Moving in the Right Direction  
Walking is an excellent exercise and probably one of the most popular forms of exercise.  (Photo: Flickr user, nickharris1)
Walking is an excellent exercise and probably one of the most popular forms of exercise. (Photo: Flickr user, nickharris1)

Age with grace

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Aging is inevitable, but how we age is within our control. Pilates and yoga help us to age well and sustain a high quality of life. One of the primary benefits is an improved, stronger posture, which helps us to perform daily activities pain-free and adjust to changes in balance to avoid falling. As we age, daily activities can become overwhelming painful and exhausting and a once dynamic and responsive posture can become a tired and burdensome obstacle. Although the passage of time is inevitable, deformations in our posture are preventable if we look after ourselves. Today, this article is for those who want to age well. Whether you are 25 or 75, you can benefit from exercise, and more specifically, postural strengthening and stretching exercises.

We all know that a basic lack of activity over time has devastating effects on our muscle and skeletal systems. The negative effects of inactivity can be seen as a decrease in height, increase in body fat, decrease in bone mass, decreases in muscle mass, decrease flexibility, tired skin, increases in blood pressure, increases in dizziness, confusion and fainting, and a decrease in blood flow throughout the body. These are just some of the negative effects of inactivity, which should be enough to get anyone off the couch and out for a walk.

Walking is an excellent exercise and probably one of the most popular forms of exercise. Although it seems elementary, walking requires balance, whereby, there is a constant weight transfer from balancing on one foot to the other. Balance requires control over the center of gravity (the hip area) while we move. The ability to control our center of gravity is a function of strength and body awareness around our hips (gluteals, hip flexors, abdominals, low-back muscles). As the sense of balance changes, the body responds by contracting the support muscles around the hips and the rest of the spine to maintain an upright posture. Generally, older adults experience decreases in strength and have slower response times when firing postural support muscles. This leads to greater challenges when attempting to adjust to changes in balance. One way to avoid a loss of balance and falling is to maintain a consistent stable upright posture. A strong healthy posture is like saying, “Okay, I’m ready for whatever life has to throw at me.” It is the starting position from which all of our movements stem from. If we start with poor posture, we automatically put ourselves at risk of injury, and when one is progressed in years, that could look like a fall, hospitalization, and worse, potential fatality. Thankfully for us, the tools of Pilates and yoga teaches us how to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the spine. By strengthening our spine, we are able to maintain a consistent upright posture while we walk and perform various daily activities so that we delay the onset of fatigue and avoid detrimental falls.

When choosing a type of exercise, seniors especially have to weigh the risk-benefit factor of exercise. If the goal is a greater quality of life, Pilates and yoga offer the senior the best benefits at the lowest risk. While stretching and strengthening the muscles around the spine, Pilates and yoga also teaches breathing, body awareness, facilitates relationships, and life skills. All of my seniors have said that they have learned how to properly align their spine which has taken away their chronic back pain and Dorothy’s knee pain, and that they’ve all really enjoyed getting to know each other.

Giselle McGuinness, 74-years-old, says that her body feels stronger and that she has no more back pain. She finds it very interesting to learn about the different muscles she’s working and actually feel them in her body. She thought that it would be hard to come twice a week, but it's not because she likes it.

Dorothy Parks, seventy something (she won’t tell me), said that although she felt a little nervous coming in, she feels totally comfortable now. In fact, she leaves on a high. She also really loves the class because it doesn’t hurt her knee like all the other exercise classes she’s done. Dorothy has diabetes, and since she’s started pilates, she has been able to decrease her insulin by 10 points.

Mit Craig, 77-years-old, really likes the smaller classes so that she can get the attention she needs to do the exercises right and not hurt herself. She says that she used to leave fitness classes feeling exhausted, but now she leaves her Pilates class feeling better than when she came in. Mit hasn’t been in Kelowna for long and has enjoyed getting out and meeting other people who love to learn and exercise. Mit is the socialite of the class.

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About the Author

Lori Rockl graduated from UBC with a Bachelor of Political Science. After working with the Federal Government through two elections, she escaped back into her gifted life of fitness training and now owns a successful Pilates & Yoga studio. Although her clientel tell her often how much they learn from her, Lori would tell you that she is the one that learns the most from her clients. For Lori, the study of the mind-body connection is an infinitely fascinating study. She has found that Pilates and yoga are excellent tools for healthy living and incorporate those tools into her marathon and triathalon training. Please contact lori at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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