Quarter of SA seniors don't exercise

A Discovery Vitality survey revealed that nearly a quarter of senior adults older than 60 years do not exercise at all.

Head of Discovery Vitality Wellness, Dr Craig Nossel, said: “It is obviously concerning that so many seniors do no form of physical exercise, when we know how important it is for both longevity and quality of life. It is never too late to start exercising, but the earlier the better.”

Dr Nossel goes on to say that the burden of disease among seniors can be partly attributed to lack of regular physical activity.

“Exercise substantially lowers the risk of developing many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers, as well as conditions like osteoporosis- a major cause of morbidity and mortality amongst the elderly,” says Nossel. “We see many admissions taking place as a result of falls causing hip fractures in the older population.”

Only 2% do strength training

Exercise and diet can play an important role in strengthening bones, but also strengthening muscles and thus helping to prevent falls.  It is, however, encouraging to see that nearly a quarter (22%) of seniors say they exercise every day of the week, showing that this is not beyond possibility. 18% exercise three days a week, 12% two days a week, 10% five days a week and 6% once a week.

Over 60% do mostly cardiovascular exercises, while only 2% do mostly strength or resistance training. Strength training is of particular importance for seniors to build lean muscle, limit bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures.

Dr Nossel suggests that incorporating daily exercise is much easier than many people think. He says that seniors should try to do moderate intensity exercise for 30 minutes on most, but preferably all, days of the week.

“There are a number of  everyday activities that senior adults can incorporate to become  more active and healthy such as gardening, dancing, walking parking further away at shopping centres, playing with your grandchildren and importantly decreasing their amount of sedentary time” Dr Nossel adds.

Exercise has anti-aging effect

Harvard research has shown that a healthy diet combined with exercise delays some of the debilitating effects of aging by rejuvenating the connections between nerves and the muscles. 

““Regular cardiovascular and strength training exercises help to counter the natural physical effects of ageing by improving aerobic capacity by 20% and muscle strength by 30%” Dr Nossel said.

Ninety one percent of all senior adults surveyed know their blood pressure.

“It has been termed the ‘silent disease’ as sufferers can be asymptomatic for years and then have a heart attack or stroke,” says Dr Nossel.  “This is why it is important to keep a proactive eye on blood pressure right into older age.”

Dr Nossel advises that seniors can keep their blood pressure down by sticking to five golden rules:

1.    Watch your weight – being overweight places strain on the heart and even limited weight loss can reduce blood pressure levels.

2.    Exercise regularly – a single bout of aerobic exercise can lead to a short-term reduction in blood pressure. So, for better blood pressure control, aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise daily (like walking or swimming).

3.    Reduce salt – the sodium in salt and salty foods can raise blood pressure. To minimise salt intake avoid foods like salted nuts, potato crisps, instant soups and spreads such as fish paste. Avoid adding salt to foods at the table and during food preparation.

4.    Eat more potassium- and calcium-rich foods – the potassium in fresh fruit and vegetables can help to improve blood ressure (have at least five servings daily). Low-fat dairy products (have at least two servings daily) are rich in calcium, which also helps to reduce blood pressure.

5.    Don’t smoke and limit your alcohol intake – both these lifestyle choices are known to raise blood pressure and have several other health risks.

“The benefits of living a healthy lifestyle  pays off, especially in your golden years, as it not only impacts on your quality of life but can also benefit your budget, as healthy, fit individuals are less sick and if they do get sick, they make a quicker recovery,” concludes Nossel.

(Press release, August 2010)

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