The cliché of the “800-pound gorilla” can be a major issue in everyone’s life. Urbandictionary.com defines an 800-pound gorilla as “a very strong and/or menacing entity or issue that is obvious but not dealt with.” So, why title an essay in this manner?
Is there anyone who has not heard a doctor say, “You need to get some exercise,” or like mine said, “you need to make a lifestyle change.” So, in our case, the gorilla is likely to be senior adult exercise and activity. That’s us - senior adults.
Many of us are retired or semi-retired, old enough to retire, or wish we could retire. The historic concept of retirement has been sitting on a bench playing checkers or quilting with other folks our age. What doctors have known and what research has shown us is – we were sentencing ourselves to pain and in many cases early death.
Before I get too far into this, allow me to bore you with some statistics. According to the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, 1 out of 4 women over 60 years of age will develop severe osteoporosis. Guys, don’t get too comfortable, Geriatrics magazine reports that 1.5 million men will also develop the disease. For almost all of us some form of osteoarthritis will also accompany us into our senior years.
Next, we need to be concerned with cardiovascular and respiratory functions. The aging process causes a progressive decline that stems from the functional deterioration in essentially all components of the cardio respiratory system, from the lungs to the mitochondria in skeletal muscle. (Heppe 2000) These age-related changes in the cardiovascular and respiratory systems are widespread and profound.
And finally for this report, there is the issue of type II diabetes. Type II diabetes is rampant in our culture. Fifty percent of Type II diabetes patients are over 55 years of age. (Rosenstock, 2001) Approximately 2/3 of all diabetes medical costs are attributed to the elderly according to the American Diabetes Association.
Okay, we have heard it all before. What has senior adult exercise got to do with these maladies?
This is where this address might end. Exercise helps relieve the symptoms, slows the process, and in some cases even curtails the painful process of aging. But, we all know that, right? So, there’s this 800-pound gorilla - we know we need to get exercise. So, why do we hesitate?
Here is the problem. Most of us are over 55. Some of us may smoke, or drink alcohol regularly. And, for many of us, we generally lead sedentary lifestyles. We’re writers, teachers, engineers, and homemakers. Your doctor knows this, and while encouraging you to be active, he or she is not pro active in the exercise approach; it is easier to medicate than to motivate.
Also, a lot of our attitudes are prejudiced by myth. Jones and Rose wrote that we over 55s don’t like exercise because 1) we feel we must be healthy and robust to exercise. 2) We think we are too old to start an exercise program. 3) The concept is of skin-tight clothing and muscle shirts. 4) The myth of No pain no gain. 5) I’m too busy.
And, I would add another one. The visual element of a gym filled with hard bodied muscle men and busty twenty something’s flaunting their bodies is a picture we just don’t see ourselves as a part of. And truthfully, that is the approach of some gyms. But, modern thinking gyms have now taken the role of a health club and the interest is less in the muscle building atmosphere but more toward building and maintaining health.
First, let’s explore the myths and apply that knowledge to the disease conditions I began with. First, a public service announcement; No matter what I say today, please do not start any exercise regimen without a screening by a physician. Okay, that out of the way, lets look at the first myth.
Myth one - We feel we must be healthy and robust to exercise. I hate to tell you, but you’re not 25 any more. We over 55 adults need exercise to get healthy, stay healthy, and to lead a more enjoyable life. By now most of us have tried some sort of commercial diet or food plan, which are okay if we can stick to them, or in the case of the Atkins, we don’t die of a heart attack.
Dr. Adkins, while maybe losing weight, died from a fall. Perhaps he should have exercised too.
Here’s a secret, just between us, exercise immediately helps your self esteem. McAuley and Katula’s research in 1998, proved that even the least well controlled exercise training for senior adults resulted in both physical fitness and self efficacy. Make the training 10 weeks long and the effectiveness increases exponentially. (McAuley and Rudolph, 1995). There is also a large body of information that suggests that physically fit senior adults have better cognitive functions than their sedentary counterparts.
But, we can’t stop our consideration there. After 40 years of age we encounter a mountain of physical ailments. Like, Cardiovascular conditions. Yuk, cardiovascular disease is a major cause of death and disability in the United States. There is no one exercise, one pill, one remedy that will cure CVD. But, here is where exercise comes in and the post side of a cardio event. A doctor, after determining a CVD patient is strong enough for cardio vascular rehab, will prescribe cardio exercise at the rehab facility. Haven’t done that yet? One in four of us will. 60% of us will after age 80. CVD is not gender specific. The age group 65-80 accounts for 2/3 of all cardio infarctions. In the cardio rehab they will introduce an exercise regimen. But, what can be done to prevent or delay cardio infractions?
Well, I can’t play God, but what I can create is an analogy. Hearts are like car motors; they have to be taken care of. Short and Nair state that “regular exercise and physical activity may improve cardio respiratory fitness substantially.” This becomes especially important for post menopausal women according to Hollosay (2001) writing for Sports Nutrition. As we grow older we have the tendency to park the car more – lead a sedentary lifestyle. The muscles soften, our tires go flat. Exercise in any form, keeps the body running – as simple an exercise as daily walking may be a CVD preventative or prescription.
I want to change gears and pick on women right now. If a female is over 60 and has had a hysterectomy she has a 50% chance of severe osteoporosis. The World Health Organization reports that the difference between the post 60 and under 60 bone mass of females is dramatic enough for serious consideration. What’s happening? Stating it simply – bones are becoming brittle and honey combed. Rose reports that post-menopausal women need to increase exercise to slow the progress of this disease. Weight bearing activities seem to have the most positive effects in preventing and slowing the effects of osteoporosis -- strengthening muscles that support the bone structure and building bone mass.
And finally, in my brief list of diseases we come to diabetes. Can exercise prevent diabetes? No. However, exercise can help reduce the diabetic’s need for insulin type medication. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that results from impaired glucose metabolism. (Rose 2008) 50% of the folks with type II diabetes are over 65 years of age. Nearly 90% of people with type II diabetes are overweight or obese. (Rimmer 1994). Hill and Poirier report that exercise is a central component of diabetes treatment and can have a significant positive impact on body weight, glycemic control, and cardiac risk. (2001) In other words, losing weight and toning the body helps maintain blood glucose levels. There are some secrets here – like diabetics should not exercise at night – exercise produces natural insulin. Yes, it is possible to go into insulin shock after heavy exercise – if the diabetic is taking supplemental insulin. (Hill 2001)
Next Myth. We think we are too old to exercise. Let me back into this topic. I have never seen an athlete who thought that he or she could not overcome an injury with exercise. Why is that? Because a toned body recovers faster whether a person is 20 or 90. The difference is that we over 60s do not have to push till it hurts. We exercise to feel better … period. The 80 year olds in my health club exercise to feel rejuvenated. One 84 year old woman in my aerobics class exercises to stay well enough to take care of her sedentary 85 year old husband.
Myth 3 – You need special clothing. Let me put it this way. If a person visits a gym where the latest workout gear is being sold – they should turn around. Exercise whether in a club or on your local street can be done in street clothes and comfortable safe shoes. I told my wife I wanted to new gym clothes, the modern stuff that breathes. She laughed at me. Old t-shirts are best. I have gym shorts from the 70s – the people I work out with are dressed similarly. Walking in a neighborhood requires nothing more than safe and comfortable clothing. Ideally, if a person’s interest is more about how their clothes look in the gym than in saving their own life, then it’s probably not a gym for senior adults.
Another myth – No pain, no gain. This fallacy was promoted by one of the muscle gyms. If a person wants to be built like a body builder then this philosophy might work. For the rest of, us we are interested in the healthy benefits of exercise not the punishment of washboard abs. Exercise does not need to be strenuous or hurt in order to benefit a human body (Rose 2008). Moderate physical activities, such as social dancing, walking, or gardening, are appropriate and effective ways to build more physical activity into daily life. (Rose 2008)
The final myth, I’m too busy – uh, maybe I should refer everyone back to the cardio, oseto, and diabetes section of this presentation. If for nothing else, the adults who exercise regularly feel better about themselves. Rose notes that the last decade has seen a dramatic increase in studies showing that exercise and activities result in psychological well-being. Don’t have the time? Fact – poor health impairs cognitive performance, kind of a “duh” statement. (Moore, 1994) There is mounting evidence that physically active adults significantly out performed sedentary adults on a battery of five cognitive function tests (McArthur Study of Successful Aging). Dustman, commenting on the McArthur studies found that significant improvements in cognitive functions in older adults occurred after physical training. (1984).
So, what does all this mean? How does it affect our perception of Quality of Life?
The World Health Organization lists three immediate benefits of physical activity and five long-term benefits as indicated by the Heidelberg study.
Foremost is relaxation. Appropriate physical activity enhances relaxation. To promote relaxation health professionals encourage older adults to build physical activity breaks into their daily lives. This might be a brisk walk at the mall or neighborhood to physical training at a health club.
Another benefit is stress and anxiety reduction: there is evidence that regular physical activity can reduce stress and anxiety. Physical activity opportunities can be built into many social events, such as outings and shopping trips. Personally, I love T’ai Chi – this balance and flexibility exercise allows me to totally clear my mind and thinking.
The third benefit is enhanced mood state. Numerous people report elevations in mood following appropriate physical activity. Physical activity can help counter some of the negative consequences of declining health and extended periods of isolation. Mr. S is an 84-year-old gentleman in my health club. He lost his wife last year, and uses the exercise regime to help him cope with the isolation. He told me his golf game was off, so he is enlisting a trainer to help with his swing.
The World Health Organization also listed several long-term benefits.
First is general well-being. Improvement in almost all aspects of psychological functioning have been observed after periods of extended physical activity. Individuals who are regularly active have stronger self-esteem and self-efficacy. Active adults have a greater sense of control over their own lives.
Improved mental health also occurs. Regular exercise can make an important contribution in the treatment of several mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety neuroses. Physical activity is frequently recommended as an integral part of the treatment of many psychological conditions.
A third long term benefit is cognitive improvement. Regular physical activity may help postpone age-related declines in cognitive performance. There is a growing body of evidence that both aerobic exercise training and combined aerobic exercise and strength training improves cognitive function.
Fourth – motor control and performance. Regular activity helps prevent or postpone the age-related decline in both fine and gross motor performance. Physical activity can help improve balance and reduce the risk of falling.
The fifth long term benefit recognized by the World Health Organization is simply skill acquisition. New skills can be learned and existing skills refined through physical activity by all individuals regardless of age. By being physically active, adults can acquire new cognitive and motor skills that can help preserve cognitive functioning during aging. (1997)
All this does not even touch the social implications of regular physical activity. Empowerment, cultural integration, social integration, new friendships, widened social and cultural networks, role maintenance and new role acquisition, and enhanced intergenerational activity are all included. (1997)
However, exercise isn’t everything, is it? Everyone knows that exercise goes hand in hand with diet. Unfortunately, the word diet has a negative connotation. The type of diet I want to discuss is not a fad, commercial, or even prescribed. It is called common sense.
We all, I think, can agree that in order to maintain a lifestyle free of excess weight we have to watch what we eat – it should be simple. But, here in the land of pig-pickins perhaps it is a problem. We are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of diet tips and products, all of which promise to reduce our girth for a few dollars. If you are loyal to the program you might see some results – mostly in a reduction in your wallet. In the meantime, the church social offers fried chicken and banana cream pie.
Okay, is there a solution? Yes, there is, it’s called getting back to sensible eating. But, first you must customize your diet to you – if you eat pizza at night and the next day you gain a pound, guess what, your body is not metabolizing the pizza; it’s turning it all to fat – if you eat hush puppies for lunch on Sunday, and Monday your pants don’t button – hey, the same thing is happening. The key is to find out how your body processes food. If you are a slow oxidizer – meaning you process certain foods slowly then you need to arrange your food order to reflect perhaps low protein, low fat, higher carb. Fast oxidizing bodies just the opposite. Most of us are mixed, so we have to eat balanced food groups – but within those groups the arrangement of the food – what to eat when, makes all the difference in the world.
Don’t believe me? Find a nutritionist and work out the details. Don’t let the local steak house determine your diet. Just remember no single diet is perfect for everyone. Each person has a different metabolism.
And finally, tonight I want to talk a bit about the National Blueprint: Increasing Physical Activity Among Adults Age 50 and Older; released in 2001. The Blueprint is aimed at community efforts. We are encouraged to create environments for physical activities – from walkways to safe areas for physical activities, and to encourage adults of all ages to become physically active.
Let me ask. Can we really afford, as adults, to ignore the 800 pound gorilla?
My new slogan is “I want to die young at a very old age.”
Dub, congratulations on writing about this topic. I would like to see more writing on Faithwriters that incorporates the value of a healthy lifestyle. As the old saying goes, God helps those who help themselves.
I think Mona's suggestion to describe what a healthy life might look like on a daily basis is an excellent one.
This is so much information and almost overwhelms the reader. Now, I know you will be "paring" it into segments for different purposes and that will work.
Personally, I have trouble with the bit about Dr. Atkins. Mentioning his death from a fall...it's not where I think you want to take the reader.
Lots of statistics. We can read about the "problem" everywhere...it's well-accepted. Perhaps, offer an example of a realistic day-to-day answer of how a real live person deals with it. Ex: someone over 50 who lives a heathy life and what that looks like 24/7. What they eat, how they work exercise into their day, activities, etc.