it comes to your muscles the old adage, "use it or lose it" says it
all. But looking after your body requires more than keeping your
muscles strong. This is true for everyone, but especially seniors.
you ever been confined to bed for a week or two? If so, you'll remember
how weak and rubbery your legs were when you attempted to stand up.
That's what happens when you don't use your muscles, they get soft and
Research shows that we retain most of
our muscle strength until about age 45, and then we gradually lose
about 40 percent of our muscle strength and size. When that happens, it
gets more difficult to carry out the normal functions of daily living.
Even a short walk, getting up from a chair, or carrying groceries
becomes a major chore. But it doesn't have to be that way. The experts
tells us that most of our muscle loss occurs because we stop doing
active things that require muscle power, not because we age. The good
news is that regardless of age, you can strengthen your muscles by
putting them to use.
There are three general
"types" of physical activity. A good exercise program should contain a
mix of activities from each of the following three categories:
or aerobic activities keep your cardiovascular system in good
condition. The Mayo Clinic Family Health book describes an aerobic
activity as one that requires your heart and lungs to function at an
increased rate supplying your cells with more oxygen (aerobic means
"exercise with oxygen"). Your main activity should be an aerobic
exercise such as swimming, cycling, walking, hiking, skating, canoeing,
x-country skiing and dancing. These activities improve the health of
your heart, lungs and circulatory system.
or stretching activities should be a part of any fitness plan.
Stretching or flexibility exercises prevent muscles from becoming short
and tight. Activities such as bowling, yoga, curling, tennis, dancing,
gardening, and house work all help to stretch your muscles. Flexibility
exercises keep you limber and help prevent falls. Once you have learned
the techniques of stretching from a qualified instructor you can
establish your own routine and stretch at home. My favorite reference
book is Stretching by Bob Anderson. His book also provides specific
stretching recommendations for those over fifty.
or resistance activities will strengthen your muscles and help your
bones stay strong. You need strong muscles to do the carrying, lifting,
pushing, and pulling required to get through a normal day. Weight
training is ideal for building muscles, but other exercises such as
swimming, walking, hiking, and cycling will also improve your muscle
strength. In other words, some activities fall under more than one
Senior centres and community centres
provide top-notch instructor led workout programs with catchy titles
like Sweat & Stretch and Cardio Tone. And they incorporate a
healthy mix of all three activity categories during a one-hour group
workout. A typical one hour session may be: 10 minutes for warm-up, 30
minutes for the main aerobic activity, with the final 20 minutes
allocated to strength activities, stretching, and cool down. Join an
exercise group and you'll get a good balance of the three activity
While discussing active living with a
group of adults one day, I asked them what they did for exercise. Most
responses were fairly typical and some even confessed to leading a
sedentary lifestyle, totally devoid of any kind of body movement. But
one lady's reply deserves mention here. She said, "I do my exercises
first thing in the morning while I'm still in bed." That triggered a
bit of a chuckle, but of course we knew that she was talking about
stretching. However good her intentions, this lady was not providing
her body with a balanced workout. Without aerobic activities her
cardiovascular system suffers, and without strength activities her
muscles will deteriorate.
independence with an active lifestyle that includes a balance of the
three activity types: endurance, flexibility and strength.