Newswise — With spring in the air, it’s time to shake off the winter doldrums, lace up the running shoes and get moving. While many older people tend to slow down in winter, experts at the VA Maryland Health Care System’s Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC) say that keeping active all year is a key to good health, particularly for senior citizens. Marianne Shaughnessy, PhD, CRNP, associate director for Education/Evaluation at the GRECC, says “exercise’s proven benefits—lower blood pressure and blood glucose; improved sleep and mood; less fatigue, joint pain and constipation, and better weight control—are good reasons for older Americans to keep moving during colder months.” Shaughnessy and other GRECC providers say senior citizens and older adults can reap consistent health benefits and avoid illness by keeping on the move!
Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program if you do not exercise regularly, are older than 50, are significantly overweight, or have a chronic health condition such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, or high blood pressure.
What senior citizens can do to spring into shape:
• Walking at the mall – climate control and even surfaces make mall walking a great way to stay in shape. Many malls have clubs – check yours out!
• Taking the stairs – stair climbing exercises the same muscles necessary for keeping your balance while rising from a chair, so it is important to keep these muscles strong.
• Sign up for aerobics or yoga classes at a senior or community center – these classes emphasize cardiovascular health and flexibility – both important for endurance and safety.
• Get an exercise “buddy” or join a club – the support is helpful for staying on track, even when you don’t feel like exercising.
• Making little changes that add up – parking farther away from church, or a store entrance and walking the extra distance – every little bit helps.
• Finding dance classes – ballroom dancing improves flexibility and balance; square dancing and aerobic dancing improves cardiovascular fitness.
• Exercising at home with exercise programs on TV, or with a DVD or home workout video.
• Swimming – check into the local YMCA, community colleges, fitness centers or gyms.
• Wear shoes with rubber grips to prevent falls in slick weather conditions.
• Wear sunscreen.
• Remember to warm up before and cool down and stretch after any exercise activity to lower risk for injury and to keep you motivated to continue.
• Drink water to stay hydrated.
• Set an exercise goal, aiming for 2.5 hours each week of moderate to vigorous activity for cardiovascular fitness and resistance (strengthening) exercise.
• Make increasing physical activity part of a daily routine.
Eat better while eating less:
• We need fewer calories as we age, so the quality of the diet is even more important. Make every calorie count by including nutrient-rich foods: whole grains, lean protein, low-fat or non-fat dairy, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
• Choose fiber rich foods such as whole grain breads and cereals, beans, fruits and vegetables to help control weight, keep you regular, and lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
• Aim for three servings of low-fat or non-fat milk or yogurt each day for bone strengthening calcium and vitamin D.
• Prevent overeating by keeping hunger in check. Eat well balanced meals or snacks every 4 hours.
• Balance your plate by filling half your plate with vegetables, and the other half with moderate portions of starch like potatoes, pasta, rice or other grains, and lean protein, such as fish, skinless chicken, or lean cuts of pork or beef.
• Add-in small amounts of healthy fats like nuts, seeds, or avocado to salads, yogurt, or cereal and cut back on unhealthy fats like bacon, butter, cream, and cream cheese.
• Don’t eat out of the bag or box. Place one serving in a small bowl or cup to limit how much you have of high fat and high sugar snacks like chips, crackers, candy, ice cream or cookies.
• Eat slowly to avoid overeating. Pace you meal over 20 to 30 minutes by taking small bites , paying attention to the taste and texture of the foods, setting down your fork or spoon, and sipping water between bites. This provides time for your stomach to signal when you are satisfied.
• Rethink your drink. High calorie beverages like juice drinks, gourmet coffee drinks, and soft drinks can add many calories. Choose water, diet, or low calorie beverages instead of sugar-sweetened beverages to save calories for weight loss.
Established in 1975 by the Department of Veterans Affairs and now counting 21 GRECCs nationwide, the program has played a major role in increasing basic knowledge of aging, sharing that knowledge with health care providers, and improving the quality of overall care for aging Veterans. The VA Maryland Health Care System’s GRECC was activated in 1992 under the leadership of Andrew P. Goldberg, MD, also director of the Division of Gerontology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). It focuses on research in an array of areas including obesity and insulin resistant diabetes, aerobic and resistive exercise training, neuromuscular mechanisms in rehabilitation, and neurocognitive function in aging and chronic disease, muscle biology and sarcopenia, among other topics. The Maryland GRECC programs enhance clinicalcare provided to older Veterans by using interdisciplinary teams working together to integrate patient education and conduct research.
The VA Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS) provides a broad spectrum of medical, surgical, rehabilitative, mental health and outpatient care to veterans at two medical centers, one community living and rehabilitation center and five outpatient clinics located throughout the state. More than 52,000 veterans from various generations receive care from the VAHMCS annually. Nationally recognized for its state-of-the-art technology and quality patient care, the VAHMCS is proud of its reputation as a leader in veterans’ health care, research and education. It costs nothing for Veterans to enroll for health care with the VA Maryland Health Care System and it could be one of the more important things a Veteran can do. For information about VA health care eligibility and enrollment or how to apply for a VA medical care hardship to avoid future copayments for VA health care, interested Veterans are urged to call the Enrollment Center for the VA Maryland Health Care System, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-463-6295, ext. 7324 or visit www.maryland.va.gov.