Part 2- Physical Health:
In part one of this, I talked about the trend toward increasing mental and emotion health in aging boomers, as they pick up new challenges to make a mark in the world. Today’s post talks about how boomers are maintaining control over their physical health. I am writing these posts in the hope that others will also be empowered to take on new challenges and join the wave of strong agers. Again today I have an anecdote to begin:
I mentioned that last Sunday I was part of a team that participated in the Run For the Cure. Well, two of my older sisters were also on that team. One sister began on a new health journey last January first, when she quit smoking. In April, she joined us in a 10K race in Victoria. She walked that race and finished near the back of the pack. In fact, she jokes about how there were some parts of the race where only the ambulance was behind her, driving slowly along, and she kept trying to pick up her pace just a bit for fear that they would tell her she had to get in and ride the rest of the way. She felt she was successful then because she did not finish last in that race.
In the Run for the Cure we all went at our own pace, and those who finished earlier waited at the finish line to cheer in our other team members. Imagine how much we whooped and hollered when only about half our team had arrived in and we spotted this same sister running to the finish line! She had been training in secret (just her and her dog on their own walks) and it has taken her less than six months to increase her speed and stamina that much!
She is not alone, either. As the boomer generation ages, they are becoming known as the fittest seniors in history. People 55 and better are the fastest-growing population in U.S. health clubs, up by 380% since 1987(1). And the best news is that so many of them are actually improving their health as they get older. Some criticize them for refusing to age “gracefully”, but what the boomers are really doing is demanding (and working for) a good quality of life throughout their entire lifespan, and more and more of them are discovering key components are diet and exercise. In a survey conducted by the American Arthritis Foundation, 40% of athletes older than 40 years of age believed that they now live a healthier and more physically fit lifestyle than they had in their 20s (2).
The news gets better for the latecomers to exercise, as new studies are showing that you really can turn the clock back, and you are never too old to become fit. In the past it was believed that muscle loss was inevitable with aging, and women especially were told to expect to lose 30% of their strength during and after menopause, with additional losses of 30% more per decade after age 70. However, we have recently learned that this muscle loss only happens if we stop working the muscles (3). But what if you missed the boat on this and never built the muscle mass in the first place? Well, also contrary to old beliefs, studies have now shown that a 90 year old has nearly equal capacity to a 30 year old to create new muscle fibre (4)(5). A mere two months of resistance training can reverse up to 20 years of muscle loss in seniors!
This is exciting on so many levels. For many of us older people it means we need to take another look at our bucket lists, and start putting some things back on there that we thought we were too old to do. And for the younger people, it means you can breathe a sigh of relief- we aren’t going to wipe out the healthcare system after all. And just think of all the new career opportunities in providing the services to support the aging health nuts! (For example check out Fitness Centers: The Hottest Club for Single Seniors, on SeniorPeopleMeet.com).
(1) IHRSA/American Sports Data Health Club Trend Report, 2012.
(2) Manley, M., Wright, V., Benefits of Exercise and Sports, http://vondawright.com/images/pdf/benefits_of_exercise_and_sports.pdf
(3) Wroblewski, A., Amati,F., Smiley, M.,Goodpaster, B.,Wright, V. Chronic Exercise Preserves Lean Muscle Mass in Masters Athletes. https://physsportsmed.org/doi/10.3810/psm.2011.09.1933
(4) McComas AJ. Skeletal muscle: Form and function. Human Kinetics v2 (2005).
(5) Fiatarone, M.A., Marks, E.C., Ryan, N.D., Meredith, C.N., Lipsitz, C.A., Evans, W.J. High Intensity Strength Training in Nonegenarians. Journal of the American Medical Association 263 (1990): 3029-3034.