Guest Author, Wendy Chossek, CTRS, Lifestyle Consultant
Do you every watch the Today Show and catch Willard Scott’s lists of birthday wishes sponsored by Smucker’s? I enjoy listening to the centenarians who attribute their longevity to an activity like singing in the church choir, tending roses, doing 100 sit-ups each day, or playing poker, and to an occasional beer or shot of something stronger. While it is true that some of us are genetically lucky when it comes to living longer, the Smucker’s birthday cohort illustrates attributes of equal or more importance. They all share a positive outlook and a desire to keep active both physically and socially.
We all help to create our own state of health first in our minds. This goes a long way to explain all the stories of skydivers at age 100 and mountain climbers and adventurers in their 70s and 80s. Even with the aches and pains one can expect after eight or more decades of life, these folks keep active in a way that makes sense for them. A trip to our Facebook page reveals the number of residents in our communities celebrating 70 plus years of marriage and milestone birthdays. We may not have a triathlete among our residents at the moment, but we have plenty of folks who do not use a number as an indicator of their age. They have always been active and continue to exercise routinely, even if they need to modify some activities.
Some of the best exercise methods for older adults are alternative practices such as Pilates, yoga and tai chi. All three can be practiced in a format that emphasizes strength conditioning and requires more exertion, but all can be followed in styles that are more gentle on the body. For example, many of our communities offer a modified yoga class where participants use a chair for support or do yoga moves while seated. One location offers yoga choreographed to cello music!
Tai chi is a self-paced system of gentle postures or movements that are practiced in a fluid and graceful manner so that the body stays in constant motion. With all the different styles and variations of tai chi, there are more than 100 possible movements. Most important it can be practiced in a way that is suitable to an individual’s physical ability. This is one reason that tai chi is suggested for those with Parkinson’s to help improve balance, flexibility and muscle strength.
Tai chi also creates a sense of relaxation and calm. Since it requires some concentration to focus on the movement and breathing, ta chi is an excellent exercise to reduce stress and tension. It is often recommended for those with arthritis and other painful chronic conditions to gently work muscle groups and relieve pain.
All three alternative exercise programs can be practiced alone, but many find doing it in a group class is more enjoyable. This may seem counter intuitive. There is no competition and everyone proceeds according to what their individual physical needs and limitations. It is also common to lose oneself in the movement and lose awareness of others in the room. Still the comradery of the group and the ability to learn new techniques from others keeps things fresh and ever changing.
Age alone is no reason to stop being physically active. Many of our residents, like the Smucker’s centenarians, exercise by way of a variety of activities and enjoy a socially active lifestyle, determined to enjoy their later years. One such resident is Millie Bayha, 106 years and counting. You can read more about Millie who was featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Her secret? Staying active and having a wonderful outlook on life.
Wendy Chossek has been helping seniors stay active for over sixteen years. She is a CTRS-Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist and earned a Bachelor of Science in Therapeutic Recreation from UW-LaCrosse. Wendy is also a former Fit Over 50 Exercise Instructor and an active member of the Arthritis Foundation.