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People should aim for at least half an hour a day of physical activity
Editor’s note: The one thing we all have in common is that we’re getting older by the day, and as we age, our priorities and lifestyles change.
In time, many of us will have to deal with similar issues — staying independent and active, maintaining a social life, getting involved (or staying involved) in volunteer work and community advocacy, finding the right housing fit for our lifestyles, and making the transition to retirement.
In this six-part series, The Telegram’s Ashley Fitzpatrick talks to people about what they’ve learned from their own experiences.
Six or seven years ago, Bob Connors found out he was going to need a knee replacement. He likes a good game of tennis but wanted to find a regular activity that was easier on the knee.
He went looking for options and became a regular at City of St. John’s aquatic fitness classes.
“I mean, it was great, because you can do the fitness to whatever level you wish, without doing much harm to your body. Where if you’re doing the same workout in a gym, it’s very hard on your knees — or it can be hard on your knees, or say, hips, if you’re having hip problems. But when you’re in the pool, the water takes a lot of the body weight and it eases the strain on your hips and knees,” he told The Telegram.
There are both shallow water and deep-water classes. Connors, 82, attends whatever suits his schedule.
Shallow water classes are in an area that is only about waist deep. And for deep water classes, there are floatation belts available that will keep your head and shoulders above water. Connors said you can do as much or as little as you like in a 50-minute class. And while that’s a common thing for people to say when they’re selling exercise classes, he said there really is no pressure at the Paul Reynolds Community Centre, where he works out.
Cost is another consideration. “I think it’s a real bargain,” he said.
A single class is $4 for an adult, $3 for an adult 65 and over. But Connors points out a 30-pass buy will get you more bang for your buck. That comes in at $97.50 and $67.50 for ages 65 and over, according to the city’s website.
It’s a modest statement. Many of us aren’t half as active.“For fitness in general, I don’t do as much as I once did, but I still try to keep myself active,” Connors said.
If you’ve been thinking you need to get moving more, you’re not alone. But what’s reasonable, what’s realistic?
Dr. Susan Mercer, a doctor with Eastern Health, said there are some basic recommendations to keep in mind when it comes to exercise and fitness.
“I tell people to aim for half an hour a day. That’s a pretty good aim. And then if you miss a couple of days in there, you’re at least getting what’s recommended,” she said.
She said the time is for moderate to vigorous activity. It’s something that gets your heart rate up and gets you at least a little sweaty.
“That can be a brisk walk or a swim maybe. A lot of community centres offer some exercise classes. Typically, there should be some aerobic activity. So that’s that activity that gets your heart going and gets you breathing,” she said.
But aerobic activity isn’t everything. It’s a good idea to try and work in different muscle movements. Consider more than one type of activity, even in small amounts.
For example, Mercer said it’s worth getting some balance work into your regular routine.
“That’s something that actually helps reduce your risk of falls as you get older and it’s a different type of exercise that actually focuses on training your balance centres to keep you upright.”
That could be covered by classes in yoga or tai chi. Or, you can try doing some simple and low-impact exercises at home. One example is standing behind a chair and using the back as an assist, then standing on one foot. It may seem odd or silly at first, but holding the position and alternating on either side will help strengthen muscles overall.
Doctors and trainers can offer ideas. It’s also good to consult with a doctor if you haven’t exercised in years.
Overall health requires physical activity, but also eating well and general self-care. That includes taking time for conversations, for social activity. Signing up for an outside class can help you avoid social isolation.
Next: PART 2 — How long should you keep driving?
Get advice about exercise
Dr. Susan Mercer works in geriatric medicine with Eastern Health. She said doctors can advise people on adding more physical activity into their day if they haven’t had a regular routine for awhile.
She suggests it’s a good idea to see your family doctor once a year for health checkups, as well, if you wouldn’t see them otherwise. She encourages bringing up anything on your mind.
“I think it’s important for all of us to be aware of what is normal aging versus what isn’t, and what’s something that needs some attention from a health-care provider,” she said.
“Things like cognitive decline, dementia, that’s not a normal part of aging; falling is not a normal part of aging; urinary incontinence or losing control of bladder and bowels is not a normal part of aging. So, these issues that kind of people will brush off and sweep under the rug, I think if we talk about them a little bit more and people have a better understanding of what successful aging looks like, then maybe people are more likely to bring them forward.”
By 2038, Statistics Canada forecasts more than one third of the population of Newfoundland and Labrador — 34.5 per cent — will be 65 years of age and older. But how well are we handling getting older right now? Send feedback to Ashley.Fitzpatrick@thetelegram.com