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Patricia Grace
founder & CEO
Aging with Grace

Monday, October 12, 2009

Exercise and the Elderly - It really can pay off

by Laura Bramly

Thank goodness for my stepfather. I'll never run out of material while he is still around...

My stepfather is 84 years old. He is in very good health but suffers from some back pain due to sciatica and other ailments. He also had a heart valve replaced last May (see earlier post!). Otherwise, he tries to stay as active and in as good spirits as he can.

For the past couple of years, he has attended weekly exercise classes at his local senior centre. He had to stop when his back pain was too severe, but started up again when the pain eased as he understood that building strength was one way to avert the pain. He stopped before he had his heart surgery and has not started again, as he is still feeling a little weak. However, he is lifting light weights and walks about a half mile every day to buy his paper. For someone in his eighties, I'd say he has worked hard to build optimal strength without overtaxing himself.

Two weeks ago, he stepped out of his elevator at his apartment building into thin air. Without getting into too much detail, the elevator door opened but the elevator itself had stopped two feet above the lobby floor! I kidded with him that he must have looked like Wiley Coyote, foiled again by the Roadrunner and stepping off a cliff into the abyss.

Of course he fell, and fell hard. But, no broken bones. No hip replacements on the horizon. He landed on his arms and hurt his back again, but other than that, he walked away.

Now how many of us 40-somethings could say the same if we had walked out of an elevator only to discover the floor was two feet below?

Truth is, all that exercise has paid off. He bounced. His bones and muscles were strong enough to withstand the fall. His balance was good enough to make him fell in the best manner to ensure the least harm. His arms broke his fall and his arms were strong.

Falls cause untold amounts of injury to the elderly (and not so elderly). Exercise is vital, for fall prevention and to continue to participate in all of your activities as you age. The message of this story is that it is never too late to start. My stepfather was no athlete. He was moderately active, enjoying a weekly round of golf and one or two daily walks. When his back started to give him trouble, he enrolled in exercise classes. He was already in his early 80s. And now, he can bounce, and because of that, he's back home in his apartment after his fall, and not in the hospital.

Laura Bramly, a member of the Aging with Grace "Ask an Expert" program, is a communications consultant specializing in education programs about dementia. She is author of ElderCareRead Life Scenes 1, a book for people with moderate to advanced dementia to read and enjoy. Learn more about Laura

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