Leo LeBorde is a 79-year-old veteran of the tennis court. He plays the Senior Tennis Circuit and coaches the younger students. His wife, who is 14 years his junior, describes him as not only extremely healthy and very rarely ill but as extremely quick witted. She can never "best" him at verbal repartee. I have told him that I want him to coach me, as I have decided to take up tennis after meeting him!
Another superb example is square dancing. Square dancing requires concentration and mental attention to the dance while physically interacting with others. Later in this chapter, we discuss why social interactions also are critical to the retention of your mental abilities. Walking with a friend also can provide you with exercise, social interaction, and mental stimulation.
Let's discuss two types of exercise: aerobic and resistance training. Examples of aerobic exercise are calisthenics (from the Greek word for beautiful strength), rapid walking, running, dancing, hiking, and so on. Aerobic refers to the expanded use of oxygen by your body as you perform these exercises. Participating in this type of activity increases heart and lung fitness, overall endurance, and flexibility— but not strength. It also increases the amount of oxygen delivered to the brain.
The National Institute of Aging conducted a study using 65- to 75-year-olds. After beginning aerobic workouts and maintaining them for approximately three months, a 25 percent improvement in decision-making tasks and responding to visual and auditory cues was demonstrated.
In addition, engaging in regular, high levels of physical activity counteracts the natural breakdown of the circadian rhythm as we age.12 Low or medium levels of activity are not sufficient to counteract the effect of aging on the rest-activity rhythm. To counteract the effects of age on your rest-activity rhythm, you need a higher level of activity.
Perhaps you want to start a little slower than aerobics. Don't think that just because you don't feel comfortable with aerobics—yet—you can't do anything at all. Numerous studies of men and women of all ages show that those who exercise live longer than those who are sedentary. One long walk each week can take one year off your biological age. A study of 40,000 women in Iowa revealed that just taking one long walk a week can reduce the rate of death by 12 percent, compared to all sedentary women. Jogging, swimming, and other more vigorous activities increase health and reduce the risk even more.13
Resistance exercise, such as weight training, increases the size and strength of your muscles but does not improve endurance. Resistance training of 66-year-old men, training at 80 percent of maximum level for 12 weeks, increased strength approximately 5 percent each day. You don't even have to be in good physical shape to start.
A progressive resistance training program that lasted eight weeks and met three times each week was designed for institutionalized, invalid elders in their 90s. Weight lifting improved their muscle strength 175 percent, while the cross-sectional area of muscle increased 15 percent, and their walking speed increased by 50 percent. Some even began to walk without using a cane! The increased muscle strength facilitated moving from sitting to standing and climbing stairs. Also, incidences of falling when moving from a chair were reduced. After the initial training period, the elders retained the results of the training with only one lifting session a week. If weight lifting can so drastically improve the condition of institutionalized adults in their nineties, imagine what it can do for you!
Amazingly, in the age group of older seniors, only 5 percent of men and 1 percent of women participate in weight training.14 Perhaps few people try weight lifting because they are not aware of the benefits and the ease of getting started. You do not have to go to a gym.
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