Healthy Aging: Know the Facts

By John Sandgren, MD
John Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well.

Feb 222015

This is the fourth and final installment in a series entitled Fitting Exercise into Your Daily Routine.

senior woman exercisingFunctional workouts can be quick and to the point. Functional workouts use motions that mimic things you do in the course of your day. You can take almost any activity of daily living (ADL) and turn it into an exercise by emphasizing correct form and technique. For example, if you pick something up off the floor by properly using your leg and back muscles, or if you blow-dry your hair while standing up straight and using full shoulder movements, or if you stretch to reach something on the top shelf while properly using your ankles, abdominal muscles, shoulders and neck, you have potentially created an exercise. If these movements reveal weakness or stiffness in any muscles or joints, you can turn that ADL into something useful.

Here’s an example: getting up and down off the floor. It requires flexibility and lower body strength.

How to Get Off the Floor by Mia

VAN board member, Mia Bremer, is owner of Ablebodies, a fitness consulting firm for older adults. She has created this 6-minute video to illustrate techniques for getting up off the floor. This is a vitally important skill and one that can be learned and acquired, even if you are currently not able to get up from the floor.

You may want to view this video repeatedly and memorize its techniques. If the movements are difficult, turn it into an exercise! Perhaps do as many of these different moves as you are able three times in a row each day. Too challenging? Then you may need a special program of strength and flexibility. Consider consulting a fitness trainer.

Exerciser, Know Thyself

I’ve been impressed, ever since researching my material for Part 4 of the first series, Think of Exercise as a Pill, just how much exercise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggests we do, even in our later years. HHS recommends exercise that challenges us—as much as we can safely handle. Gains in health and stamina occur when we overload our muscles; the trick is in knowing how much overload is safe. Even if we are regular exercisers, we need to be aware that our bodies change with age. We become more susceptible to injury. Our backs aren’t as flexible; knee cartilage isn’t as resilient; shoulder ligaments aren’t as strong; sense of balance isn’t as acute; vision may not be as good.

As I said in Part 4 of Exercise as a Pill, adults over age 50 are the most diverse group when it comes to physical ability. It is important to assess your abilities realistically as you plan your workout program. Start gradually, listen to your body, and consult a fitness trainer if you don’t know where to start.

Correct posture and form are important in any exercise you do, be it aerobic or strength training. Any tempo or resistance that causes you to break out of good form is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Do not risk finding yourself on the floor, for example, by turning up the speed on a treadmill too high. Any exercise that gives you pain or makes you feel faint or dizzy should be stopped immediately.

How Much Time Do You Have for Exercise Today?

In this series, Fitting Exercise into Your Daily Routine, I’ve tried to show that exercise can indeed be fit into a busy day. You may not have the time for a full workout every day, but you can do a lot in short time intervals to improve your health and improve how you feel. This current series has focused on short, simple exercises. Many of the concepts, recommendations, and precautions I’ve covered in this exercise series as well as in the previous series are discussed in the following book—in more detail and with more expertise. I recommend it highly, and it’s available at the library. (Like some other resources I’ve recommended, it does contain nutrition advice which I have not reviewed and cannot comment on.)

  •  The Exercise Cure: A Doctor’s All-Natural, No-Pill Prescription for Better Health & Longer Life by Jordan D. Metzl, MD, New York, NY: Rodale, Inc, 2013.

Space and time do not allow me to present all the exercise options that are available to you. There is a whole universe of functional exercise options like walking, jogging, water aerobics, swimming, dancing, cross-country skiing, and many others. With so many options available, both for short workouts and for longer workouts, how can you not find exercises that fit into every day of your busy life?


John SandgrenJohn Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well. Thanks to Mia Bremer and Marcia Robert, MPH, for editorial assistance on this article.