Fo­cus­ing on fit­ness early may help with de­cline when ag­ing

Spe­cific ex­er­cises and ac­tiv­i­ties can help main­tain bal­ance, mus­cle strength

Calgary Herald - - WEEKEND LIFE - HE­LEN VAN­DER­BURG He­len Van­der­burg is a fit­ness spe­cial­ist, au­thor of Fu­sion Work­outs, and a mo­ti­va­tional health and well­ness speaker. Find her on­line at heav­ens­fit­ and he­len­van­der­ Fol­low her on Face­book/ he­len­van­der­burg and In­sta­gram: @hv

It’s es­ti­mated that by the year 2030, 20 to 25 per cent of the North Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion will be over 65. As peo­ple in this age group strive to live the most ac­tive and in­de­pen­dent life­style they can, it’s crit­i­cal for any­one over the age of 50 to start to­day to op­ti­mize their health and fit­ness.

While there are things we can­not change as we age, such as wrin­kles, hear­ing loss and di­min­ished eye­sight, there are many other things we have con­trol over and can im­prove.

In the past decade, “func­tional” has be­come a fit­ness buzz­word, of­ten re­fer­ring to train­ing sys­tems and ex­er­cises that take a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to train­ing than tra­di­tional method­olo­gies.

Func­tional train­ing can be de­fined as train­ing that en­hances the co-or­di­nated re­la­tion­ship be­tween the ner­vous and mus­cu­lar sys­tems. It in­volves in­creased mo­bil­ity, skill and strength that im­proves your func­tional ca­pac­ity to per­form com­mon ac­tiv­i­ties of daily liv­ing, such as get­ting up and out of a chair, walk­ing and climb­ing stairs.

Ex­actly what ex­er­cises will im­prove your func­tional ca­pac­ity de­pends on where you start. Think of it as the pro­gres­sion from walk­ing your dog around the block to be­ing able to travel and climb up the Acrop­o­lis if you wanted to. It isn’t im­por­tant where you start your fit­ness pro­gram that mat­ters the most, it’s about the gains you make along the way that make you feel younger and in­de­pen­dent.

Un­for­tu­nately, one of the early signs of ag­ing isn’t phys­i­cal, it’s men­tal. It starts one day when you no­tice that your list of “can’t do” ac­tiv­i­ties be­comes longer than your “can do” list of ac­tiv­i­ties. As they say, you’re only as old as you feel. Noth­ing makes us feel younger than mov­ing ev­ery day and noth­ing makes us feel older than sit­ting all day.

Be­gin­ning at 40 years of age, mus­cle mass be­gins to di­min­ish, cor­re­spond­ing to a pro­gres­sive loss in mus­cle strength and power. Not only does this de­crease func­tional ca­pac­ity, it in­creases the risk of falls. This age-re­lated loss of mus­cle mass is known as sar­cope­nia. This loss pro­gresses at an av­er­age an­nual rate of one to two per cent un­til the age of 60 and ac­cel­er­ates to three per cent per year af­ter that. Even more detri­men­tal to func­tional abil­ity than sar­cope­nia is loss of mus­cle strength, which de­clines at a much faster rate, as much as 50 per cent with in­creas­ing age.

Life­long phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, com­bined with spe­cific func­tional train­ing, is key to main­tain­ing phys­i­cal in­de­pen­dence. Train­ing should in­volve six func­tional do­mains: neu­ro­mus­cu­lar (nerve to mus­cle); mus­cu­loskele­tal (mus­cles and bones); bal­ance; mo­bil­ity; car­diores­pi­ra­tory (heart and lungs); and cog­ni­tion (brain).

Ac­cord­ing to or­tho­pe­dic phys­io­ther­a­pist Terry Kane, two of the most com­mon signs of ag­ing are our walk­ing speed and our abil­ity to get up from a chair with­out us­ing our hands.

“To see a young man walk­ing slow catches our eye and cre­ates the im­pres­sion that some­thing is wrong with him, while watch­ing an older man walk briskly cre­ates ad­mi­ra­tion and re­spect. Mak­ing an ef­fort to take 20 strides as quickly and safely as pos­si­ble ev­ery day is a great way to main­tain your neu­ro­mus­cu­lar func­tion and con­fi­dence” says Kane.

With re­spect to get­ting up from a chair re­quir­ing the use of your hands, Kane says that while it may be eas­ier, it can lead to a sig­nif­i­cant loss of leg strength that is al­most im­pos­si­ble to re­store with­out a lot of ex­er­cise.

Kane en­cour­ages pa­tients to per­form what he calls pil­low squats where the pa­tient puts two pil­lows on a chair and the pa­tient pro­ceeds to lower them­selves un­til they touch the pil­low then im­me­di­ately stand back up with­out the use of their hands or sit­ting down com­pletely. As the pa­tient im­proves their strength and is able to per­form be­tween 10 and 15 rep­e­ti­tions in a row, Kane asks the pa­tient to re­move one pil­low from the chair to make it more chal­leng­ing. Es­sen­tially, ev­ery pil­low that’s re­moved is a good in­di­ca­tion of in­creased leg strength.

In­cor­po­rat­ing bal­ance and re­ac­tiv­ity ex­er­cises are im­por­tant to keep­ing the neu­ro­mus­cu­lar sys­tem fit. It’s also es­sen­tial to per­form ex­er­cises that re­quire the mind and body to co-or­di­nate ac­tiv­i­ties, such as fol­low­ing the lead of an in­struc­tor in a group fit­ness class or hav­ing to re­act in a game of ten­nis. In­cor­po­rat­ing bal­ance ex­er­cises into your strength train­ing rou­tine, such as stand­ing on a BOSU, or per­form­ing sin­gle-leg ex­er­cises as in an al­ter­nat­ing front lunge are all ef­fec­tive in im­prov­ing bal­ance. Learn­ing chore­og­ra­phy and re­peat­ing the ex­er­cises while say­ing the names of the moves is an ef­fec­tive way to train cog­ni­tive age.

A de­cline in fit­ness with ag­ing af­fects ev­ery as­pect of daily life. When an in­di­vid­ual is no longer able to per­form ba­sic, ev­ery­day ac­tiv­i­ties, such as ris­ing from a chair, climb­ing stairs, reach­ing over­head or carry ob­jects, their in­de­pen­dence and func­tional abil­ity are greatly af­fected.

The so­lu­tion is to keep mov­ing. Stay strong. Ex­er­cise your mind and your body. Keep go­ing!

Fit­ness spe­cial­ist He­len Van­der­burg demon­strates an ex­er­cise called a pil­low squat, de­signed to help re­tain leg strength. Mus­cle strength, bal­ance and cog­ni­tive skills are im­por­tant to nur­ture when ag­ing, she says.

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