Why Should Seniors Exercise Regularly?
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Why is it important that people exercise in their senior years? We discuss what kinds of exercises seniors should do, and the long-term health benefits that can be gained from staying physically fit as we age.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. The generation that transformed youth and middle age is now about to enter its golden years. The babyboomers start turning 65 beginning in January 2011. If the boomers stay true to form, they'll want to transform the senior experience by staying fit and independent for many years to come. Now, today's seniors are already paving the way as a new emphasis on exercise and fitness for older Americans takes hold. Today we'll be talking about the various ways San Diego seniors can stay active and strong. Joining me is a panel of guests. I’d like to start by introducing a group of experts. Jeanne Nichols is exercise physiologist in the School of Exercise & Nutritional Sciences at San Diego State University. Good morning, Jeanne.
JEANNE NICHOLS (Exercise Physiologist, San Diego State University): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Colin Depp is assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and a Research Fellow at the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Colin, good morning.
COLIN DEPP (Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, UC San Diego School of Medicine): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: And Jacqueline Kerr is exercise scientist, and assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.
Jacqueline, good morning.
JACQUELINE KERR (Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, UC San Diego School of Medicine): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: I’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Now if you’re 65 or older, tell us what kind of exercisers – exercises, that is, you do. Is there anything that stops you from being as active as you can? And to everyone, how do you intend to stay fit in the years to come? Call us with your questions and your comments and your stories, 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Jeanne, let me start with you, and this is a sort of a very basic question. Why is it important that people exercise as they get into their senior years?
NICHOLS: Well, I believe that exercise is perhaps even more important for older adults than younger adults and this is because, like it or not, we begin to lose some muscle mass. We lose our muscular strength, not all of it but those processes start to happen after age 50 to 60 to 65. We lose some mobility and flexibility. And all of this can lead to functional impairments that eventually can lead to falls. And one of the things we want to really avoid is falls and subsequent fractures. So the right kind of exercise, I think, is not just important, it’s critical for older adults.
CAVANAUGH: Do we know what kind of overall health benefits that people enjoy when they stay active in their older years?
NICHOLS: Well, the benefits, the list is long. And I think Colin’s going to address psychosocial benefits but from a physiological standpoint, we know we can kind of slow the aging process by maintaining some muscle mass, improving mobility. There’s a lot of literature now that has shown we can actually reverse some of the loss of balance and mobility, and that’s very, very important. And, once again, there’s data out there to show that exercise can prevent fall risk and actual falls.
CAVANAUGH: Jacqueline Kerr, I wanted to ask you, your research focuses on how to get older adults active. I wonder what are the impediments? What are the challenges that you face in trying to encourage seniors to exercise?
KERR: Well, actually, older adults are more enthusiastic about regaining some of their functioning, that Jeanne mentioned, and independence, too. If they can keep walking, for example, then they can keep going to the store and remain independent. So actually it’s a fantastic population to work with. So if they are actually already enthusiastic, one of the things that’s important is to set very achievable goals, to start very slowly, and the guidelines—the national guidelines—are indicating to us that older adults really should do what they can, of course, trying to build up to 30 minutes, for example, moderate intensity walking a day but building up to that very gradually is the main thing.
CAVANAUGH: I wonder if you hear, Jacqueline, people who are older really doubt whether or not they have the ability to exercise and keep themselves fit?
KERR: Yes. Certainly one important aspect of interventions that we do is to increase their self-confidence, to make them feel confident that they can do this but also by starting. Often, the biggest thing is to actually just say, okay, I walked for five minutes today, I did it. So that’s why goals need to be achievable but also there needs to be safe and comfortable environments for people to be active in. I try and encourage people to walk in their local community because that gets them out and a part of the community. There are also many very good structured programs around the county where they can safely exercise in a supervised setting, too.
CAVANAUGH: That’s a very good point. Now, Colin Depp, I know that you sort of focus your study on the mental health benefits that seniors gain from exercise, and what can you tell us about that?
DEPP: Sure, so even just in the past 10 years there’s been a number of studies that have linked exercise in older people with better performance on cognitive tests, actually reduced risk for brain illnesses like dementia, and even some studies that have shown actual changes in brain scans and structure of the brain in terms of randomized controlled trials, so some pretty impressive benefits that are accumulating in the research literature.
CAVANAUGH: Do you – do we know why that is? Why staying active and engaged and walking and doing exercise could actually improve the way the brain functions?
DEPP: Sure. So there are a number of theories about that. Some of it could be indirectly through improving things like sleep or people’s participation in social activity and so forth but there are also probably direct effects that – so what’s good for the heart is good for the brain and so increasing blood flow to the brain could help. There’s actually a number of studies that have shown that exercise is associated with increased endorphins and release of neurotransmitters and also potentially neuroplasticity. One of the really interesting sets of studies is – has to do with exercise, it’s a mild stressor so it’s – and we know that stress is bad so it doesn’t quite make sense but it does seem that the sort of mild stress that comes with exercise actually may strengthen the brain and actually increase the capacity of the brain to form new neural connections sort of like you would think about a muscle increasing as exercise happens.
CAVANAUGH: Your brain as a muscle.
DEPP: Could be sort of the metaphor, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: We are talking about San Diego seniors staying active and fit and the benefits that older Americans derive from exercise. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take a call right now. Carla is calling us from El Centro. Good morning, Carla, and welcome to These Days.
CARLA (Caller, El Centro): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: What would you like to add to the conversation, Carla?
CARLA: Oh, well, you said call in if you…
CARLA: So I’m over 65. I’m 72. And so I do about 3 hours exercise a day. I walk for an hour, I spin for an hour, I do an hour of aerobics and two times a week I do Zumba.
CAVANAUGH: Whoa. Okay, and what kind of benefits have you gotten from that, Carla?
CARLA: Oh, it just makes me feel energetic and happy, and I sleep well every night.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thanks for calling in. I really appreciate it. And, Colin, Carla’s call makes me think about the kinds of study that you’re doing with so-called exer-games, the Nintendo Wii video games. Apparently – Why are you studying them? What kind of effect does that have on seniors’ exercise?
DEPP: So the attractive things about exer-games are that – There are a couple of things. So they can be played in the home so they’re – reduce the barriers to exercise that some older adults have. And then the other couple of pieces are that they’re – there’s a lot of interest now in interventions that combine cognitively stimulating activity with physically stimulating activity. There’s also embedded kind of reinforcement in the games. They’re fun. And so one of the sets of data that we know from the exercise literature in terms of motivation is that people keep exercising because they enjoy it, and so potentially this could be a route to sustaining exercise in the community. And so we did a little study to see if older – and actually Dr. Nichols has done some work also in exer-games as well and examined whether mild symptoms of depression could be improved as a result of participating in exer-games over 12 weeks.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Jeanne Nichols, did you find that there was actually really some really good exercise coming out of doing a Nintendo Wii game?
NICHOLS: Well, we studied three different physiological factors and the first was aerobic – potential aerobic benefits, the cardiovascular system. And so we had our participants doing the Wii Bowling, Wii Boxing and then a Dancetown game, which is kind of like the child’s version of Dance Revolution. And we found that it – they were a mild to moderate, the Dancetown being the greatest caloric burn, if you will. But so they fell into the range of mild to moderate exercise. The – Probably the thing that got us the most excited, we also did a biomechanical study where we had the participants standing on a force platform, which is a device in the floor in our laboratory and it’s able to as a person just stands still, it sends messages to a computer screen that one can look at how much the body moves away from their, say, center of balance or center of support. And then we put the Wii Snowboard game, Shaun White Snowboard…
NICHOLS: …on this balance platform and we asked them to comfortably, within their comfort zone, try and do this game for 30 seconds as they skied or snowboarded down a virtual hill. And what we found, and there’s a nice graphic display that shows how much the body moves away from that center of support to what the biomechanists call one’s limits of stability. And this game caused them to move into, you know, really wide limits of stability, and this is important because as we age and those with balance limitations have a more narrow comfort zone where if you step outside of that – Let’s say you’re walking in a crowd and you’re bumped or nudged or you’re walking on uneven surface and you trip a little, if you do not have this nice wide range of stability, it often will result in a fall. So…
CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting. That’s fascinating. Another way to keep fit right in the comfort of your home, so to speak.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Bernard is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Bernard. Welcome to These Days.
BERNARD (Caller, San Diego): Hi. Thank you very much. My question is we caregive for my mother-in-law. She’s 90 years old. She’s been through a series of bowel resections, she has a amputated leg. No diabetes. And her – she has no kind of physical therapy now. And how could a bedridden person – We do get her out of bed as much as we can – could, you know, I’d like for her to see if she can get the…
BERNARD: …benefits of exercise.
BERNARD: So what’s that – yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Absolutely, Bernard. Let’s – Let me ask Jeanne. What would you suggest in a situation like this?
NICHOLS: Well, you said you can get her out of bed. Does she spend some time during the day in a chair?
BERNARD: Yes, as often as we – she’ll allow us to.
NICHOLS: So there’s…
BERNARD: Sometime up to three times a day she’ll get up but usually just once.
NICHOLS: So perhaps then can start with once and increase it to two or three times a day where for maybe five minutes, extending to a 10 minute bout where she is doing some range of motion in her limbs that she can move, in her arms. And you said she’s a single leg amputee?
CAVANAUGH: Yes, he – Bernard did say that.
NICHOLS: So free-leg leg lifts. Moving the limbs as much as possible. You know, maybe putting some music on that would help get this – excited, and maybe have other family members there doing it with her. This can then be progressed to somewhere down the road holding some kind of a weight in a hand, also working on some postural muscles and that can have some really good effects. So I’d encourage you to maybe talk to her physician first…
CAVANAUGH: Sure, yes.
NICHOLS: …and then start that and then get going with that, you know.
CAVANAUGH: But before we have to take a break, let me just make the point that in reading the literature on exercise and seniors, Jacqueline, maybe you can help me out on this, that many of the exercises have to do with doing the things that people do every day, reaching for a glass or getting up out of a chair. Tell us about that.
KERR: Yes, those things are very important and can be done in the home. Jeanne mentioned a weight. A water bottle can be a weight as well, so there are many ways of doing that. I think it’s definitely important for adults to practice those sort of activities that keep them independent, and the getting out of the chair is really important. So new research is showing that actually independent of how much physical activity we do, if we spend a long time sitting, it’s really not good for our health. So the more older adults can get out of their chair during advertising breaks, if they’re watching television, for example, just that motion of getting out of the chair and especially if they can work up towards not using their hands to push them out of the chair, they’re going to be making important improvements and keeping those main leg muscles strong and that’ll keep them with the fullest prevention and able to do things in the home but also around. My grandmother, for example, never learnt to drive. And she still, at 86, goes to the shops two or three times a week and she carries every grocery stores home – grocery bags home, and that really keeps her fit in many, many ways.
CAVANAUGH: As I say, we do have to take a short break. When we return, we’ll continue our discussion about exercise and older Americans, how San Diego seniors are staying fit. Taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727, and we’ll be welcoming two new guests to our conversation. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days in San Diego. We’re talking about exercising over age 65 and how it can benefit your health physically and mentally. My guests are Jeanne Nichols. She’s an exercise philio – physiologist—I knew I was going to do that—at SDSU. Colin Depp is assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine. And Jacqueline Kerr is an exercise scientist at UC San Diego School of Medicine. And I’d like to welcome two new guests to our program. Linda Polowski is a 67-year-old resident of the College Area. She enjoys doing yoga and is a frequent participant in the aerobics class at the College Avenue Senior Center. Linda, welcome.
LINDA POLOWSKI (Senior Fitness Participant): Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And Pearl Abrams is 82 years old. She lives in La Mesa. Pearl participates in Tai Chi, yoga and line dancing classes at the College Avenue Senior Center. Pearl, good morning. Thanks for being here.
PEARL ABRAMS: Morning. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: I want to remind everyone that we are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 or if you’d like to post your comment online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Linda, so you are – you do aerobics class at the College Avenue Senior Center. What’s that like?
POLOWSKI: Yes, I do. It’s a wonderful class. Besides the aerobics, she does a lot of stretching, balance and strength training with hand weights and some floor exercises, so we really get a little bit of everything. And our instructor, Kara Anderson, is just wonderful. She explains, you know, what we’re doing, what muscles we should be using so that way we know if we’re doing them right.
POLOWSKI: She watches our form and it’s really a great class.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Linda, have you done regular exercises all your life?
CAVANAUGH: Oh, I see.
CAVANAUGH: So this isn’t anything different for you.
CAVANAUGH: But how do you…
POLOWSKI: But I get more out of them now than I did when I was 20.
CAVANAUGH: How so?
POLOWSKI: Well, I don’t know. I just – maybe I’m just more serious about it or something but it just – I feel great benefits from exercising.
CAVANAUGH: Pearl, tell us a little bit more about the College Avenue Senior Center and the exercises that you do there.
ABRAMS: Well, what’s wonderful about the College Avenue Senior Center is that you are getting to meet other people and you find that everybody seems to be so cheerful. It makes you feel good when you’re there. And when you feel that way, you want to go back.
ABRAMS: So it’s – And their programs are wonderful in many ways and they have a lot of exercise programs along with everything else. So I just find it a wonderful place to go to.
CAVANAUGH: Now you do Tai Chi.
CAVANAUGH: Now I read that you didn’t know whether or not that slow movement would actually do anything for you.
ABRAMS: Yes, when a friend of mine who goes there suggested that I take it, I said, oh, what do you get out of that? And I find it’s wonderful. You really – you really feel you’ve had exercise and you – makes you feel good. And she also explains what the different exercises do, what part of the body they help, so you get a good roundabout exercise in every way.
CAVANAUGH: And, Linda, that same sort of stretching and slow movement…
CAVANAUGH: …you get doing Yoga.
POLOWSKI: Yes, definitely.
CAVANAUGH: And also, does your instructor explain…
POLOWSKI: Yes, yes.
CAVANAUGH: …what you’re working out at the time?
POLOWSKI: Right. Tells you just which muscles you’re using and what you should be feeling from it.
POLOWSKI: And that way you do use the right muscles.
CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you both, Linda and Pearl, have you ever sort of like injured yourself while you’ve been exercising? I mean, you pulled something or you didn’t feel quite right afterwards?
POLOWSKI: Umm, no.
ABRAMS: No, I haven’t.
CAVANAUGH: I have.
POLOWSKI: Well, actually my body tells me just how far I can go with an exercise. At yoga, there are a lot of things I can’t do but I – what I can do, I do, and I don’t feel, you know, that I’m lesser for not being able to do those things. And I do find that sometimes I try and some things that I thought that I would never achieve, I do. And some things I just know I’d better not attempt.
CAVANAUGH: Jeanne, is there any sort of rule of thumb for people, for senior citizens who are going into an exercise program? Must they consult with their doctors first? Is that the advice that you give all the time?
NICHOLS: Typically, but if someone has been engaging in physical activity right along, they can probably continue. Hopefully, older adults are seeing their physician with some regular basis and, hopefully, that physician is asking them about their physical activity and actually doing more than asking but prescribing. And I did want to say there’s a current public health initiative titled “Exercise is Medicine” and one of the things it is attempting to do is get physicians to spend a minute or two during regular visits with their patients about the benefits and to actually write an exercise prescription. Do this exercise three times a day for 10 minutes. Call me in two weeks and tell me how good you feel. So physicians should be informed and it should be a two-way street.
CAVANAUGH: Are doctors actually doing that?
NICHOLS: It is beginning. It’s going to, I think, build up a lot of steam over the next few years. The Surgeon General and American College of Sports Medicine are promoting this, and we’re going to hear more and more about it. So that’s a good thing.
CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Michael is on the line from Oceanside. Good morning, Michael. Welcome to These Days.
MICHAEL (Caller, Oceanside): Hi, good morning.
MICHAEL: Yes. I – Years ago, I found out that people living in mountainy territory was in the best physical shape and I just wanted to let you know that I have – my house has 31 stairs and I call it my mountain and I go up and down my stairs. That’s part of my exercises.
MICHAEL: Plus, I also…
MICHAEL: I also read Mortimer Adler’s “How To Read a Book.” It’s subtitled “The Art of a Liberal Education.” And in that book, one of the people that Adler uses is Plato, and Plato, his – Plato’s hello and goodbye is gymnastics for the body, music for the soul.
CAVANAUGH: Very good rule to live by. Thank you, Michael, so much for that call. Pearl, I also read that you like line dancing. Tell us a little bit about that.
ABRAMS: Well, one thing I like about line dancing is that you really move and it’s really good exercise. But aside from that, while you’re moving you have to learn new steps, and I understand each time you concentrate and learn something new, that’s good for the brain. So I find that it’s a fun class and I’m not a very good dancer. A lot of times when people – when the rest of the class is moving right, I’m moving left or something but we all have a good, you know, we get a lot of laughs out of it as well, so that’s why I like it so much.
CAVANAUGH: Colin, I wonder if you could break down for us the kind of benefits that derive from something like line dancing because obviously there are exercise benefits but as Pearl suggests it keeps brains active, and what does it do for social ties?
DEPP: Well, that’s another, I guess, positive side effect of exercise in that it especially in dancing it’s a social activity and there’s plenty of data that suggests that people who have regular contact with other people have kind of integrated social networks, that they have lower inflammation that could be potentially bad for the brain and so – So there’s a number of ties between actual kind of social interaction and positive health benefits and so, again, I think if you can combine the cognitive stimulation, the physical activity and social activity and also just something that’s enjoyable and fun, that’s a pretty good bang for your buck, I think, in terms of overall health.
CAVANAUGH: Linda, do you have friends that really don’t exercise much?
POLOWSKI: I do have some friends that don’t and I try to encourage them to do whatever they can. You know, start going to a class. You may not be able to do it at first but don’t stop going, keep going.
CAVANAUGH: And do they tell you why they really don’t want to do this?
POLOWSKI: Well, one of my friends just has too much pain, leg pain and such, and she just absolutely can’t but she tries. She does chair exercises and walks when she can and everything, and I just try to encourage her and go with her.
CAVANAUGH: Jacqueline, I’m wondering, when seniors say, you know, I can’t do this, it hurts too much, I can’t be active, I have too much physical pain, what’s the response that you and other exercise scientists would give?
KERR: Well, it’s really a little bit based on their own experience of their pain. If they’re doing exercise and it’s leading to increased pain that feels different from their normal pain, then of course we’re going to say you should check in with your physician. But, really, the point is if they don’t do anything, that pain’s not going to go away. It could get worse. So keeping moving is really important and it might actually start to reduce the pain. If not the pain – You know, it shouldn’t get any worse and the point is then they’re doing something else which is going to be good for their spirit and mental health, physical health and, hopefully, getting them out more because, again, if they’re sitting at home feeling pain, they may as well try and go to an exercise class if it doesn’t increase that pain in a different way that they’re used to.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another phone call. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Lynn is calling from downtown. Good morning, Lynn, and welcome to These Days.
LYNN (Caller, Downtown San Diego): Thank you. I’m a geropsychologist and I work at the new Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center, which is downtown. And since it’s brand new, I just wanted to make sure that your listeners know that it’s there and know what’s available. We have – we do have a Wii and so we have times when seniors can bowl and play tennis and things like that on the Wii but we also have Tai Chi and yoga and a couple of different levels of exercise class. And then another piece that’s exciting, I was actually hired by San Diego State University, I’m employed by them but I’m at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center, and so my role is to be a link between San Diego State and the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center so that we can bring expertise like from the folks on your panel to the wellness center to create even better programs. And then the last piece that I want folks to know about is that there’s lots of volunteer opportunities for seniors and for folks who aren’t yet seniors at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center and other places and there’s nothing better for those of us who can’t quite yet call ourselves seniors to see seniors who are active and understand what benefits it has emotionally and physically and all of that.
CAVANAUGH: Lynn, thank you so much for the phone call. Let’s take a short break right now and when we come back we’ll continue taking your phone calls about senior exercise, welcome a new guest, and continue the conversation. We are talking about exercise for senior citizens. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. How exercise can keep seniors in San Diego and all across America and the world active and strong, that’s the topic we’re talking about this hour on These Days. My guests are Jeanne Nichols, Colin Depp, Jacqueline Kerr, and Linda Polowski and Pearl Abrams. We’ve all been talking about the various benefits of exercise both physically and mentally. The number to call if you’d like to join the conversation is 1-888-895-5727. Joining us on the phone now is Robin Hochstadt. She is manager of the San Diego Silver Sneakers program. Good morning, Robin.
ROBIN HOCHSTADT (Manager, San Diego Silver Sneakers Program): Good morning, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: What is the Silver Sneakers program?
HOCHSTADT: You know, the Silver Sneakers Fitness program is the nation’s leading fitness program designed exclusively for older adults and it is a wonderful wellness and prevention program that incorporates fitness and fun and friends for the older adult population. We have more than 30 different locations in San Diego County where someone could have a fitness center membership and the specially designed classes that we offer as well as additional 24-hour locations that would be membership only as well as all of the Curves locations…
HOCHSTADT: …in the county as well.
HOCHSTADT: So we have over 10,000 locations around the country where seniors, Medicare eligible seniors with eligible programs with their health insurance, it could be paid for, completely covered for them and they have no cost whatsoever than their health insurance.
CAVANAUGH: Now how can people learn more about these Silver Sneakers activity programs? Where can they go for more information?
HOCHSTADT: Well, we have an 800 number that they can check. They can check Silversneakers.com or Healthways.com. But if they have Humana…
HOCHSTADT: …CareFirst, Anthem Blue Cross, Secure Horizons or, as of June first, we’re going to be adding on over 5,000 eligible seniors with Blue Shield. All they have to do is check the member services number on the back of their card, call up and say, hey, am I eligible for that Silver Sneakers program? And they’ll be able to get the information that they need.
CAVANAUGH: What kind of activities does the Silver Sneakers program offer?
HOCHSTADT: Well, as I mentioned, we have a basic fitness center membership at any one of our participating locations and it gives them free access to all the amenities that would be part of a basic membership.
CAVANAUGH: I see. I see.
HOCHSTADT: We also have specially designed classes and our MSROM class, which our very basic Silver Sneaker class, is very – they build the skills needed for fall prevention, core muscular strength, balance, flexibility, working on those movements for daily living. And one of the things that’s really, really important is the social component. We have fitness centers that have monthly anniversary or birthday parties, we encourage them to have educational seminars on the premises, and we also keep them informed of things that are happening around the community.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Robin, I know tomorrow is National Senior Health and Fitness Day, so what kinds of senior fitness activities will be taking place around San Diego tomorrow?
HOCHSTADT: Well, actually some people don’t know that it’s Health and Fitness Day tomorrow but it’s the 17th Annual National Senior Health and Fitness Day. And in San Diego I know there’s an event at the St. Paul’s Villas from 11:00 to 3:00. It’s at 2340 4th Avenue. And there’s going to be health screenings, there’s going to be speakers, there’s going to be demonstrations. People can participate in different types of exercise opportunities and I would just love to encourage people to take tomorrow to participate in this event or get involved somewhere. Check out – find out if you are eligible for Silver Sneakers for that program for free, and go in and enroll somewhere.
CAVANAUGH: Robin, thanks so much for being with us today. I appreciate it.
CAVANAUGH: And, Jeanne, I wanted to ask you, we just heard about this program, what kind of other problem – programs are there around San Diego County for – that promote senior exercise? Are they basically in just about every senior center?
NICHOLS: Well, the County also offers a program called Feeling Fit and it is free. It is in about, I think, 24 community centers, senior centers, community centers, spread across the county. The Feeling Fit program, again, ultimately is a falls prevention program, not that all participants are focused on that but it is a very comprehensive exercise program that focuses on balance and mobility, muscular strength, some aerobic component, a lot of flexibility. Exercises are done to music. There’s – the social component is huge. You can just walk in and feel the energy of these individuals having a good time with their instructors. So they can call the County Health Department Aging and Independence Services, AIS, get more information. Also, I think daily, two times a day, on TV, we have classes that are running so a person can turn on their TV and follow along at home…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s…
NICHOLS: …if they can’t get to a center.
CAVANAUGH: …that’s great. And what channel would that be on? Do you know?
NICHOLS: I’m sorry, I…
CAVANAUGH: Okay, we’ll find out. We’ll find out. Thank you for that. I – Let’s – There are a lot of people who want to join the conversation so let’s take a couple of phone calls. Lisa is calling us from Poway. Good morning, Lisa, and welcome to These Days.
LISA (Caller, Poway): Hi. Thank you. I have a mobile fitness business called Optimal Fitness and one of my special populations are seniors and I train my seniors pretty aggressively. I teach them how to get down on the floor, how to get back up. We do squats, we do lunges. Eventually, they’re all on the balance disk without holding on. And the self-esteem that it gives them, that they no longer have that mental block that they could get in trouble very easily, is just astounding. And I think another really huge component is to make sure they realize that nutrition is a critical part of their longevity. And…
CAVANAUGH: …thank you. Thank you so much for that. That really – it sort of inspires you to get more involved at any age, you know, to hear about these stories of seniors just doing lunges just really makes me really very motivated. Karen is calling us from Carlsbad. Good morning, Karen. Welcome to These Days.
KAREN (Caller, Carlsbad): I just wanted to say that 12 years ago I was living a fairly sedentary life and I ended up having to have open heart surgery and since then I have – I just started thinking I had to exercise and I’ve run 25 marathons since then. So I started walking.
KAREN: And then I just walked for a year and then started running and I have been running ever since.
CAVANAUGH: And your voice sounds quite young though. I see here you’re 69 years old, Karen, is that right?
KAREN: Yes, that’s correct. I’m closer to 70.
CAVANAUGH: And are you still running marathons?
KAREN: Yes, I just did the London Marathon three weeks ago.
CAVANAUGH: That’s amazing. Thank you so much for calling. I appreciate it. Ben is calling us from Poway. Good morning, Ben. Welcome to These Days. Hi, Ben, are you there?
BEN (Caller, Poway): Hi. Good morning. I’m…
CAVANAUGH: Good morning.
BEN: …a senior. I’m 69 years old and I’ve been doing cardiopulmonary exercises on my exercise bicycle for years, 40 minutes, target heart rate, etcetera, surges. And I get a lot of benefit from it but it’s sheer torture. You sweat. You’re tired. It’s a huge bother. What about this ugly truth about cardiopulmonary exercises? Any comments from your staff or committee?
CAVANAUGH: Sure. Jacqueline.
KERR: Really, exercise does not have to be like that. It’s great that you can work at that intensity but, really, going for a walk in your community, going for a walk around a park, or walking for errands, going to the grocery store to walk, I mean, it’s great to do all these programs but walking can be a part of your daily life that does not mean extra effort to put on a pair of sneakers and go to a class or to get on a bike and sweat. Really, you can get very good health benefits from walking so you really don’t have to do that. And one of the things that we’re trying to do in San Diego is build healthier communities so that people can get out and walk. San Diego County just got a grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to do that, to build healthier communities. There’s a big physical activity component of that work, and there’s a large intergenerational component. So for example, getting out and helping a school run their Safe Routes to School program or something is another way of getting older adults out there, walking, walking for just everyday living.
CAVANAUGH: And, Colin, that’s another interaction, that’s another way to make a social…
DEPP: Actually, speaking of intergenerational programs, there’s a number of those in San Diego also through the Aging and Independent Services and there’s been a really nice research study on the Experience Corps, which is a kind of a mentoring program where seniors are helping at-risk children and in that study they showed the benefits of doing this activity on cognitive functioning, of volunteering, and they also spent less time watching TV and less time in sedentary activity as well. So I think that broadening the scope of what’s considered physical activity is potentially valuable.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Linda and Pearl, I’d like to get your advice on something because I know someone in my family who really should walk more than she does but she’s not really steady on her feet and sort of could use a cane when she walks to make sure that she’s not going to be falling but she doesn’t want to be seen walking with a cane. So I wonder if there’s anything that you might tell some – if you knew somebody like that to maybe encourage them to get out a little bit. Linda.
POLOWSKI: Well, my mother was like that. You know, she was a great walker, she always exercised a lot all her life. And when she was in her eighties, late eighties, she had to walk with a cane and it embarrassed her. But I would just go with her and sometimes she’d hold my hand or something like that until she, you know, got more confidence about walking and – and she started walking with her cane.
CAVANAUGH: It’s easy for someone who doesn’t have to walk for a cane – with a cane, to say, you know, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
POLOWSKI: Right, it is, but it is embarrassing to them.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Pearl, what would you tell her?
ABRAMS: Well, we do have – I did go to a balance class right at the senior center that they had to help you keep your balance. And many of the exercise classes, they do have where they try to increase your balance. But also, you know, it’s – I know it’s easy for me to say because I don’t need to walk with a cane, but you see so much of it that it’s pretty common now. Years ago, people, I guess, didn’t live as long and you didn’t really see many with a cane but today a lot of people are walking with a cane and I don’t know any other suggestion except that it’s good to get out and walk and the more they walk, maybe they could get – drop the cane, you know, not use the cane if they do walk.
CAVANAUGH: That’s always a possibility. Great advice.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Jim is calling us from Oceanside. Good morning, Jim. Welcome to These Days.
JIM (Caller, Oceanside): Hi. Thanks.
JIM: Good topic today. My mother is actually pretty heavily overweight and Type 2 diabetes and for a long time she was reluctant to do any working out of the sort because her joints were so sore. And her doctor actually recommended aquatic fitness as a rehab method and so we actually did go ahead and purchase an aquatic fitness system and start her using it. And it’s amazing the way that she’s gone from her immobility to really working in that water, doing exercise in the water, and she actually is up and walking around now and working her way up towards going to a yoga class. But it wouldn’t even have been possible before she started (audio dropout) water. So I wanted to mention for those people who really are so immobile that they have trouble walking around, aquatic fitness is really the way to go.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for that, Joe (sic). That’s another thing that we haven’t talked much about and that’s a very important part in all this. I want to talk to – I want to get your feeling about the issue that I started this whole hour on, the fact that babyboomers are now entering their senior years. What changes do you see on the horizon as that huge generation enters older age? Jacqueline.
KERR: I think one of the important things to consider is the healthcare costs and when you look at groups that are – have remained active and those that haven’t, there is a big difference in the healthcare costs that they incur because of not being active. So I think it’s really important to try and encourage people to stay active. And, again, we have to build a society that supports that and that it becomes the norm. And I think this generation – my parents walked across the Coronado Bridge this weekend and they’re 66, so, you know, if we really can have more people doing more things like that, I think it’ll become the norm and it will have great benefits for all populations.
CAVANAUGH: Colin, do you see more people doing Wii as they – the Wii games as they enter their sixties and seventies?
DEPP: Well, I think as we – as the babyboomers age, I think we’ll sort of see quite a few changes, I think, in what people consider exercise and how far people can sort of push themselves. I think we’ve heard stories about people engaging in marathons into their seventies and I – and 100 years ago, you would not have heard that. In fact, most people didn’t live to their seventies 100 years – so this is a sort of a whole new era and I think potentially consumer products could play a role in helping people exercise more in the home and in different ways than they previously thought of.
CAVANAUGH: That’s a fascinating idea. And, Jeanne, what do you see on the horizon?
NICHOLS: Well, I think technology is here to stay. I think we’re going to see more and more of these interactive video games. I’m hoping that equipment manufacturers will begin to work with exercise gerontologists to create the right kind of software that is easy to use, that is interesting, that will challenge those fitness elements that need to be challenged, again, balance and flexibility and so on. So I think it’s a exciting time. I think we’re going to see a lot more of that.
CAVANAUGH: Well, one of the things we might see more of is exercise on television, and I just wanted to mention the fact that I’ve gotten some information. That Feeling Fit Club that’s on television around the county is on Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on Cox Channel 19 or 24, and Time Warner Channel 124, Adelphia, Channel 66. And if you want to check that out, please do so. I want to thank all of my guests so much. Jeanne Nichols, Colin Depp, Jacqueline Kerr, thank you so much.
KERR: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: A special thank you to Linda Polowski and Pearl Abrams. Thanks so much for coming in…
POLOWSKI: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: …sharing your expertise. I really appreciate it. And on the phone, Robin Hochstadt, manager of the San Diego Silver Sneakers program. If you didn’t get a chance to have your call or your comment taken on the phone during the conversation, please go online, KPBS.org/thesedays, and post your comments there. This segment was conceived and produced by Hank Crook as a project for the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Thank you so much for listening and join us again tomorrow on These Days here on KPBS.
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