I’ve had amazing conversations with people over 100 years of age. I also have a sister who is 70 and suffering from end-stage Alzheimer’s and is non-verbal. Sometimes life is not fair, with dreams of an active, fulfilling retirement shattered by unforeseen health issues.
But are they unforeseen? What if you could predict the probability of poor health in your senior years. Is this flaky science? Is cognitive function related to exercise?
A recent study of seniors measured their fitness level and brain activity.
The brain consists of a series of networks that respond to stimuli received. For example, standing is a different network from sitting and reading to building something in the shop or cutting the grass. Typically, the healthy brain can activate the new network for the new task, and when it does not, we can see the confusion.
The significance of the study was that when subjects increased their physical activity level, their ability to transition between these neural networks improved significantly, and their executive functions were also improved.
In North America, seniors over 65 spend three times as much time watching TV as teens.
One day, I recall working in a retirement home as the activity manager, and the cable to the entire building went out for two days. Attendance at the activities soared to all-time highs, and when the curling tournament was on, it was a ghost town.
For seniors with balance issues, I recommend a stationary recumbent bike. They can be bought used for under $200 and put in the living room right in front of the TV if you like. Treadmills are great but maybe risky for severely de-conditioned persons.
Treadmills are the way to go for a healthy and active senior because walking is a natural motor pattern. Since walking is weight-bearing, there are additional benefits for balance, weight loss and improved bone density.
How much walking is needed? An excellent review of 50 studies across four continents showed that those seniors who put in 6,000 steps a day received the maximum benefit when looking at risk for death: about a 50 per cent drop in mortality. Going over that 6,000 number did not increase the benefit. Going faster did not increase the use. Depending on age, fitness level and stride length, this translates to about two miles per day, give or take.
While only using walking as your primary exercise has impressive benefits for longevity and preventing dementia, it does have shortcomings. Walking does not address the need to gain muscle in seniors, does not help you become more flexible and does not significantly improve core strength to improve conditions like sciatica.
But, it’s free, can be done just about anywhere, and it will brighten your mood.
Ron Cain is the owner of Sooke Mobile Personal Training. Email him at email@example.com or find him on Facebook at Sooke Personal Training.
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