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Aging and Exercise

In this segment of KSMU's Sense of Community Series, Michele Skalicky looks into the benefits of exercise for seniors.

On a recent Monday morning in a building on the Ozark Square, 7 people—all senior citizens—gathered to exercise…Sound of classThe class, “Stay Strong, Stay Healthy,” is offered in several counties by University of Missouri Extension. It’s designed for older adults—those who have difficulty with flexibility and strength. Classes meet an hour each week for ten weeks.Renette Wardlow, human development specialist with University of Missouri Extension, and the class instructor, says in winter, older adults tend to stay indoors and don’t get the exercise they need. This program gives them a chance to become active…

"In past experience with the class we've seen tremendous growth in people. They're able to lift more weight, and they're able to bend better. Their joints are less sore, it's just an all-around good thing for them."

She says the class takes a break for the summer when people tend to be busy in their gardens. In fact, the folks who were here this day were already discussing gardening—some had been out before the class started working in their yards.Exercise is beneficial for people of any age, but seniors can improve their quality of life by incorporating it into their daily routine…

"The old adage of 'if you don't use it, you lose it' is really true."

Christopher Baker is an exercise physiologist with CoxHealth Fitness Centers.He says exercise gives older adults greater muscle strength and tone, an increase in cardiovascular fitness, improvements in balance, self-confidence and more functionality…

"A lot of exercise is geared toward people just being able to do their daily activities without any discomfort or any problems."

According to Baker, being active allows people to continue doing what they enjoy for a longer period of time…

"I was talking this morning with a lady who was telling me how her husband doesn't get up and do very much. He's 88-years-old, and she goes, 'but I'm in here pretty much every day, and I'm ten months older than him,' so she's 89 and she bowls 3 times a week and comes in and does her cardiovascular exercise and does her weights and so on and you would never guess she was 89-years-old."

sound of class

It can be difficult for those who haven’t exercised in a long time to get started…During the first Stay Strong, Stay Healthy Class, there were complaints of aching backs and sore joints. Baker advises checking with an exercise professional before beginning any workout program. But he says there’s no reason that older adults without any physical limitations can’t do a lot of the exercises younger people do. And those WITH physical limitations can still work out—they simply need programs designed for them.According to Baker, the biggest impact that exercise has is on confidence and mental well-being…

"The physical changes are going to happen. People are going to benefit from it, as long as they don't overdo it, but what they'll find is their confidence level goes up, and they just enjoy their regular daily activities."

Dr. Benjamin Timson, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Missouri State University, says exercise can have a positive impact on learning and memory. Timson has been studying the effects of exercise on Alzheimer’s Disease for about a year. His daughter, a post-doctoral fellow at Washington University, was studying the effects of stress on the development of beta amyloid plaque—one of the initial signs of Alzheimer’s…

"and so we sort of started talking since I have an exercise background about 'would it be beneficial for individuals to exercise if the exercise was stressful?' In other words, if a person was forcing themselves to get out of bed at 6 o'clock in the morning and go out and run five miles would they see an exercise benefit or a stress deficit?"

They determined that exercise is better than nothing even if forced. He says, at this point, the role of exercise in the prevention of Alzheimer’s is highly questionable. But it’s believed that it can delay the onset and reduce the progression of the disease...

"I think we're getting to the point where we're probably fairly certain that it has a beneficial effect, and now it's just a matter of trying to quantify how beneficial it is...you know, how much do we need to reduce it by X amount?"

Dr. Timson plans to continue his study alongside Dr. Scott Zimmerman, assistant professor of biomedical sciences at MO State. They plan to address questions concerning the importance of the intensity and frequency of the exercise performed and whether it could prohibit the onset of the beta amyloid plaque.Meanwhile, in Ozark each Monday, seniors continue working toward a better quality of life…Starting the classFred Opelin is one of the participants in University of Missouri Extension’s Stay Strong, Stay Healthy…"Well, to get more limber. As you get older your joints stiffen up and tend to be sore, and it's time to work them out."

Opelin used to be active in sports but lately has become more sedentary. He’s taking the class to change that.This program is available on the web at ksmu.org. For KSMU and the Sense of Community Series, I’m Michele Skalicky.