Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute On Aging

Chapter 5

Table of Contents

"The fellowship of exercise is wonderful."
-Emma King, 75, Durham, North Carolina

When astronauts come back to earth after extended space missions, they sometimes can't walk or perform other physical activities very well, at first. Because the weightlessness of space makes it possible for astronauts to push and pull objects without effort, their muscles become weak. Back on earth, the same principle applies to the muscles of sedentary older adults: If you don't use them, you lose them. The good news is that, at any age, almost any older adult or astronaut can improve strength through exercise.

How Am I Doing?

There are ways to tell when it's time to move ahead in your activities, and we have mentioned some of them in the preceding chapter. For example, when you can lift a weight more than 15 times, you know it's time to add more weight in your strength exercises. And when endurance activities no longer feel somewhat hard to you, it's time to exercise a little longer, then to add a little more difficulty, like walking up steeper hills.

As you progress, you can do some simple tests, shown in this chapter, that will tell you just how far you have come. These tests also can help you assess how fit you are before you start exercising. After that, try them again every month. Record your scores each time, so you can see your improvement the next time you test yourself.

You might be interested in doing these tests for a couple of reasons. For one, most people make rapid progress soon after they start exercising, and you might find the improvement you see in your scores after just a month encouraging.

For another, these tests are a good way of letting you know if you really are progressing. Although it's normal for your improvement to slow down at times, your test scores should get better overall (unless you have reached your goal and are maintaining your current level).

If you are not in condition to do these tests right now, keep working on your current exercises and activities until you are. Whether you are testing or actually exercising, your pace should never make you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseated, and you shouldn't feel pain. If you have a chronic medical condition, or are at risk of developing one, follow the guidelines in Chapter 2 before testing yourself.

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1. Endurance
See how far you can walk in exactly 6 minutes. Write down how far you walked (in feet, blocks, laps, miles, number of times you walked up and down a long hallway, or whatever is convenient for you). Do this test every month. As your endurance improves, you should find that you can walk farther in 6 minutes.

2. Lower-Body Power
Time yourself as you walk up a flight of stairs (at least 10 steps) as fast as you safely can. Record your score. Repeat the test, using the same stairs, one month later. It should take you less time.

3. Strength
Each time you do your strength exercises, use the chart in the back of this book to record how much weight you lift and how many times you lift that weight. Another chart shows how much more weight you can lift, and how many more times you can lift it, compared to the month before.

4. Balance
Time yourself as you stand on one foot, without support, for as long as possible (stand near something sturdy to hold onto, in case you lose your balance). Record your score. Repeat the test while standing on the other foot. Test yourself again in one month. The amount of time you can stand on one foot should increase.


Chapter Summary
This chapter describes simple tests to see how you are progressing. They measure endurance, lower-body power, strength, and balance. Do the tests before you begin increasing your physical activity, to establish a baseline measurement. Repeat the tests each month. If you test yourself more often, you are not likely to see improvement, and that may discourage you. On the other hand, watching your scores improve every month can be very encouraging.

Be sure to use the safety guidelines listed for the exercises shown in Chapters 2 and 4 when you do these tests.

You might not be able to complete the tests shown in this chapter, at first. That means you aren't ready yet. Try again after a month of exercises and physical activities.

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Enjoying Retirement

Until he was 48 years old, Ron Ekovich, of Leesville, South Carolina, smoked a pack of cigarettes every day. Looking to the future made him decide to quit.

"I figured I had to make some changes in my life if I was going to enjoy my retirement," he told us.

Needless to say, Mr. Ekovich, who is now 61 years old, no longer smokes. He works out with strength-building equipment 3 days a week, and he carries his own bag of clubs on the 3 days a week that he plays golf.

And he stretches. "If I had to choose the most important thing you can do as you get older, it would be stretching. It helps keep you self-sufficient," he said. Mr. Ekovich was only half-joking when he gave an example: When his back itches, he said, he's able to just reach back and scratch it. Ron golfing This example might seem funny...unless you aren't able to scratch your own back.

"The more physical activity you get the better you feel. The achievement makes you feel great emotionally, and it makes you feel good physically," he said.

Mr. Ekovich also cites a person's outlook as an important component of physical activity and exercise. "The only thing that limits people's ability to achieve their goals is themselves," he said. He recently finished shoveling about 10 tons of earth -- that's 20,000 pounds -- to make a new garden for his wife.

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