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Exercising As We Age

By Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center staff

Geriatrician Suzanne Salamon, MD, offers advice for staying active in your later years

You don't have to get much past age 30 to start feeling exercise-related aches and pains that weren't there in your teens. So when 30 turns into 80 or 90, will you want to stay active? You absolutely should, says Suzanne Salamon, MD, Associate Chief of Gerontology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

"Generally, I find it's the physical problems that slow people down," says Dr. Salamon. "Some might develop arthritis or spinal stenosis and because of that, may not be able to move around as well. They get discouraged, and often become sedentary."

For Dr. Salamon and fellow senior health staff at BIDMC, their challenge is to keep people active well into their later years, even when they can't do the things they did when they were younger.

Find Your Motivation

"It's something I say to my patients every day," Dr. Salamon says about the need to exercise. She says it can be very difficult to convince a non-exerciser to get active.

"It may be generational," she says, noting that exercise was not necessarily a lifelong priority for people in their 80s and 90s, particularly among women.

But when it comes to motivation, wearable fitness technology may be just what the doctor ordered. Tools that help you set goals, like a number of daily steps, can be a valuable motivator.

Finding a fitness buddy also helps keep people on track. Exercising with a friend often provides a great source of encouragement. And, Dr. Salamon adds, it's more fun.e

Keep Your Balance

As we age, it becomes easier to fall – and more dangerous. "A lot of balance issues have to do with your ears –tiny hairs in your inner ear helps control balance," Dr. Salamon says. These hairs become less effective over time, which can lead to dizziness.

"One of the most detrimental things for older adults is a fall," she says. Exercises like tai chi and yoga help strengthen muscles and bones and improve flexibility, all of which can make it easier to catch yourself if you lose your balance.

Falls can also result from lightheadedness when you stand too quickly. It's caused when blood doesn't have time to move from your legs to your head when you stand after lying down. Dr. Salamon recommends keeping a pair of exercise bands near the bed to work your leg muscles before getting out of bed. This exercise helps distribute blood more evenly throughout the body and prevents the sudden blood rush that leads to unsteadiness. "Even completing some simple bike-motion exercises in bed before you stand up can help," Dr. Salamon says.

Keep It Simple

At any age, it's easy to find excuses for not exercising. But for older seniors, obstacles like a lack of transportation or immobility make it truly challenging. That's where Dr. Salamon and her colleagues get creative. Here are a few ideas to get moving at home:

  • If you live in an apartment or senior living complex, take a stroll around the hallways. Malls are also great places to walk, and often easily accessible by public transportation.

  • Take the stairs for a great leg workout. You can also work your lower muscles right in your living room – just stand up, sit down and repeat.

  • For your upper body, try some flex exercises while holding a light household object like a soup can in each hand. Work your way up to heavier objects if it gets too easy.

  • Exercise foot peddlers are a compact, affordable alternative to exercise bikes, and provide the same pedaling motion while you sit in a household chair.

"There are always options," Dr. Salamon says. "You don't need to be a vigorous exerciser to get the benefits of being active. But you do need to devote time in your day to some form of movement."

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted May 2016


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