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Role of Exercise as We Age
By Lisa Reutzel

Everyone has their own idea of what exercise means to them. For some it may be a means of keeping off weight so they can eat what they want, or to build muscle so they can participate in a sport or competition, or a way of releasing stress. When we are young, we may be participating in sports and we need to build or strength, agility and speed so we can be the best in our sport. We may also have ambitions of moving on to participating in college sports.

Lisa ReutzelWhen we are young, our bodies are also capable of handling much more stress. Our workouts can be longer in duration and more frequent and we may need less time to warm up and cool down. Not to say that it’s not important at their young bodies are capable of functioning at a higher level with minimal stretching and warm ups and cool downs. Disciplines such as yoga, Pilates are not typically practiced by younger individuals. Their goal is to hit it hard and go nonstop, typically with a “no pain no gain” attitude.

Many senior individuals are not interested in “working out”. They don’t find it fun and have no interest in walking into a gym. While training senior clients I hear some of the same questions, what happened to my balance, I can’t carry my groceries up a flight of stairs or I am unable to (easily) get up off the floor. I also hear, I don’t enjoy exercising, I don’t want to bulk up or I already walk 3 miles a day, I bike twice a week, why do I need to do more?

One reason is as we age we begin to lose our balance. This occurs for a variety of reasons, our muscles may be weaker, our posture begins to decline, we don’t work all of our muscles, and we don’t play like we did when we were kids. In addition, possible health issues may affect our balance, thus we need to incorporate balancing exercises into our daily routine. We need to strengthen the leg muscles; we need to continually challenge ourselves by progressing our balancing movements. Yoga and balance classes become important (great for socializing as well) and should be incorporated into our weekly routines.

Also, as we age our desires and needs begin to change. For some individuals, we may still lead active lifestyles, some may still be running marathons, others may golf regularly, while still others may walk, hike, bike, work in the garden, or simply play with their grandchildren. The goal as we age is to be able to continue to participate in the activities that we enjoy for as long as we can. However, in order to do so we need to keep our muscles strong, joints flexible, improve our balance and keep our hearts healthy and let’s not forget good nutrition (another topic) and this takes a little extra work.

A prime example is with my husband. He loves to be outdoors, he hikes (lots of hills), hunts, and bikes. When I tried to encourage him to begin lifting weights, he was not interested. He told me my legs are strong because I walk a lot, my upper body is strong from carrying a pack and chopping firewood. When, I asked him to perform a 1-minute wall sit, I thought he was going to collapse to the floor. His legs were shaking and it was much more difficult than he expected.

I try to explain to my senior clients that the role of exercise as we age is to make these tasks easier and to allow them to complete certain tasks quicker. The stronger our legs become, the easier it is to walk that hill, carry your groceries up the steps, get up and down from the floor. I am not talking about putting 100# on bar and perform a squat! I am talking about performing the basic moves such as sit to stand, lunges, push and pull movements which help to make your daily activities easier. This may be as simple as sitting into a chair without arms, easily getting up from the floor after playing with your grandchild, reaching and putting items away in your cabinet, or making your bed.

The rewards of establishing a solid strength, cardio and balance/flexibility routine is to make your life more enjoyable. There is nothing that makes me happier than to hear a client say “I carried my groceries up two flights of stairs, it wasn’t easy, but I never could have done that if I haven’t been working on my cardio routine and weights” or for the individual, like my husband, who is able to chop three loads of firewood in two hours instead of five hours.

So continue to keep yourself strong and healthy and vary your exercise routine. If you are unsure of what exercises to perform, reach out to a fitness professional for advice. Keep your focus of enjoying the view from the top of the mountain during your 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and then, only then, allow yourself to slow down the pace as you move into your 90’s and 100’s.

Happy and healthy living!

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Lisa Reutzel is the Fitness Supervisor at the Community & Recreation Center at Boyce Mayview Park. Community & Recreation Center at Boyce Mayview Park, 1551 Mayview Road, Upper St. Clair, PA 15241 is open to USC residents and surrounding community residents. For more information, visit www.twpusc.org/crc/crc-home or call (412) 221-1099.

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