Fit for Life
Exercise makes me happy. It energizes me and forges strong links with like-minded people to share challenges, laughter, experiences, wisdom, and even the odd great recipe.
I certainly don’t want to live forever, but I do want to avoid rusting up, both physically and mentally, so I can enjoy what I do with my time. With this in mind, isn’t it fortunate that our retirement years coincide with the stage in our lives when we finally have time to look after ourselves?
I’ve found that even the task of determining which activities fit my lifestyle, budget, schedule and physical capabilities can be challenging and time-consuming – and can vary from year to year.
A few years ago, a couple of hours of tennis three or four times a week, as well as the 15-minute bike ride to and from the courts, was all I needed to keep the endorphins active and the body somewhat limber. Now I’d likely need a chiropractic adjustment, or at least a liniment rubdown, to recover from that sort of action.
That’s because my needs are evolving. A leisurely stroll over to our little nine-hole golf course to swing and giggle my way around the fairways suits me much better at this stage.
But our southern Ontario winters determine that outdoor activities are seasonal at best. What to do with the rest of the year?
Working from the Caledon Centre for Recreation and Wellness north of Bolton, Caledon’s active living co-ordinator Kim Gallagher believes she has the best job at the town, and with three active teenagers at home, she understands the importance of staying fit.
The first thing I noticed as I walked into the centre was a group of seniors sitting around tables enjoying a post-workout drink – and one another’s company. Laughter and chatter filled the space. Kim says developing a sense of community at the centre is a big part of her job.
She is a proponent of “functional training” for seniors, and by that she means creating balance within the body so that individuals can live life, not simply cope with it.
Though Kim wants everyone at the centre to enjoy the time spent there, she is serious about helping seniors improve their balance, core strength and stability.
And there are many ways to achieve this goal. She suggests trying an aquafit class or some weight training, yoga or Pilates – or joining the walking group, a tai chi class, pickleball, badminton or Zumba. All these activities and many more are available at the centre.
Kim believes the key to fitness for life is to find the physical activities you enjoy doing and commit the time necessary to do them.
Master senior fitness trainer Susan Haughton was largely responsible for creating the low-impact exercise and fall-prevention program originally sponsored by Caledon Meals on Wheels. Launched in 2003, this program is now offered in a number of locations throughout the community.
After earning an honours degree in gerontology and sociology from McMaster University, Susan trained at the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging, a not-for-profit national research and education centre within the faculty of health sciences at Western University.
How to stay fit for life
She has seen parallels between inactivity and chronic disease and believes we all have a powerful opportunity to design our elder years by choosing to age well. She suggests trying to achieve about 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week over and above normal daily routines.
I recently joined a seniors’ exercise group in the lower level of Palgrave United Church. Expertly and enthusiastically led by Sylwia Mrowca-Migiel, who was trained by Susan, we used chairs, exercise bands and weights as we worked at stretching each muscle group to the upbeat soundtrack of Pretty Woman.
The intention here is likewise to strengthen the core and improve balance, with a view to preventing the debilitating falls to which we, as seniors, are prone.
According to Susan, if you were to add some walking to the exercise routine, you’d be well on your way to improved physical condition, which not only lowers pain levels, but also improves sleep quality and increases overall stability.
Most of what I read agrees that adding any amount of physical activity is beneficial and the payoffs are huge. The medical community is unanimous in its endorsement of physical activity as we age – the increased social time is a bonus.
Exercise makes me happy. It energizes me and forges strong links with like-minded people to share challenges, laughter, experiences, wisdom, and even the odd great recipe. I fully expect to continue to redefine the kind of exercise I do as I make the transition through my 70s and beyond.
My plan is to leave behind what no longer physically suits me while staying fully engaged in and committed to the process.