Senior Fitness

By Jim Riley

A good friend excitedly explained to me that during his last physical he received the great news that he was now in good health. It was proudly noted that his health indicator numbers were all in the “normal” range, a range that was a marked improvement compared to his last physical.

Because of those earlier results his doctor had put him on medications for pre-diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He also suggested he eat a healthier diet and exercise more, advice which my friend ignored. The medications had improved his numbers, which he understood to mean he was healthy again and he was elated.

It was readily apparent that my friend had gained considerable weight and I realized, following a brief discussion, that he had not changed his poor eating habits nor his sedentary ways as had been recommended.

He was especially pleased because his wife would no longer be inclined to remind him to improve lifestyle habits and make changes to his daily routines. It seemed he had heard only what he wanted to hear, that his numbers had improved, he was healthy again. The medications had “cured” him and his medical problems had gone away.

Medications were essential for controlling my friend’s problems, but they did not eliminate the need to eat a healthy diet and perform regular exercise. If he continues his current lifestyle of poor diet and inactivity, his health is likely to decline to the point where medication will no longer keep his problems under control and more serious problems are likely to occur.

Too frequently those with medical issues are conscientious about taking medications but find it difficult to make the lifestyle changes necessary to lead a healthier life. Taking pills is easy, changing lifestyle habits is difficult — it involves personal behavior change. For some people lifestyle changes may eliminate the need for medication, but for all an improvement in diet and exercise habits will lead to a healthier life.

There is much research that indicates that the benefits of cardio-vascular (aerobic exercise) not only helps prevent heart disease but seems to improve resistance to other maladies, including cancer, depression and dementia as well as stroke and heart disease and may even slow the aging process.

Having good health indicators from the last physical isn’t permission to indulge in poor dietary habits or become more sedentary.

  The new federal physical activity guidelines, updated in November, recommend that adults perform 75 minutes of vigorous (or 150 minutes of moderate) activity plus two sessions of strength training weekly. In addition, advice is to “move more and sit less” and encouraging people to understand that no matter what form movement takes or how long it lasts, it will improve health. We need to go back to the old days when movement was a way of life.

  The guidelines also recommend eating a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean protein, limited sweets and healthy fats. In summary, we need to get off the couch and move more and ditch the chips.

Having numbers that indicate good health is great, but it is not a permission slip to practice an unhealthy lifestyle.