Ester Marsh column: Never too old

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 1, 2014

Wow, I can’t believe it is already December. I look forward to the holidays, getting together with family and friends. This holiday season, one of my Army daughters, Edie, is serving in Bagram, Afghanistan. It will be very different, but I thank her and all other Armed Forces for their service, both current and past. Especially giving up their holiday season to serve their country. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are times to reflect and be thankful. These times are also challenging because it is easy to look back on the year and see things that we didn’t accomplish. I am a true believer that it is never too late to do something, whether it’s rekindling a long lost friendship, trying something completely new such as ballroom dancing or learning to play chess or bridge. And, you are never too old to start an exercise program. So what is “old”? A teenager would think anything past 30 would be considered “old.” That was considered true in ancient times. Current life expectancy in the U.S. is around 78.8 — in 1950, it was 71.1. We are living longer and I believe most people like to grow old gracefully. My deceased Judo Sensei Jan van de Horst always said “age is all in your head.” He grew old very gracefully, he received the 13th Dan in the Kodokan (not many people in the world go up that high with Judo) was avid in the fitness center and ran until his back wouldn’t let him anymore. He died at the age of 87 and absolutely left a legacy of “you are never too old to…”

Fortunately, many insurance companies are figuring out it costs a lot less to pay for a fitness membership than to pay the health care issues that come with aging and inactivity. Silver Sneakers is a program that has been adopted by many supplemental insurance companies. Rufty Holmes and the YMCA of Rowan County are Silver Sneaker sites where your insurance pays 100 percent for your membership. Silver and Fit is another program that has now accepted the YMCA of Rowan County as one of their sites. Either we can check to see if you qualify or you can contact your insurance company. So, why exercise?

Aging brings all kind of wonderful things, but also some not-so-wonderful things.

There will be physiological changes. Sometimes, it can be difficult to differentiate effects of aging from those from disease and reconditioning. So make sure you have a good relationship with your doctor to be able to know the difference.

Let’s look at the special considerations supported by the ACSM (American College of Sports medicine).

Common physiological changes are:

• Loss of number and size of cells

• Body fat increases, muscle mass decreases

• Decreased number of fast twitch fibers and also some slow twitch. (Fast twitch fibers are used in explosive movements such as sprints, jumps. Slow twitch are dominant in longer distance exercise such as running, walking, swimming)

• Diminished glycogen stores

• Lungs less able to supply oxygen during exercise

• Decreased number of neurons resulting in less precise movements

• Loss of elasticity of connective tissue

• Diminished rate of stress adaptation

Our No. 1  focus for exercise programming for older adults is to focus on functional capacity necessary for daily tasks, such as tying your shoes, walking up stairs, picking up bags of groceries, etc.

Now, we want you to do this with activities that will help you accomplish that and encourage you to continue to do them. And weight bearing exercises should be included to enhance bone density and reduce muscle loss.

In order to get to the sets and reps for older active adults, it is important to evaluate your fitness level first. Someone just starting a strength program should not be pushing until muscles start to fail.

Older adults (over 65) should not perform over 12 sets per workout. So, if you do 12 exercises, you perform one set per exercise. Research has shown that a single set of 12 reps with the proper weight can build muscle just as efficiently as the 3 sets of the same exercise.

Warming up and stretching before and after workouts are recommended.

Proper technique is very important for any age, and should be second nature before going up in weight.

Start slowly. If you are a beginner, you need to give your muscles, tendons and ligaments time to get used to the weight training regime. Too much and/or too heavy too soon is the perfect blend for injury.

A good rule of thumb — start easier. When you can easily do 12 reps with that weight, on your next workout, gradually increase the weight and do it again. You will be excited to see the progress once you start.

Take time to rest. Allow at least 48 hours or even 72 hours of rest between strength exercises (for the same muscle groups). You could do upper body exercises one day and lower body the next day.

For most older active adults, shorter strength training workouts more often per week are better than the “typical” 3 days per week workout of 80-90 minutes.

Most importantly make sure your doctor is aware and gives you the go ahead to start an exercise program and especially a weight training program. People with high blood pressure and maybe some other ailments (where it is not recommended to lift heavy weights) might need a different kind of strength workout.

The new year is quickly approaching. Start making the changes today because tomorrow is always one day away!

Ester H Marsh, Health and Fitness Director JF Hurley family YMCA