Health Challenges for Older Adults

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The April MyFitScript column would like to recognize and feature aspects of an article written by James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM and consultant in sports medicine.

In a recent publication called "Health Challenges Facing Older Adults," ACSM Health and Fitness Journal March/April 2016 edition, Dr. Peterson identifies several health challenges that we all face, or will face, as we get older. I just turned another year older in March - the Big 50, again. I won't tell you how many times I have turned 50, but I will tell you it doesn't get any easier just because I'm lying about my age! However, because exercise has been and continues to be an important part of my life, I can turn, jump and even plunge into another year and not pull something in the process.

Four out of five American adults age 50 and older suffer from a chronic condition. Contributing to the prevalence of chronic disease includes smoking, unhealthy diet and sedentary behavior, all preventable. As individuals age, there is an increased risk of falls and fall-related injuries. Our body changes as we age. Our functional ability changes, that is, the ability of coordination, reflexes, muscular fitness, just to name a few. The good news, however, is that with regular exercise or physical activity, these changes can be offset, and falls can be prevented.

Another health challenge that Dr. Peterson mentions in his article is that of digestive disorders such as sluggish metabolism, constipation and diverticulosis. He goes on to say that even digestive disorders can be improved with regular exercise, adequate hydration, a high-fiber diet and maintaining a healthy weight.

The brain represents yet another health challenge. As we get older, we undergo certain normal changes such as cognition or a reduction in speed of processing information. Even an increased level of distraction and reduced level of memory may be a normal consequence of aging. A major concern for many older adults is experiencing dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Society, exercise has many physical benefits as well as mental benefits, including:

  • Reduced risk of high blood pressure and heart disease by improving the heart and blood vessels
  • Improved muscle strength and flexible joints can help maintain independence
  • Improved bone strength and balance, thereby reducing the risk of osteoporosis and falls
  • Reduced feeling of isolation and providing opportunities for social interaction
  • Improved confidence, increased self-esteem, improved mood

The key message and take away here is that just because we are getting older doesn't mean we have to be a victim of age. Yes, we will face normal health challenges and changes in energy, muscle strength, coordination, depression and memory. All of these changes can be manageable and even preventable with a little physical activity and movement every day. I've invested my life in running, walking, cycling, swimming, weight-training and stretching. It wills save me from growing old too soon - I'm counting on it! You should, too!

Corley Roberts, ACSM EP-C, MHA, CPHQ, is an Exercise Physiologist, published author, public speaker, health care professional and founder and CEO of MyFitScript. MyFitScript has been featured on Medscape Inc., CBS Healthwatch, Business and Health Magazine and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Visit www.myfitscript.com for exercise education and programs, or contact Corley at info@myfitscript.com.

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