Fighting back against aging

By Jean Sanders
Info Guru,

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Exercise is a powerful tool against the physical effects of aging and it's never too late to start.
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Use walking canes while exercising

Being a senior citizen is no reason not to exercise, says University of Illinois professor of kinesiology Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko. In fact any physical activity, like walking even if walking canes must be used, will benefit health.

It's important to "choose an activity that you will do," whatever that is, the professor said. "It really matters less exactly what you do than it matters to avoid being completely sedentary."

A 1996 report from the U.S. Surgeon General indicates only about 15 percent of adults over 65 get a recommended level of physical activity and as many as one-third get no exercise at all, Chodzko-Zajko noted in an article he wrote for the journal Quest.

Chodzko-Zajko suggests that some people might benefit from strategies such as keeping a diary of all their physical activity, including even things like short walks to the store with their walking canes, doing housework or working in the garden. Seeing the diary may help motivate people to exercise because they want to avoid days in which they have nothing to write down.

Another trick to encourage increased walking that he likes is getting a dog. The dog will insist on going out even if the owner might not be in the mood.

"Part of the problem may be that we've adopted a medical model of exercise, where exercise is sort of a bitter pill, and you get a prescription and you're expected to stick to it," Chodzko-Zajko said. "But the bottom line is it takes time to change behavior, and I personally feel the broader you can define your activity program, the less likely you are to become demoralized."

People who need mobility chairs can still benefit from exercise, although they may have to do it in a seated position. Many of those using mobility chairs have the use of their limbs, but use the chairs because they tire easily. Walking may not be a good exercise choice in this case.

Instead, try doing leg lifts in a seated position. Start by lifting only one leg at a time. Do this 10 times with each leg to start, working up to three sets of 15 leg lifts per leg. Once this has become easy, lift both legs at the same time, again starting with 10 lifts and working up to three sets of 15 leg lifts. To increase the work load on the leg muscles, ankle weights can be added. Start with one pound per leg and go back to the lowest number of lifts.

Exercising the upper body is also important. This can also be done from a seated position. Do a variety of arm exercises. Start with one pound weights at 10 repetitions per exercise. If you don't own any weights, a can of peas from the kitchen is a good substitute. Many web sites demonstrate exercises for the upper body that can be done while seated.

Back pain is common among older people and it can be hard to get effective back pain relief. But exercise can help with this as well. Using proper form when walking or doing other forms of exercise helps to strengthen the muscles in the back. Stronger muscles usually mean less pain.

Other back pain relief aids include hot pads, foot stools, cushions for seat backs, electrical stimulation machines and vibrating massage devices. Some people whose muscles are not strong enough use different types of back braces.

Professionals who can help with back pain include massage therapists, acupuncturists, physical therapists and chiropractors. Which one you choose depends on what is causing the pain, what types of practitioners are available in your area, what your insurance will cover and personal preference. Each of these therapists uses different techniques in the treatment of back pain, ranging from physical manipulation to inserting needles in the body.

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