Healthy adults often take strength, mobility and balance for granted, but there is no guarantee that we will remain enjoyably agile throughout a lifetime. Without exercise, by the mid-60s muscles become extremely atrophied and our metabolism slows making it difficult to maintain a healthy weight. On the other hand, medical advancements have greatly extended the average lifespan. These two incongruent facts of life make exercise more important than ever for seniors. While foodies and scientists still disagree about whether eggs are good for you or not, most agree exercise is the only fountain of youth.
Baby boomers, after devoting so much of our lives to work and taking care of our families, deserve a lengthy span of years doing what we enjoy. Unfortunately, millions of baby boomers are disabled or will become disabled shortly after retirement simply because they won’t exercise. Meanwhile, doctors stress that a sedentary life style can eventually lead to everything from extreme muscle atrophy to cancer and heart disease.
There are numerous ways to measure muscle atrophy including simple tests like standing on one foot for 10 seconds (not recommended after hip replacement). If this simple action proves challenging it may suggest serious muscle atrophy has already occurred or perhaps some other medical malady is in play. After a doctor’s visit to ensure nothing more than atrophy is going on, a good plan of exercise may have you holding one leg by the ankle and hopping around within couple of months. Muscles respond to strength training by increasing their size and power. As muscles and tendons grow stronger, one’s balance and mobility increases pretty much regardless of age. It’s a matter of how fit one chooses to be in the last quarter of life. You say you’ve had a hip replacement, perhaps both hips. That’s okay, it only changes the way you exercise; here’s a link to exercising after hip replacement.
It’s important to note that disuse atrophy, the more common form, can occur in as little as 72 hours with smaller muscle groups. Large muscles, including leg muscles, take longer, so stick with your plan – patience really is a virtue. Better balance is the least you can expect from an assertive exercise plan and good balance is the minimum seniors need to ride a bicycle again, do the yoga tree pose or exit the theater after a two-hour movie without appearing drunk.
For more adventurous folks who want to regain some of the vitality and mobility they had in years past, the sky is the limit. After your doctor’s clearance, weight resistance and endurance training can be achieved and enhanced by joining a gym. This can be a life-changing experience. It is not unusual to see a 50-pound weight loss coupled with a 100% increase in strength over the period of one year. Most newbies start with the weight machines to avoid injuries. Free weights can be dangerous for elders, especially during the early stages of one’s exercise plan. Recovery time for seniors is longer than for young people and injuries can easily set seniors back several months. The key is to work different parts of the body on different days to allow muscles time to recuperate and become stronger. Weight resistance training will make you much stronger and greatly assists with balance and mobility. Proceed with a reasonable amount of caution and remember you’ll get where you’re going faster by staying injury free.
“Getting old is not for sissies” sounds cliché but sacrificing balance and mobility for a sedentary lifestyle is no joke. No one gets out of this alive, but we can live strong.