We’ve all heard it before. There have been government programs promoting exercise. The Participaction program was originally launched by the federal government in the 1970s to promote healthy living and physical fitness, but was shut down due to cutbacks in 2001. It was revived in February 2007 with a grant from Ottawa. It’s just one of many governmental efforts at all levels to promote healthy lifestyles among Canadians. The public and individual health impact of poor exercise habits appears increasingly to point to the need to do something to encourage and maintain healthy exercise practices among people of all ages.
Those of us who have “been around” know that the quest for, and acknowledgement of, the benefits of exercise for people of all ages is not new. I recall a wonderful program in Scotland, where I studied medicine, in which a group leader, standing on a centrally placed small stage and surrounded by literally hundreds of seniors, led a routine of dance and movement steps accompanied by very compelling Scottish country music themes. The musical themes and beat, as well as the “group” involvement, resulted in an outstandingly successful exercise program that was beneficial and great fun at the same time.
It’s important for Canada’s seniors to understand that exercise – whether walking, running, dancing, biking, swimming or cross-country skiing – is not just for the young, but for all of us throughout our lifetimes. Although the nature of the exercise might change, the importance of it in terms of long-term health benefits continues.
According to a number of recent medical journal reports, exercise and physical activity are important for older individuals as part of the recipe for remaining healthy and active. According to one study in the venerable Journal of the American Medical Association, “Limited mobility is a tell-tale sign of functional decline in aging patients. The key to healthy aging and independence, therefore, lies in retaining one’s mobility.” The U.S. study, authored by Cynthia Brown and Kellie Flood of the University of Alabama in Birmingham, “confirmed that increased physical activity and exercise are extremely important for healthy aging… A decline in mobility seems to quickly lead to an across-the-board decline, including the routine activities of daily living.”
We know from other studies that heart and brain health and function are also enhanced by continuous physical activity.
According to one review of their research, “Brown and Flood recommend that physicians should ask their senior patients two questions: whether they have difficulty climbing up 10 steps or walking a quarter of a mile; and because of health or physical reasons, have they modified the way they do these two things. Any modification of a task such as climbing 10 steps raises a red flag… However, if identified early enough, appropriate corrective measures can be taken.”
To complement this recent addition to our knowledge and understanding of the benefits of exercise and physical activity in older populations is a recent study from Denmark that shows moderate exercise is even greater motivation for a healthy lifestyle than more intensive exercise. This is important to understand for seniors, and people who promote and organize exercise programs for seniors, who often still believe that the goal should be the “maximization” of effort. Such inordinate exercise goals are often not tolerated by many elders, who, therefore, drop out of the programs or sometimes unfortunately sustain injuries from the excessive intensity of the exercise.