LIVEWELL: Fitness is key to healthy aging

PHILIP RAPER

PHILIP RAPER

One of the most iconic eras in America was during the 1960s when muscle cars came about – from the Ford Mustang to the Chevy Corvette.

Cars of this era that have had regular oil changes and preventive maintenance are still functioning. My father-in-law, who is a mechanic, continually reminds me to keep my truck properly maintained. Sometimes I don’t listen and have to pay for it later.

Like regular maintenance extends the useful life of a car, regular exercise improves optimal health and reduces effects of aging. Sadly, many people wait until something goes wrong before deciding to start a healthy lifestyle.

The physiological systems of the body prosper with proper fuel (nutrition), maintenance and operation (exercise). Without attention the body, just like a car, will fall apart over time. An individual who is sedentary, makes poor nutritional choices constantly and has risky lifestyle habits could age rapidly and possibly even die prematurely.

Low-impact exercises that diminish the risk of injury attract many boomers who are new to regular exercise. Unless you incorporate posture, strength, endurance, flexibility, agility and balance you may not be doing enough to prevent the normal biological changes caused by aging. Musculoskeletal injuries are now the primary reason people seek medical attention and are among the leading causes of death in 65 years and older categories.

Regular, moderate-intensity physical activity can help you live longer, reduce health problems and maintain your independence. A good exercise program includes cardiovascular exercise, muscular conditioning and flexibility exercises. Start with a light regimen of non-jarring cardiovascular exercise and gradually build up to a total of 30 minutes on most, preferably all, days of the week.

Strength-training exercises such as light weights (or even canned foods or milk jugs) help maintain muscle mass and promote bone health. Research has shown that individuals 50 and older lose nearly one-fourth pound of muscle mass per year without regular resistance training. Muscle mass directly relates to how many calories your body burns each day. Strong leg and hip muscles help reduce the risk of falls, a leading cause of death among older adults. Do resistance training at least two days a week that include all major muscle groups through a full range of motion.

Keep safety in mind while exercising:

• Wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes.

• Avoid outdoor activities in extreme temperatures.

• Drink plenty of fluids.

• Listen to your body when it comes to intensity.

• Be aware of danger signs. Stop activity and consult a physician if you experience pain or pressure in your chest, arms, neck or jaw; feel lightheaded, nauseated or weak; become short of breath; develop pain in your legs, calves or back; or feel like your heart is beating too fast or skipping beats.

Exercise with a friend or a personal trainer to keep you motivated, and mix up the workout routine to help prevent plateau. Look for fitness instructors who are degreed and certified through a reputable professional organization.

Philip Raper serves as director of North Mississippi Medical Center Wellness Centers in Tupelo, Baldwyn and Pontotoc.