An out-of-shape senior lady tells about her experience when she finally decided to join a fitness class at her local gym.
“I bent down, I pulled up, I pushed, I stretched, I twisted in every direction, I curled up, I contorted some more. I was breathless and panting from all the exertion of putting on my exercise leotards, back and waist support, elastic tights, spandex leggings, elbow bands, wristbands and knee guards. When I finally left the locker room to join the class, it was over!”
We seniors are in constant pursuit of the Holy Grail of fitness to be able to continue enjoying life in our latter years and to keep the ravages of advancing age at bay.
The good news is, according to the World Health Organization’s 2019 overview report, the global average life expectancy is now 72 years (from 66.5 years in 2000), an increase of 5.5 years in less than two decades. Better yet, average “healthy life expectancy”—the number of years individuals live in full health—has increased from 58.5 years to 63.3 years as of 2016.
As expected, women performed better than men in both scores all over the world.
So, if you are over 63 years old and still healthy, congratulations! And if you are over 72 and still alive, double congratulations because you have beaten the global average.
For us Filipinos over 72, triple congratulations because our country’s average life expectancy of 69 years (65 years for men and 72 years for women) is even below the global average. If you are anywhere over 72 and are still reading this piece in relatively good health, let’s raise a glass to each other!
Sixty is the age when a person becomes legally a senior. While some (mostly women) dread reaching this demarcation age, many look forward to getting their senior citizen’s card and its many benefits—free movies, free parking, priority when lining up, huge discounts in medical fees and medicines, restaurants, entertainment and leisure activities, etc.
Although this dividing line is probably justified by statistics, I still find that what it implies in the mind of many people—decline in physical and mental faculties and performance—is belied by examples we see every day.
I know many seniors in their 70s and 80s who have retained the energy and joie de vivre of fortysomethings in their prime. Some of them are my friends.
Jun Galindez, a lifetime golfer, is like the Energizer Bunny who keeps going and going and going. At 86, he still manages to prevail over much younger golf opponents in the super-senior category (70 and up) and plays golf twice a week, hardly missing a beat.
Ricky Canlas, 67, tirelessly walks 12 kilometers five days a week and goes swimming or goes to the gym after his daily treks.
Boy Arceo, 78, a retired Philippine Airlines captain, doesn’t do any strenuous exercise but keeps fit by personally doing his errands as president of the Ayala Alabang Senior Citizens Association. He does a lot of walking, personally delivering documents to the homes of his group’s officers and members, toting a backpack like a high-school kid.
President Fidel Ramos, now 91, with whom I occasionally played golf, used to hit his shot and then jog to where his ball landed for his next shot. FVR was always in shape and was a mean golfer for many years until he got a heart pacemaker a few years ago.
I’m not a fitness expert, but from these examples, and many others I have seen, I’m convinced that the key to keeping fit, especially for seniors, is to “keep moving” as much as possible.
On ordinary days, the simplest and most effective way to keep moving is by walking whenever you can. Walk up one or two flights of stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. Walk from one end of the mall to the other, or go up and down different floors when shopping.
No couch potato
Conversely, resolutely resist the temptation to be sedentary—as a couch potato glued to the TV set, a sit-all-day internet addict or a permanent occupant of your favorite lounge chair.
Most ideally, dedicate a specific time, twice or thrice a week, for a moderate exercise session, and if possible, a sport you can still play. If you are still ambulatory and not handicapped, here are some very doable activities:
At the very least, find time to do brisk walking for 30 minutes to an hour around your neighborhood or even just inside your house (I walk up and down the stairs and around the dining and living rooms many times when I can’t go out).
If you can still jog, do it gently as a replacement for your walking session. To avoid jarring and to protect your knees, you may want to do stationary jogging on a small trampoline (available at most sports equipment stores). This is my favorite exercise while watching TV.
Do stretching exercises often (10 minutes on waking up every morning is best) to keep your flexibility and avoid a stiff, shuffling gait when you walk. You can find basic stretching exercises in fitness books and magazines and on the internet. Unless you are into a specific sport, stick to basic stretching.
As much as possible, have a regular sport you can still play. I have friends who are still into tennis, badminton or bowling in their 70s. Others still play basketball and run regularly in their 60s.
If you can, join an exercise group (aerobics, Zumba, dancercise) for added motivation and social interaction.
My regular gym mates, who go for the more disciplined approach to fitness (some with personal trainers), are seniors in their 60s, 70s and even 80s. Is this an indication that people who keep moving even late in life tend to live longer? —CONTRIBUTED