The Truth About Aging

I had the great fortune recently to watch a simulcast of a presentation featuring Sir Muir Gray through the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal.

The presentation was entitled “Sod 70 – Screw 70.” I knew from the description in the morning’s local newspaper there was a connection between Sir Gray’s  presentation and a topic near and dear to my heart – the positive impact of exercise on aging. But “Sod 70 – Screw 70″ delivered more than I had hoped!

Sir Gray is the Director of the National Knowledge Service and Chief Knowledge Officer to the National Health Service, UK. His current work is focused on demonstrating how the problems of aging can be pushed past our 70’s and 80’s and well into our 90’s with the right lifestyle choices.

I was making notes while watching the live broadcast on my computer screen. Unfortunately I don’t take notes as fast as I used to (having been one of those baby boomers that was a fall risk and broke my right wrist in 2 places!) However, I did make enough notes to share with you.

The first comment he made that had me shaking my head in agreement was that there is a connection between being elderly and being frail. Yes, I thought to myself, I know that.

Breaking News! The Problem Is Not Aging – It’s The Lack of Fitness

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But, he gave a new twist on the relationship by saying that the older you get, the MORE action you have to take in order to stay healthy. Getting older is NOT the problem – reducing the amount of exercise and activity is the problem. Loss of fitness is the issue.

Interesting. Because when the doctor says after a patient has a heart attack, “Now George, you are going to have to take it easy”…a huge disservice is done to George. George’s health will actually suffer from that well intended recommendation.

As much as the prescription to ‘take it easy’ is bandied about, there is a substantial correlation between getting older and the increasing inactivity that historically has come with aging.

Sir Gray talked about the importance of the 5 S’s for maintaining health as we age:

  • Strength
  • Stamina
  • Suppleness
  • Skill
  • pSychological (okay that one is a little cheeky!)

Attractive senior woman at health club, doing exercises

Strength – how many older people are exercising everyday with fitness bands or weights?

Stamina – how much exercise do you do daily that causes you to be a little short of breath? Yes, a little effort is a good thing. It affects the enzymes in our muscles in a positive way and increases our aerobic fitness.

Suppleness – how much stretching do you do in a 24-hour period (asks the baby boomer who sits at a desk all day!)

Skill – dancing is one of the best exercises you can engage in to promote neuromuscular coordination – exactly what you need to recover from a trip or stumble. I obviously needed more neuromuscular coordination!

pSychological – no it doesn’t exactly start with an ‘S’ but it is important! You need to make the psychological leap to accept that you have to exercise every day (including exercise that will increase your strength, stamina, suppleness and skill level.) Change how you do things – for instance, when commercials come on the TV, pick up the hand held weights or fitness band and put out a little effort.

And then Sir Gray asked a question.

“What do you give someone who is 60, 70, 80 or older for his or her birthday or some other special occasion?

  • Weights.
  • A fitness band.
  • Swimming lessons.
  • Dancing lessons.
  • Spanish lessons.
  • And, give them knowledge about exercise.

Encourage family and friends who are 60, 70, 80 or older to embrace exercise. This includes promoting exercise to anyone who is housebound. They should also have the opportunity to improve their strength, stamina, suppleness, and skills – plus gain knowledge to help them psychologically accept that exercise is good for them.

We have to learn how to maintain our body and mind.

Aging is real, but the real problem is our loss of fitness.

I talk a lot about the ability of exercise to reduce the risk of disease. Sir Gray stressed more than once, there is empirical evidence to suggest that diseases can still be prevented at the age of 70. It is NEVER TOO late to begin an exercise program.

He asked the audience how many of them were online? There was a show of hands to which he responded, “If you’re not online, you should be.”

There is a wealth of resources online for seniors. I will make a point of reviewing some of them in the Marketplace. No matter what your age – if you are in your 50s, 60s, 70s – and older – you need to take action to remain socially and culturally engaged and active.

It’s never too late to prevent the negative consequences of aging.

Vital senior couple exercising in the gym.

The bottom line: Keep fit and get fitter. It is a continual process, one that you should be engaging in on an increasing (not decreasing!) scale, adding more effort each year.

Aging is not an excuse for inactivity.

It is possible to increase strength, stamina, suppleness and skill – and to gain psychological benefits from exercising at any age.

As Sir Gray repeated, “Sod 70 – Screw 70!”

You and your friends and family can say, “Sod 70!” too. 

Remember, aging is not the enemy – lack of fitness is. If you truly want to maintain your independence as you get older, and continue to live where you want to live, it is critical that you stay active. Healthy Active Seniors recognize that a fall can bring independence to a crashing halt. And falls are preventable.

Aging in place is a gift we can each aspire to – getting older safely and comfortably in my own home and in my own community means a lot to me – and the choice is mine to make.

What choice are you making? Email me and let me know!