Senior exercise & nutrition myths


The following are answers to some common misconceptions regarding exercise and nutrition for seniors.

By Anita Terlizzi

I’m just too old to start now.

Not true. You can start an exercise routine at any age. Even in your 90s. You are never too old to perform some sort of physical activity to better your health. Research indicates that inactivity can cause seniors to lose their independence. It can actually lead to more illness, doctor visits and use of medication.

I will get hurt if I lift weights.

Strength training is the best way to increase your metabolism, strengthen your bones and build muscle, so don’t believe this myth. Start with dumbbells weighing as little as two pounds. You can even perform body weight exercises until you feel ready to graduate to dumbbells or resistance bands.

I’m sick, so I shouldn’t exercise.

On the contrary, if you have chronic health problems, such as arthritis, diabetes and heart disease exercise is almost certainly a good idea. Check with your doctor first, but exercise can be good or better than the medicine you are taking.

I’m disabled.  I can’t exercise sitting down.

Being chair bound presents some challenges, but it is important that you lift light weights, stretch and do chair aerobics to increase your range of motion and promote cardiovascular health. You will also notice an increase in energy and positive mood change.

Exercise will hurt my joints.

If you’re in chronic pain from arthritis, then exercise may seem too painful. Here’s a counterintuitive fact: studies show exercise helps with arthritis pain. One study of people aged 60 with knee arthritis found that those who exercised more had less pain and better joint function.

Exercise puts me at risk of falling.

Regular exercise, by building strength and stamina, prevents loss of bone mass and improves balance. Exercise actually reduces the risk of falling.

I weigh too much to exercise.

When people reach a size that is overwhelming, the thought of exercise just seems too far fetched. However, being extremely overweight is one of the best reasons to exercise. As we age, our metabolism slows down so you may have put on some unwanted pounds that make it seem difficult to get up and get active. When you exercise, you can increase your metabolism and start shedding those extra pounds. Start out slow with a gentle walk, water aerobics or strength exercises you can do from a chair.

Seniors don’t have much of an appetite, so we can safely skip meals.

There are many drawbacks to skipping meals. For starters, it can wreak havoc on your blood sugar level, which leads to many negative health problems. Also, when you skip meals, you can further decrease your appetite and you will find that you are fueling your body less and less, leading to malnutrition. Start your day off right. For breakfast, instead of your standard tea and toast, add eggs and a chicken sausage link. Start fueling your body so you can physically and mentally be at your best!

Seniors don’t need that much protein in their daily diet.

As people age, it’s easy for them to lose significant amounts of muscle. In fact, we start losing muscle in our 30s, up to 15% in our 60s and 70s, and 30% thereafter! Eating a sufficient amount of protein can help slow down the process of muscle loss. Unfortunately, exercise by itself is not enough to maintain and build muscle. The more protein you eat equals the more muscle your body makes. If you aren’t getting enough protein, there really isn’t much for your body to work with. To find out what you need, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 (current guidelines for any age adult), the resulting number will give you how many grams of protein you need per day.

Seniors don’t require the same nutrients as younger adults.

While it is true seniors require fewer calories, they need just as many nutrients, if not more.  Their bodies do not absorb or process nutrients as they did when they were younger. As we grow older, we actually need increased calcium and vitamin B12 to support healthy bones and tissue.

Anita Terlizzi (a.k.a. MissFit) is a certified personal trainer by the American Council on Exercise and a nutrition coach. She has an exercise video called “Sit Down and Shape Up.” For more information, visit missfit4u.com.

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