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You're Never Too Old . . .

. . . to shape up, so join in on National Senior Health and Fitness Day

SUNDAY, May 27, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Hey, all you seniors out there -- instead of thinking you're over the hill, why not walk, cycle or jog up it.

That's the message being pumped up for the eighth annual National Senior Health and Fitness Day on May 30. More than 150,000 older adults are expected to participate at about 1,500 locations across the United States.

"This is the nation's largest older adult health-and-fitness event," says Gary Ford, a director at the Mature Market Resource Center, which organizes National Senior Health and Fitness Day.

"It's a day to celebrate or recognize the importance of regular physical activity for older adults," Ford says.

Events will be held at senior centers, retirement communities, health departments, hospitals, park and recreation departments, health clubs, and other community locations. Programs and activities will include walks, low-impact exercises like Tai Chi, health fairs, and exercise demonstrations.

It's vital to encourage seniors to be active and to inform them about the benefits of exercise, Ford says. "As you get older, staying physically active is critical for good health," he says.

Ford notes the 1996 U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health that says older adults can obtain significant health benefits with a moderate amount of physical exercise. There are many studies that say the same thing, he adds.

And that doesn't mean you have to hop on a bicycle and pretend you're Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Walking is a great exercise that's cheap and easy for older adults, Ford says.

"One of the things that goes on during the Senior Health Fitness Day is to show people who haven't been active that there are lots of different choices in terms of exercise and physical activity," Ford says.

There are several elements to physical activity that benefit seniors, says Margaret Hawkins, senior program coordinator in health for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Foundation.

Regular aerobic activity improves your heart, lungs and circulation and helps reduce the onset of some diseases, while muscle strength and endurance exercises help older adults continue to do the things they did earlier in their lives. Balance exercises help prevent potentially disabling falls. And stretching keeps muscles and joints flexible, enabling freedom of movement and range of motion, Hawkins says.

Exercise provides other rewards also.

"We've learned from focus groups that we've conducted just recently that people have a sense of well-being when they're physically active, that sleep is improved, that they feel good about themselves, that they feel less stress," Hawkins says.

While many seniors recognize the benefits of exercise and physical activity, it's a challenge to motivate them to do it or make them think of it as a priority, Hawkins says.

"It doesn't have to be one chunk of time; there are health benefits to doing physical activity in 10- or 15-minute increments. So a little bit in the morning, a little bit at lunchtime, a little bit at the end of the day, can still have health benefits. They don't have to do 35 to 40 minutes all at once," she says.

"If [exercise] was a pill that people could take, the health of our older population would be quite different," Hawkins says.

What To Do

Consider these facts from the National Institute on Aging:

  • Lack of physical exercise and poor diet are among the leading causes of death for older Americans.
  • Staying physically active on a regular basis can help prevent or delay certain diseases, such as some types of cancer, heart disease or diabetes.
  • Regular exercise can improve mood and relieve depression.

For more HealthScout stories on seniors and exercise, click here.

For more information about the benefits of exercise for older adults and how to do it effectively and safely, go to the AARP Wellness Center, the National Institute on Aging, or the American Senior Fitness Association.

SOURCES: Interviews with Gary Ford, director, Mature Market Resource Center, Libertyville, Ill.; Margaret Hawkins, senior program coordinator in health, AARP Foundation, Washington, D.C.
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