Like others before her, including Ponce de León, Lucille Ball did not discover the Fountain of Youth; however, she did give us three actions we can take to avoid the ravages of time. She said that "the secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age."
Maybe there is a fourth action: exercise regularly and vigorously. Researchers continue to reaffirm the notion that "age is just a number." Although seniors may not be able to turn back the hands of time, they can slow down the impact of aging by getting and staying fit:
Exercise to Offset Physical Decline: The latest research contradicts the notion that the decline of fitness level for a majority of seniors is inevitable. Researchers find that sedentary lifestyles, rather than the inexorable passage of time, trigger a decline in fitness. While seniors may need more time to achieve improvements (and reverse years of sedentary living) than when they were younger, the extended effort still pays off. Besides slowing the aging process, exercise reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease, improves bone mineral density in postmenopausal women, quickens the healing of skin injuries by as much as 25 percent, helps preserve brain health and improves the quality of life by allowing seniors to maintain their independence.
Stay Mentally Sharp: Can losing weight, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, exercising regularly and eating nutritious food help you remember where you put your keys? Absolutely, say researchers. As we age, our brains typically shrink, causing some of the nerve cells to shrink or lose connectivity with other brain cells. These changes result in decreased memory function. But even normal levels of memory loss can be slowed by creating positive habits, such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and stimulating the mind with new challenges, such as puzzles, games and social interactions.
Go for the Gold: According to a recent study from the University of New Hampshire, seniors (individuals 60 and over) are the fastest growing segment in running competitions. Even more amazing, they lose none of their edge because of age! Although older runners are slower than their younger counterparts, the study found that, regardless of age, running economy—how efficiently the body utilizes oxygen at a particular pace—remains the same. Timothy Quinn, lead author of the study, spoke enthusiastically about the results of the study: "It was surprising, but in a good way.”
Commenting on the difference in speed between older and younger runners and the prospects for the senior competitors, Quinn was encouraging: “Strength declines with age, but you can minimize that if you do strength training. It doesn't take a lot to maintain strength." He adds, "We need to set up programs that enhance strength [for seniors], especially upper-body strength, and power. They'll be better runners for it.”
Think Beyond Bingo: At 91 years old, Bernice Bates holds the Guinness World Record for oldest yoga teacher. Bates, who has practiced hatha-yoga since 1960, completes her eight-minute yoga routine every morning upon waking. Bates also shares her passion for yoga by teaching a weekly one-hour class at the Mainlands Retirement Community Center in Pinellas Park, Florida. Most of her students are in their 60s and 70s, with a few in their 80s. “It’s for everybody,” Bates says about yoga. “There’s thousands of postures. You can pick and choose. You do what you can.” She adds, “It’s non-competitive, which is the best thing about it.” Bates’s story is an inspiring testament to the amazing results of hard work, discipline and passion. If a 91-year-old can lead yoga classes, what’s holding you back?
Every day, we have a choice. We can decide to work toward a higher level of fitness and health or passively observe the passage of time and wait to see what health problems inevitably develop.
If we decide to take the passive route, we'd better have deep pockets because medical care is going to become increasingly expensive. Even seniors who are covered by Medicare may find benefits limited or even cut altogether if predictions of insolvency by 2024 are realized.
Rather than relying on the government for medical care, we can reduce medical expenses in a simple, cost-effective way. Quite simply, a policy of regular exercise is the best medical insurance seniors can find.