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June, 2007

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Fit at any age
by Emily Wilkinson
At any age and fitness level, exercise is crucial to maintaining health and well-being. But seniors have particular needs and benefits when it comes to exercise. Not only can regular exercise prevent and reverse the effects of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and high cholesterol, it is key in maintaining independence and mobility.
“Your personal liberties and abilities are related to your strength and physical fitness, ” says certified fitness instructor Veronica Nemeth.
Among the various exercise groups Nemeth leads, she has been training a group of women in their 80s for the past two years. Once a week, Dorothy Dunkley, Catherine Basham and Marjorie Rose, the self-termed “Golden Girls,” meet at Dorothy’s to start their morning with an exercise program designed to capitalize on their existing autonomy.
Whether balancing on one foot, tossing around a weighted ball, or practicing rowing motions, the exercises Nemeth chooses serve a practical purpose. “I think it’s done a lot to keep me mobile,” says Marjorie. For her, this is crucial. “I have to get up and down stairs and do things around the house.”
“Strong people stay young in that they stay capable and functional,” Nemeth says. What’s more, your brain benefits too. “When you make yourself stronger, you’re exercising your neurological impulses as well, maintaining coordination, balance, and reflexes .”
Once you start exercising, it’s important to choose activities appropriate to your fitness level. “I usually don’t suggest high impact activities for seniors, because, as our bodies get more wear and tear, our joint alignment might not be right for it, ” Nemeth says. Instead, joining a walking club is a good way to ensure you’re exercising at the right intensity.
Even with a trainer, it’s important to talk about any pain you might feel. For instance, at the start of the Golden Girls ’ session, Nemeth asks the women how they feel. This way, she can know which exercises to avoid, to prevent injury.
Later, Dorothy, who has just been diagnosed with a back problem, mentions pain she feels while doing bicep curls. Nemeth responds by supporting Dorothy ’s back during the exercise and by reminding her: “If anything is hurting and you can’t readjust to make it better, stop the exercise.” By the end of the session, Dorothy is doing well. “I feel better than I did,” she says. “My back was really bothering me this morning but I’m not feeling any pain right now.”
Aside from mind and body, Nemeth also stresses the emotional benefits of exercise. “As we get older, our hormonal activity decreases,” she says. This decrease is often followed by a drop in serotonin levels, which can result in a bout of the blues. “Exercise helps to boost hormonal activity, which can improve mood dramatically.” Not to mention the confidence you can gain from exercising, or the people you can meet doing it.
Marjorie, Catherine and Dorothy, who weren’t close friends before they started training with Nemeth, now crack witty jokes with one another. When Nemeth tells the comfortably seated Catherine that it ’s time for “Kitchen Counter Push-Offs,” (a low resistance push-up done from a standing position) Catherine dryly replies “That’s OK, I’ll just wait here and you can bring the counter over here.”
“We work hard,” Nemeth says, “but we also do a lot of giggling.”
Veronica Nemeth holds certificates in Personal Fitness Training from McGill University and from the YMCA/YWCA. She can be contacted at: (514) 562-0510 or by email at: very.fit@gmail.com

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