Editor's note: The Area 1 Agency on Aging commissions freelance writer Carol Harrison to produce Gray Matters every two weeks.
Medline Plus calls exercise the fountain of youth, but some older Americans don’t know where to begin and others need convincing.
That’s why Area 1 Agency on Aging is partnering with local fitness experts and clubs during Older Americans Month in May. Expert Fitness for Women, Life Fitness and Fred Endert Municipal Swimming Pool are offering seniors some free orientation and training classes.
“If you’ve wanted to try Pilates or tai chi; if you’ve been thinking it’s time to embrace strength training or check out better balance classes; if yoga or aqua aerobics are calling to you — May is your chance,” said Todd Metcalf, director of programs at A1AA.
Following are the details of each Crescent City offer:
• First-time visitors age 55 and older can arrange for a one-week pass at Express Fitness for Women at 700 Northcrest Drive near Home Depot. Call Anita at 465-1806 or come in to set it up for a week. Try yoga Pilates, Zumba or a circuit class.
• Life Fitness is offering a one-week pass any time in May to those age 65 and older. Call 465-3070 or drop by 520 Wilson, behind the Shopsmart, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to noon on Friday.
• The municipal pool at 1000 Play Street is offering a one-time pass for one class for those 60 and older. Classes include water aerobics, stretch & tone, aqua jogging, water walking, lap swim or public swim. Contact Brooke or Matt for the schedule, 464-9503.
For Del Norte County seniors who are regularly in Humboldt County, drop by the A1AA office at 434 Seventh Street in Eureka to pick up a three-day May pass to HealthSPORT in Arcata, Eureka, Fortuna or McKinleyville (healthsport.
com) or Cal Courts in Eureka or Cutten (445-5445). One pass per person age 60 and older and passes must be picked up from A1AA.
Another option: Arcata Core Pilates at 930 Samoa Blvd. for an 11 a.m. class on Tuesdays geared exclusively to seniors. Call 845-8156 for details.
For more information, call A1AA at 707-464-7876, drop by 1765 Northcrest Drive in Crescent City or call one of the fitness centers listed above. A1AA is also a referral agency for STRONG fitness programs offered year-round throughout Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
According to the National Institutes of Health, regular exercise and physical activity help people stay strong and fit enough to perform daily activities, get around and maintain independence.
Physical activity refers to body movements associated with tasks such as gardening, vacuuming, walking the dog or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Exercise is a planned, structured and repetitive physical activity such as weight training, Pilates, aerobics or spinning.
“Too many people don’t know how to get started,” Metcalf said. “They’re afraid exercise is too dangerous or worried they’ll get hurt. They don’t realize exercise and physical activity help maintain or partially restore the endurance, strength, balance and flexibility we need to live well, longer and independently.”
“It’s much more than okay for older people to exercise,” stated Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, on the NIH website. “However, a number of well-conducted, controlled studies have shown that a variety of exercises are not only safe for older people but have enormous advantage.”
Inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who are more active, the U.S. Surgeon General reports. Lack of physical activity can also lead to more doctor visits, more hospitalizations and more use of medicines for a variety of chronic diseases.
Exercise also helps prevent or delay many diseases and disabilities by lowering blood pressure or increasing bone density.
Some studies also suggest exercise reduces feelings of depression, improves sleep, helps with stress management and improves cognitive functions such as shifting quickly between tasks, planning, and ignoring irrelevant information.
Endurance makes it easier to walk farther, faster and uphill, which translates into making it easier to vacuum, work in the garden or rake leaves.
Strength training by lifting weights or using resistance bands increases muscle strength and improves balance. Increased strength helps people carry smaller grandchildren, climb stairs, carry groceries, lift bags of yard clippings and open jars.
Balance exercises such as those in tai chi improve the ability to maintain body position while moving or still. Good balance is essential to preventing falls. Balance exercises can help people stand on tiptoe to reach something on a top shelf, walk up and down stairs, and walk on uneven ground.
Stretching helps the body stay flexible and limber, giving more freedom and range of movement, the NIH reports. That helps people bend over to tie shoes or pick up something on the floor, swing a golf club, pull a sweater over head, make the bed, and look over a shoulder to see what’s behind the car a driver is backing a car down a driveway.
Stretching exercises improve flexibility, but will not improve endurance or strength.
“If you’re already active, use May to try something new, to add some variety to what you do,” Metcalf said. “If you don’t exercise, May is the chance to start. It’s never too late to start.”