Fitness As We Age
Madison, Wisconsin – Many of us have experienced those moments when suddenly the stairs don’t seem quite as easy as they once did and we think, “I’m not in as good of shape as I used to be.” But how do we actually know? And is it inevitable that we lose our physical abilities over time?
Jude Sullivan, senior clinical exercise physiologist with UW Health’s Fitness Center, shares that in many ways age is just a number. “It’s our lifestyle choices rather than the number of our age that tend to be the reason we feel anything related to a decline in physical ability,” he says
Sullivan explains that there are certain diseases that tend to show themselves the older we get – heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and even some forms of cancer, for example. But when we look closer, it’s not necessarily our age alone that leads to these diseases, but our lifestyle choices as we age that are more directly responsible for our declining health.
As we age, we may find ourselves more sedentary due to increasing work demands, for example. Or our eating habits may have never recovered from being on the go with taking kids to practices and rehearsals and games all of the time. And slowly, the habits we established start to stick around. And, when those stairs do start to feel a little more challenging we may find ourselves wondering, “Why am I out of breath from walking up a flight of stairs?”
Some of it may have to do with our perspective.
“Keep in mind, there are no ‘shoulds’” comments Sullivan. “There are no milestones for what you should still be able to do at a certain age. But, it is important that you are still able to do what you want to be able to do.”
But, he notes, it’s also important to be realistic. If you aren’t exercising frequently, it doesn’t make sense to expect that you can run an 8-minute mile. Even if you used to be able to do such a thing. But you also shouldn’t let a fear of not performing as well as you once did, or a fear of injury, prevent you from being active. You just have to be mindful (and realistic) of your abilities.
“Our brains believe us to be young, while our bodies tend not to agree. If you are regularly active, then you will be more resilient and likely able to enjoy a pick-up game, for example, without getting injured,” says Sullivan. “But that doesn’t mean you won’t feel a degree of soreness.”
Slow But Steady
If you decide it’s time to start being more active, Sullivan cautions that change occurs incrementally and very subtly.
“If you’re starting from a point of not being active at all, then making simple choices that fit the regular rhythm of your life is a good place to begin,” he says.
While you’ve likely heard it before, it’s the small thing that can add up. Work in a multilevel building? Start by taking the first flight of stairs before taking the elevator the rest of the way up. Then add a flight every couple of weeks. Park in the furthest spot from the entry way, or walk to do errands when possible.
“Assuming you make few other changes, you may indeed find that even making small changes over the course of weeks and month can really begin to make a difference. And you’ll probably find that once you start being more active, you’ll start to look for even more ways to bring activity into your day,” says Sullivan. “And if you are already active, looks for ways you can continue to challenge yourself and re-invigorate your routine. It really will make a difference.
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Date Published: 03/08/2016