Exercise improves health, life in seniors
Senior citizens step up on a box to improve balance and joint movement during a senior stretch and exercise class at the Cherokee Nation’s Male Seminary Recreational Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Senior citizens lift dumbbell weights to improve muscles mass during a senior stretch and exercise class at the tribe’s Male Seminary Recreational Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Dr. Jana Jordan says exercising and being physically active is the “most important thing for seniors to do to stay young.” KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQAH – Exercise is important, but for senior citizens physical activity is crucial in living healthier and longer lives.
Dr. Jana Jordan, of Cherokee Nation W.W. Hastings Hospital, said exercising is the “most important thing for seniors to do to stay young.”
With frequent exercise, seniors can delay, improve and even prevent diseases and conditions that come with age such as diabetes, stroke, heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and cancers.
“Exercising improves cardiovascular health, so that lowers cholesterol. So in turn that prevents heart attack and stroke. It makes the heart stronger, so that goes along with helping high blood pressure. Almost any condition they may have like heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes is going to be improved by exercising,” Jordan said.
Muscle mass also plays a part in senior health. It declines with age, resulting in loss of balance and bone strength, which can lead to injury. According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of death and injury among seniors.
Jordan said exercising is essential to building muscle mass, which can allow seniors mobility and independence. “When those muscles start to decline you can’t get out like you use to. And the less you do means the less you’re able to do. So the people that are staying active can keep going and that keeps them healthy.”
In addition to the physical benefits, seniors can improve their mental health with exercise.
“I have patients that retire and they sit at home and don’t get out. Then their health starts to go bad, and they start to get depressed. So besides all the cardiovascular benefits and helping of the lungs and kidneys, it really helps their mental health. Exercise increases endorphins in the brain that makes them feel better, and when they feel good they become motivated to do more,” Jordan said.
She added that the exercise she recommends to seniors is walking. “You don’t have to go to the gym. You don’t have to go running, and you don’t have to go kayaking to be active, just walk. Anything weight baring is going to be the best exercise for seniors. Walking is weight bearing and doing some kind of strength training is all weight bearing, so it improves bone density and also conditions like osteoporosis.”
However, for handicap seniors or those with limited walking ability, Jordan recommends arm exercises or leg exercises. “If they can lift their legs up and down you can put a sack with some cans in it and move your legs up and down if they can’t walk. If they do that and it helps them improves their muscular strength there’s a possibility they may be able to get up and walk at some point in time.”
For seniors who enjoy attending a gym or fitness classes, the CN Male Seminary Recreational Center in Tahlequah provides a senior stretch and exercise class. It focuses on balance, stability, range of motion and functional movements tailored to acts of daily life.
Heather Dobbins, a MSRC physical activity specialist who teaches the class, said she’s seen how exercise positively impacts seniors and their physical abilities. “I have seen a major improvement in chair squats, which is being able to get up and down from the chair without having to use their lap or the chair to get up and use just the strength in their legs. So everyone started out having to use their lap to get up and now they are able to do chair squats without their hands. That’s what my goal is for them to remain or be independent without needing assistance from a walker, for instance, and I am seeing that progress being made.”
The National Health Service recommends 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week. However, Jordan recommends doing what is bearable, especially if beginning.
“Everybody’s health is different, and they’re all at a different place. So start small and add in increments of how long you are doing that so each time they go out and exercise they are improving their ability to exercise. They’re improving their heart and lung function. They’re improving their muscular function so they can do a little bit more each time,” she said.
Although exercise is beneficial, Jordan said it’s best to consult a physician, especially if experiencing chest pains and shortness of breath. However, Jordan said some exercise is better than none.
“Staying active is really, really important, and even if they’re not exercising they need to be getting out and socializing. Maybe they’re getting out and going to church. Maybe they’re going down to the senior citizens (center)…They’re getting some exercise, and they’re getting some socialization,” she said.