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  1. 5 Exercise Myths for People 55 and Older

    While it’s expected that most older people tend to slow down with age, the notion that seniors and soon-to-be seniors should trade in exercise and their active lifestyles for bingo and rocking chairs is definitely antiquated, say physical therapists.

    And yet, when it comes to exercise for the 55-and-older population, plenty of myths continue to drive people’s actions – or rather, inactions – when it comes to putting in the right amount of sweat equity to stay healthy and active.

    From a physiological perspective, sure, most people are going to start to slow down in various ways as they get older, but that doesn’t mean seniors and soon-to-be seniors should lean into these so-called consequences of aging. Age is just a number, they say. And while one must be mindful about the ways in which they adapt activities to certain age-related limitations, regular exercise remains just as critical later in life as at any other point.

    To help encourage the 55-and-older crowd to continue making exercise a standard aspect of their everyday lives, here is a list of the top five exercise myths when it comes to fitness at an advanced age:

    Myth 1: “It’s Too Late to Start” – It doesn’t matter what you’ve done before now. Even if you’ve never had a regular exercise routine before, it’s never too late to start. “Better late than never” when it comes to exercise isn’t just an adage; it’s a statement backed by multiple studies. Exercising later in life can lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some types of cancer.

    Myth 2: “My Body’s Too Frail” (aka, “I Might Break a Hip”) – Unless you’ve been told this by a medical professional (i.e., physician or physical therapist) based on a specific condition or injury, this is likely fear talking. Not only does regular exercise help strengthen your body’s stability, balance and flexibility, reducing the chances of a fall, but it can also help strengthen your bones. (More on that later.)

    Myth 3: “I Have Joint Pain, so I Should Stay Away from Exercise” – Again, the opposite is true. According to medical research, it’s crucial people with arthritis partake in regular exercise. Not only does it improve strength and flexibility, but exercise can also reduce joint stiffness and pain while helping sufferers ward off fatigue.

    Myth 4: “I’m Too Old for Weight Training” – Weight training, also known as resistance and strength training, actually takes on a more critical role as you age. Studies show that not only does a stronger body help seniors stay upright and confident, but weight-bearing exercise can also ward off the onset of osteoporosis by helping maintain bone density.

    Myth 5: “I’m Better Off Focusing on My Mind, Not My Body” – Fact is, focusing on the body is focusing on the mind. According to multiple studies, including one published last month in Nature Medicine, exercise improves brain health, helps ward off dementia, and may even slow the progression of dementia. In addition, exercise reduces stress and anxiety, and staying active often equates to a better social life.

    According to 2018 physical guidelines by the U.S. Department of Health, older adults should shoot for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, plus weekly balance and muscle strengthening exercises.

    And while fitness levels and certain limitations shouldn’t keep most older adults from exercise, some exercises may require modifications based on such conditions. Fortunately, a physical therapist can provide personalized guidance based on individual health conditions, movement limitations and physician recommendations.

  2. 5 Fitness Tips to Keep Introverts Moving

    If you have a more introverted personality, joining a gym, exercise class or workout group may not be your cup of tea. But, that doesn’t have to hold you back from achieving fitness or weight-loss goals.

    Finding a workout routine that fits your personality is one of the key ways to achieve optimal results. And, that holds particularly true for introverts – those who may be uneasy about joining a gym or a fitness class due to crowds of people, loud music, or the seemingly prying eyes of other members.

    It’s been estimated that one-third or more of the U.S. population falls at least partially into the category of “introverts.” This doesn’t necessarily equate to shyness, however.

    An introvert is more likely to find many social or group interactions draining. In contrast, they are generally more stimulated and energized by personal or alone time.

    If you’re an introvert looking for a little more personal comfort and stimulation when workout out, consider the following advice to help you achieve your fitness goals:

    1. Exercise Solo: If you’re more comfortable by yourself or just don’t feel like dealing with crowds of people at the gym, simply consider fitness options you can do on your own – options like running, swimming, cycling or going for a walk. As exercise itself is energizing, so too is alone time for an introvert’s spirit.

    2. Use the Buddy System: A misconception about introverts is they always prefer being alone. The truth is, introverts enjoy spending quality time with close friends, and this can be beneficial when exploring various fitness options. Bringing a buddy to the gym or a fitness class can make the experience much more positive than going alone.

    3. Seek Inner Focus: Introverts are known for “living in their heads,” so to speak, and often this breeds a level of creativity and personal reflection they find stimulating. So, consider types of exercises known for benefiting the body as well as the inner spirit – activities like yoga, Pilates, tai chi, stretching, deep breathing, etc.

    4. Arm Yourself with Headphones: Sometimes, you just can’t beat access to the space and equipment a fitness club can provide. So, if you just can’t turn your back on the gym, make the experience easier with a good set of headphones. Not only can you choose your own audio motivators (i.e., music, podcasts, books, etc.), but simply wearing headphones can help ward off unwanted conversation.

    5. Stream at Home: Streaming at-home fitness apps have come a long way over the last couple of years. Services like Peloton, Aaptiv, ClassPass, etc., offer professional-level streaming workout programs (and equipment, in some cases) for at-home fitness.

    With all at-home workout programs, however, use caution. While some at-home programs can be good, they can’t provide immediate feedback about incorrect form, movement deficiencies and weaknesses in strength and flexibility that, over time, can lead to discomfort, pain or injury.

    Consider consulting a physical therapist prior to starting a particular plan to ensure it’s not only safe, but also aligns with your goals and fitness level.

  3. Strength Training Critical for Active, Independent Aging

    To the 43 million Americans who have low bone density, putting them at high risk of osteoporosis, physical therapists have an important message: exercise is good medicine. But not just any exercise – weight-bearing, muscle-strengthening exercise.

    “Essential to staying strong and vital during older adulthood is participation in regular strengthening exercises, which help prevent osteoporosis and frailty by stimulating the growth of muscle and bone,” said David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., U.S. Surgeon General from 1998 to 2002. “Strength training exercises are easy to learn, and have been proven safe and effective through years of thorough research.”

    And while this benefit of strength training for older adults is a powerful one, it’s simply just one in a list of proven reasons why seniors should make strength training a part of their lifestyles and fitness regimens.

    While a reduction in strength is often considered an inevitable part of getting older, people of all ages should feel empowered to take charge of their overall health (including strength training) as they age.

    Along with diet and regular check-ups with both a physician and a physical therapist, an exercise regimen that includes elements of strength and resistance training can help slow some of the effects of aging – this, while also allowing one to maintain a high quality of life through activity and independence.

    “The work of scientists, health professionals, and older adult volunteers has greatly increased our knowledge about the aging process and how we can maintain strength, dignity and independence as we age,” Satcher said.

    According to reams of medical research, the many proven benefits of weight-bearing and resistance exercise include:

    Rebuilding Muscle: People do lose muscle mass as they age, but much of this can be slowed and even reversed through strength and resistance exercise. And of course, a stronger body has a direct impact on issues related to balance, fall prevention and independence.

    Reducing Fat: We also tend to more easily put on weight as we get older. Studies show, however, that while older adults gain muscle mass through strength training, they also experience a reduction in body fat.

    Reducing Blood Pressure: Studies have also shown that strength training is a great (and natural) way to reduce one’s blood pressure, even for those who “can’t tolerate or don’t respond well to standard medications.”

    Improving Cholesterol Levels: Strength training can actual help improve the level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol in the body by up to 21 percent, while also helping to reduce to levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

    Strengthening Mental Health: This goes with all exercise, including strength training. Maintaining a high level of fitness can combat anxiety, depression, issues with stress, etc. Exercise is also great for memory!

    Whether walking, jogging, hiking, dancing, etc., experts recommend 30 minutes of weight-bearing activity every day. Guidelines also suggest it’s also necessary to set aside another two to three days of strength and resistance training each week, which can include free weights, weight machines, Pilates, yoga, and so on.

    And for the sake of both health and safety, a thorough strength, movement and balance assessment should precede any new exercise regimen, especially for older adults – assessments that physical therapists are uniquely qualified to perform.

  4. Holidays an Ideal Time for Refresher on Proper, Safer Lifting

    Digging out boxes of holiday decorations, hauling packages to and from the car, hiding gifts away on the higher shelves at the back of your closet … the Holiday Season certainly requires its fair share of bending, lifting and reaching. This, coupled with the cooler weather, makes December the ideal time for a refresher on proper lifting methods.

    Back pain, after all, can put a real damper on the Holiday Season.

    As one of the most common conditions treated by physical therapists, back pain and injury will even about 80 percent of all Americans at some point in their lives, making it one of the top causes of disability in the U.S. Fortunately, it’s a condition that’s preventable, and one of the ways of doing this is to learn proper lifting techniques.

    But, preventing back pain isn’t the only concern when we talk about proper lifting. Using the proper techniques for lifting and carrying awkward and/or heavy objects is about minimizing strain on the entire body.

    The goal, in other words, is to put yourself in a position that allows the body’s musculoskeletal system to work as one cohesive unit, without putting too much strain on one area, such as the lower-back or shoulders.

    So without further ado, strongly consider the following tips for proper lifting during this Holiday Season … and throughout your lifetime:

    Warm Up: Don’t ever assume your body’s ready to lift heavy objects without first being thoroughly warmed up. Take the time to stretch you lower back as well as your legs and hips. Also, do a few jumping jacks to get the blood flowing to the muscles in your body.

    Get Close: Avoid reaching for a heavy or moderate-sized load. Get up nice and close to the box or object to minimize the force (in the arms, shoulders and back) needed to lift, and always hold it close to your body.

    Bend & Lift with the Knees: We’ve all heard this before, and it’s true. But in doing so, keep your back straight and your body upright as you lower yourself to the object in question, then use your legs to rise back up.

    Get a Grip: This seems to go without saying, but if you can’t get a strong, comfortable grip on the object in front of you – even if you know you can carry the weight – don’t try to be a hero. Find someone to help you or an alternative way of getting the object from A to B, such as a hand cart or dolly.

    Reverse the Steps: When you get to where you’re going, set the item down just as you picked it up – but in reverse. Keep it close to the body, lower with the legs and move slowly and deliberately. You can just as easily injure yourself setting objects down as you can picking them up.

    In addition, keep from twisting or reaching while lifting and/or carrying a load. Don’t rush through the process of lifting, and if you’re tired, put the work off until later

    And finally, if you do feel pain during or after lifting, or you have an injury or condition you feel is holding you back from moving properly, visit a physical therapist for a full assessment prior to trying any sort of heavy or awkward lifting.

  5. Did You Know? National Physical Therapy Month Edition

    October is National Physical Therapy Month, and physical therapists everywhere are jumping at the opportunity to remind people about the important role improved and restored movement has on improving society.

    “Pain-free movement is crucial to your quality of daily life, your ability to earn a living, your ability to pursue your favorite leisure activities, and so much more,” states Move Forward, the official consumer information site of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

    Thankfully, more than 204,000 physical therapists are currently licensed in the U.S., all practicing under a single vision statement: transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience.

    According to the APTA, physical therapists are highly educated, licensed health care professionals who exist to help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility – in many cases without the need for expensive surgery and often reducing the need for long-term use of prescription drugs.

    “Human health and quality of life depend on the ability to move skillfully and efficiently,” the APTA states in a document titled The Human Movement System. “As a human movement system practitioner, the [physical therapist] has the expertise to examine, diagnose and treat all elements of this system to produce a meaningful change in an individual’s movement behavior and physical function.

    “The PT uses his or her integrative knowledge to establish a plan of care to maximize physical performance of people of all ages, pathologies or levels of physical function.”

    This, of course, includes post-injury/surgical rehabilitation, but physical therapy is much more than that. In fact, physical therapists are specially trained and licensed to improve people’s lives through the treatment of a number of ailments you may not have previously suspected, such as:

    Headaches: Following a thorough evaluation, a physical therapist (PT) can treat chronic tension-type headaches, the most common primary headache disorder, according to the World Health Organization. A PT can identify the cause of such headaches (e.g., muscle tension, joint dysfunction in the neck/jaw, poor posture or stress) and work to improve mobility, strength, posture, and daily work/office routines.

    Pre-Natal/Post-Partum Care: Physical therapists can offer relief for expecting mothers experiencing pain and discomfort in the back, hips and legs through treatment and exercise. After delivery, physical therapy is effective in treating back and pelvic pain while helping new moms strengthen their bodies for the rigors of motherhood.

    Balance, Dizziness & Vertigo: Physical therapists can assess a person’s balance and risk of fall, then provide treatment (e.g., strength training, flexibility or range of motion exercises, for instance) to help improve balance. Many physical therapists are also specially trained to treat positional vertigo, which can often be successfully treated in a single visit.

    Athletic Enhancement: From weekend warriors to elite athletes, physical therapists work with our most active to help them move better, train better and realize their greatest potential as competitors. PTs can provide movement analyses, establish a better training regimen, and assist with equipment selection and adjustments (e.g., shoe orthotics, for instance, or bike fitting).

    In addition, the APTA notes that most PT clients in the U.S. don’t need a physician’s referral in order directly access physical therapy services – unless, of course, such referral is required in order to bill insurance. Contact your physical therapist to learn more.

    RESOURCES:

    APTA: Physical Therapist Practice and The Human Movement
    http://www.apta.org/MovementSystem/

    APTA: Vision Statement for the Physical Therapy Professional & Guiding Principles to Achieve the Vision
    http://www.apta.org/Vision/

    APTA: Who Are Physical Therapists?
    http://www.apta.org/AboutPTs/

    Move Forward: Benefits of Physical Therapy
    http://www.moveforwardpt.com/Benefits/Default.aspx#.VgxhehFVhBc

    APTA: PT Careers Overview
    http://www.apta.org/PTCareers/Overview/

    Lehigh Valley Health Network: 10 Ways Physical Therapy Can Help
    http://www.lvhn.org/wellness_resources/wellness_articles/healthy_living/10_ways_physical_therapy_can_help

    Move Forward: Physical Therapist’s Guide to Headaches
    http://www.moveforwardpt.com/symptomsconditionsdetail.aspx?cid=fd8a18c8-1893-4dd3-9f00-b6e49cad5005#.VfxCyBFVhBc

    Move Forward: Benefits of Physical Therapy
    http://www.moveforwardpt.com/Benefits/Default.aspx#.VgrJARFVhBc

    World Health Organization: Headache disorders
    http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs277/en/

  6. Pools Offer Fitness and Relief for Older Adults

    While drinking plenty of water is critical to life, health and healing, simply submerging your body in water (i.e., a pool) opens up opportunities for relief and fitness for those who otherwise may have difficulty exercising.

    This is especially important for aging adults and those with chronic conditions, say physical therapists and other health care professionals.

    “When you do an exercise on land, like jogging, you get an impact on your joints,” said Torben Hersbork, an osteopath from the Central London Osteopathy and Sports Injury Clinic. “But, when you exercise in the water, you don’t have any gravity forcing your body weight down onto your joints.”

    Because of this, experts say water exercise is ideal for people dealing with issues related to strength, flexibility, balance, sore joints and pain. This includes people recovering from injury or surgery, as well as those with chronic conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes.

    The buoyancy of waist-deep water, for example, can support around half our body weight, while neck-deep water can reduce body weight by up to 90 percent. Such reduction in weight and impact on the joints can help people who may experience difficulty standing, balancing and exercising on land to move more freely – and often with less pain.

    In addition, water offers 12 times the resistance of the air around us. Because of this added resistance, movement and exercise while submerged in a pool can help build overall strength and stability in the body.

    “If you are over 50, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends moderately intense aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day, four times a week, plus resistance strength training, plus balance and flexibility training,” said Mary E. Sanders, a researcher at the University of Nevada (Reno). “A swimming pool provides the one place where you can do all of that at the same time without the need for a lot of machines – at your own pace and more comfortably.”

    One study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise back in 2007 showed that older women who regularly participated in a pool-based exercise program performed better in daily tasks than others who exercised similarly on land. The women in the study, for example, improved their walking speed by 16 percent, their agility by 20 percent, and their ability to walk stairs by 22 percent.

    Another study published earlier in the same publication (2002) showed that combining aqua aerobics with strength training while in the pool helped participants increase their strength by 27 percent in the quads, 40 percent in the hamstrings, and about 10 percent in the upper body.

    Even when people suffer from common chronic diseases like arthritis and osteoporosis, water exercise can help improve the use of affected joints while decreasing overall pain.

    “Exercise is an integral part of any arthritis treatment program, as it helps to strengthen and stabilize the joints, preventing further damage,” wrote Andrew Cole, M.D., an author on Arthritis-Health.com. “Water therapy is an excellent option for patients with osteoarthritis of the knees, hip osteoarthritis, and spinal osteoarthritis due to the decreased pressure placed on the joints.”

    Those who feel pool exercise or aquatic therapy may help them improve fitness levels or overall functional abilities should first contact their physical therapist for professional guidance. A physical therapist can help identify your greatest weaknesses and needs, then develop a pool fitness plan that specifically addresses these needs and your personal goals.

    SOURCES:

    Arthritis-Health.com: Water Therapy for Osteoarthritis
    https://www.arthritis-health.com/treatment/exercise/water-therapy-osteoarthritis

    AAPR: Making a Splash with Water Workouts
    https://www.aarp.org/health/fitness/info-2007/water_workouts.html

    AARP: Water Works Aquatic Activity: A Painless Way to Stay Fit
    https://www.aarp.org/health/fitness/info-12-2008/water_works_aquatic_activity_a_painless_way_to_stay_fit.html

    “Take It to the Pool: Benefits of Aquatic Exercise for Arthritis”
    https://fox11online.com/sponsored/osmsgb/take-it-to-the-pool-benefits-of-aquatic-exercise-for-arthritis

    Daily Mail: How Can Aqua-Exercises Help You Slim?
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-105285/How-aqua-exercises-help-slim.html

    Cleveland Clinic: Benefits of Water-Based Exercise
    https://health.clevelandclinic.org/benefits-of-water-based-exercise/

    CDC: Health Benefits of Water-Based Exercise
    https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/swimmers/health_benefits_water_exercise.html

    WebMD: Water Exercise for Seniors
    https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/water-exercise-seniors#1