness in the front of the thighs can cause the pelvis to tilt too far forwards and increase the curve of the lower back. A Physiotherapist is the ideal person to give advice about the best stretching exercises to use.

  • Pharmacist's Advice


    Ask your Pharmacist for advice.

    1. Remember to have a physical examination from your Doctor before starting any exercise regime. Blood pressure should be monitored.
    2. Do not over-exercise.
    3. Have adequate fluids. Exercise can increase the risk of becoming dehydrated. Ask your Pharmacist about special sports drinks to help replace fluids.
    4. If you suffer any muscle strain your Pharmacist will help you with a suitable cream or lotion. If an injury occurs during exercise it is important to seek medical advice. What may appear to be a minor injury can become more serious if not treated properly.
    5. If the diet is inadequate consider some supplements. Vitamin C and vitamin E are suggested as these are both antioxidants. Antioxidants may reduce the stress effects of exercise on the body i.e., help to 'mop up' the damaging molecules (free radicals) from the blood which are released in greater quantities during exercise1.


    Injuries

    AVOID DEHYDRATION
    Relacing fluids must be a high priority; it is advisable to drink before, during and following exercise (to replace what has been lost in sweat). To get an idea of how much you need to replace after exercise, weigh yourself before and after a session or game. The weight lost is roughly equivalent to sweat loss; a 1kg drop in weight would require you to drink one litre to replace the water. Similarly, a loss of 2kg will require you to drink 2 litres.

  • Notes

    References

    1. Allesio HM, et al. Exercise induced oxidative stress before and after Vitamin C Supplementation. Int Journ of Sport and Nut. 1997. 7: 1-9.
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