“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing” George Bernard Shaw
If you’re on the cusp of traditional retirement age like myself, many of us will have a third of our lives ahead of us, something unimaginable 100 years ago. But while advances in medical science and technology have increased our lifespan significantly, this does not necessarily guarantee a good quality of life as we age. Shouldn’t we aspire to not just want live longer, but with better health and vitality in our retirement years?
Studies show that retirees who continue to be productive and engaged in their communities and are physically active, are less likely to suffer from chronic disease and increased morbidity. In fact, it becomes more important to be physically active as we age, not less, to prevent declining health and mobility. At least one in five Americans over sixty-five are in poor health. Two in five have muscular skeletal issues that compromise their mobility. Here are some other staggering statistics: Every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall and every 19 minutes an older adult dies as a result from a fall.
Gait and balance disorders are a major cause of falls in older adults. Your posture and gait are involuntary, reflexive events that your body has adapted to over your lifetime. Every hour you’re sitting on your chair and every step you take reinforces your posture and gait, for better or worse. For example, if you’re sitting slouched for hours on end looking down on your computer device, then stand up and think that you’re no longer slouching, think again. Whether you’re aware of it or not, your sedentary habits decrease blood flow, synovial fluid, and range of motion in your joints, making you more susceptible to knee and hip replacement, as well as falling as you age. It’s no coincidence that older people who are sedentary also tend to be the same people we see stooped over their walkers, shuffling along. Certainly, degenerative disease or neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s can affect a person’s posture and gait. However, a lifetime of inactivity can lead to decrepitude in your retirement years.
My dad worked hard and provided for his family while living a long, honorable life, but then had a compromised retirement because of poor health. He was 80 years old when he died from cardiac arrest while in the hospital being treated for sepsis. Most of his adult life he was overweight and sedentary, which led to numerous chronic health problems and mobility issues later in life. In his mid-seventies, his once sturdy, six-foot three frame, changed into a hunched over, slow-moving old man who became more prone to falling. He also relied on numerous medications and a walking device to help stabilize his declining health. The last couple of years of his life, he was depressed and dependent on my mom and a healthcare system that kept him alive at the expense of his quality of life.
On the other hand, my 83 year old mom is thriving in her retirement years. Throughout her adult life and into retirement, her active, fun-loving nature has served her well. First, she was a vibrant stay-at-home mom, hustling about, doing daily housekeeping chores while caring for her four children and husband. Later, she worked as a para-educator but still managed the household and made sure the family needs were met; rising early to prepare our lunches and getting us to school on time, driving us to and from our after-school programs and sporting events, but also setting aside time for herself to read, or go for a walk. My mom and dad were both active in their community, attending church weekly and volunteering their time at church events, coaching youth sports, hosting neighborhood potlucks, and later in life becoming golf course ambassadors. While in retirement my mom continues to stay active and independent, still maintaining the house I grew up in, vacationing in Lake Tahoe, and getting plenty of regular outdoor activity, whether that’s gardening, taking daily walks, or playing golf with her friends.
No matter your age or physical abilities, it’s never too late to start taking steps to improve your health and well-being. Our fitness classes, wellness content, and the connection to your fitness community can help build your resilience and guide you to better health as you age. However, a lasting healthy lifestyle change requires daily awareness of your posture and activity level to overcome the pitfalls of being sedentary.
Our weekday Functional Fitness classes emphasize the importance of postural alignment and variation of movement. Whether I’m teaching a seated or standing class, I start every session in mountain pose (Tadasana) in order to bring awareness to our posture and breath. Proper spinal mechanics also start with a braced, neutral spine which is key to moving safely, effectively, and avoiding injury or falls. Functional movement is also meant to improve the health and development of your body so that daily physical tasks and recreational activity can be performed with greater ease and efficiency. Moving better and more often throughout your day generally leads to aging well and with more vitality throughout your retirement years!