Fitness and Aging
By Don S. Otis
Jim is a 66-year-old former retired professor. He is a hiker, plays squash and has kayaked the Hudson River, The Columbia, and The Florida Keys. He is always looking for some new adventure, a new challenge. In functional terms, Jim is much younger than his chronological age.
There are people Jim’s age who are functionally much older; they can’t begin to imagine weeks of paddling or hiking eight or ten miles in the backcountry. It is no surprise that as we age, our bodies don’t perform like they did in our 20s or 30s. A few obvious changes include a diminished capacity to process oxygen, shortening or tightening of muscles (decrease in flexibility), loss of muscle mass, arthritis or osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), susceptibility to disease.
While we cannot stop the aging process, we can take measures that will slow it down and decrease our functional age like Jim did. Even people, who are slightly overweight and exercise, have half the death rate of those who are lean but don’t exercise. Our Creator made our bodies for activity. In our sedentary culture, we drive when we can walk, we sit when we can stand and we circle the parking lot looking for a parking space.
The amazing thing about regular fitness is that it lowers the risk of many kinds of cancer and heart disease, builds our immune system, lowers our blood pressure and enables us to deal with stress or depression better. As my octogenarian uncle once said, “Getting old is not for sissies,” and this is from a man who plays tennis nearly every day. There is no panacea for aging, but exercise is about as close as we can get.
We can make choices that will change our lives. No matter what your age, you can live longer and healthier. Here are ten factors that can make a difference.
1. Become physically active.
2. Maintain muscle strength through weight-bearing exercise or activity.
3. Keep socially active.
4. Control your lifestyle and habits.
5. Don’t accept chronological age as a barrier.
6. Explore mental and physical boundaries.
7. Stay optimistic, smile, laugh.
8. Nurture your spiritual life.
9. See your doctor regularly for check ups.
10. Set new goals, seek new adventures.
As we get older, we tend to use our lack of energy, weakness, weight or other limitations as excuses to stop pursuing new challenges. Jim no longer expects to compete with 20- and 30-year-olds. Instead, he has revised his expectations for himself. He is realistic about his limitations, but he doesn’t let these limitations stop him from seeking new adventures. He uses weight training as a means to do what he loves most–kayak and hike.
What do you want to do? Don’t be timid about setting goals. Be realistic. Be consistent.
Don S. Otis is the author of Staying Fit After Forty, and a personal trainer living in Canon City, Colorado. He is the newest member of The Christian Pulse’s Health and Fitness Team. He can be reached at Don@veritasincorporated.com. © 2009