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'Get Moving' Can Be Vital Advice for Seniors

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 20 (HealthDay News) -- A birthday card on the market for older adults, meant to be humorous, shows a vulture on a tree branch, with the admonition to "Keep moving."

Though some might find the humor unsettling, the blunt message is right on target: It's never too late to start exercise, and any amount is better than none, exercise experts say.

Yet they also agree that getting older adults to get moving and stay moving can be a challenge.

The reasons older adults don't stick with, or start, a regular exercise routine are numerous, said Dr. William Hall, director of the Center for Healthy Aging at Highland Hospital and professor of medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York.

"Many of the women's groups I work with think it's not very womanly," he said, adding that others have said to him, "Wouldn't I feel self-conscious running around in Lycra?" Yes, he tells them, but tight-fitting workout clothes are not a requirement.

Fear of falling is another reason some older adults don't work out or get any physical activity, said Amy Ashmore, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise, who is also a personal trainer and group fitness instructor and an adjunct professor in sports and health sciences with American Military University and the College of Southern Nevada. She specializes in exercise guidelines for adults over 55.

"As we age, many changes occur that affect our balance," Ashmore said. "For many people, these changes are scary, and for that reason many older people are afraid to exercise."

Hall and Ashmore focus on positive motivators, emphasizing the benefits of exercise. For some, Hall said, the competitive spark still exists so he taps into that.

He encourages people to have a goal -- whether it's to learn a new skill, beat a neighbor in an event or just surpass their own best record.

If costs aren't an issue, Hall said, he encourages seniors to buy exercise gear that appeals to them. Something as simple as a new pair of shoes or socks can help people overcome inertia.

He talks about the physical benefits, too. "The medical evidence that's coming out now about the value of exercise for everything we worry about as we age, including cognitive disorders, is compelling," Hall said.

Staying active can reduce the risks for heart disease and help maintain a healthy weight, according to research, and it can help those with existing health problems such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.

And body image is still a motivator, whatever a person's age, Hall said. When he coached 200 older adults in a triathlon training program, the participants were initially self-conscious when they showed up on the swim deck, he said. But soon, as exercise led to shedding of pounds and a feeling of well-being, confidence grew. "The women started showing up in much more svelte swimsuits," he said.

Other tips from Ashmore and Hall to help seniors keep moving include:

  • Focusing on "process goals." Ashmore said that means focusing on the current exercise session. "I am finishing 15 repetitions on the triceps press-down," for instance, not: "I need to lose 20 pounds."
  • Buying a new bathroom scale. Get one that also gives body fat percentages, Hall suggested. Set a goal to reduce body fat and use the scale to periodically track the results of exercise.
  • Thinking of exercise as social time. Socialization is linked with health benefits, so why not combine the two?
  • Rediscovering your inner competitor. One participant in Halls' triathlon training program told Hall his goal: "I want to beat Bill Hall." Hall, a senior himself, said he laughed -- but said it motivated him to do better in the triathlon, too.
  • Accepting a realistic goal. Hall said he reassures seniors that they don't have to run a marathon or even do his triathlon training to reap benefits. "If they can give us 150 minutes of exercise a week, that's probably as therapeutic as you need," he said. That's just 2½ hours a week -- and, he says, housework counts, too.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more on exercise for older adults.

SOURCES: William Hall, M.D., director, Center for Healthy Aging, Highland Hospital, and professor, medicine, University of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, N.Y.; Amy Ashmore, Ph.D., certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, Las Vegas, and adjunct professor, sports and health sciences, American Military University and College of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas

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