The elderly and exercise . . . not an odd pairing

Joy Johnson crossed the finish line in the New York Marathon last year with a time of 6 hours, 5 minutes, and 58 seconds. While any marathon time is impressive to me, you may be thinking that time isn’t that great. Well, what if I told you Johnson’s time got her a medal in her age group, the 80-90-year-old age division. Then would you be impressed? Joy Johnson is an 81-year-old marathoner who has won her age division six times in the past 11 years.

Then there are the Tatum brothers from Washington state who literally blow the competition out of the water in the National Senior Games. Ninety-year-old John and 88-year-old Bradford continue to win swimming medals long after many others their age have stopped getting in the water altogether.

While these stories may not be the norm, they may not be as rare as you would think. With baby boomers beginning to creep into the “elderly” category we are seeing an upswing in active older adults and this is a good thing. Getting older used to be synonymous with getting less active and spending more time indoors. As new research is always pointing us towards longer lives and healthier bodies, older Americans are taking notice of the benefits of a regular exercise plan.

Regular exercise including strength training and stretching has been shown to decrease the risk of osteoporosis and increase mobility. It is well known that exercise can stop and even reverse the “functional decline” of the elderly as well. Exercise triggers endorphins, known to be a natural pain reliever, which can reduce achy joints and muscles.

In addition to all of the physical benefits, regular exercise and a healthy diet can reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s. According to a study completed just this month that followed a group of elderly living in New York over a 5 year period, those with the best diet and exercise regimens were 59% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who got little to no exercise.

Exercise is good for you no matter your age! If you are an older American or have one in your life, encourage them to stay active. Better yet, get active with them. Walks through the neighborhood or at the park are a great way to get the blood flowing and connect with someone you should be making time for anyways. Also, check out senior centers in the area. These community organizations often have low cost or free fitness classes for the elderly.

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