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BETTER HEALTH: Active Ageing

Nakiah Thomas-Edwards

BETTER HEALTH: Active Ageing
Senior athlete Stephanie Greaves. (FILE)

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By the year 2025, Barbados is expected to have over 50 000 citizens 65 years or older.

And while policymakers and health experts will comment on the impact of this on the social and health care systems, their prescription rarely includes popularising a seniors wellness programme.

“Our people are living longer so we have to ensure that their quality of life is fully enjoyable as they live out their golden years.  Gone are the days of the elderly staying at home and living a sedentary lifestyle. Gone are the days of believing that “old” people had no business on our stadium track.

“Thanks to initiatives such as the National Senior Games and other programmes offered by senior centres like the Soroptimist Activity Centre, we are now aware that our seniors have the potential to be quite sprightly and active as they once were,” argues educator Femi Mascoll.

Rehab therapist and physical trainer, Constance ‘Connie’ Francis said physical activity is one of the best things seniors can do to maintain and improve their overall health.” That activity prevents some of the chronic illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, even obesity from occurring. It could also delay the onset of these same illnesses.”

Francis further stated that while people were familiar with the weight loss benefits of exercise, there are also significant benefits for seniors who suffer from arthritis, joint pain and degenerative bone loss. This is especially so for ageing women.

“After menopause, women start to lose bone density, so resistance training helps to improve it and increase stability and balance,” she said, suggesting non-impact activities such as swimming and using resistance bands.

Mascoll underscored that many people did not know degeneration can begin earlier than is considered.

Francis agreed: “As you get older and you start to lose synovial fluid and cartilage, if you don’t move, it would get worse and degenerate at a faster rate,” the rehab therapist said.

“By age 30, there is already degenerative changes. However, if you don’t move the limbs at all, it would be painful and worse. For example, it’s like if you had an old gate with a hinge. If you push the hinge, eventually it will move. It will take a long time, but it will move. If you oil that same hinge, it will move much smoother.

“Similarly, if you don’t exercise, your body is like the unmoving hinge and when you try to move, it will be painful. But with exercise, there is increased blood flow all over the body and to the joints. The joints will move easier and it will be less painful.”

She also said was important to remember that exercise comes in many different forms. There is passive movement. Francis explained that this is particularly helpful for a person with limited mobility.

“For the person who is elderly, but bedridden, there is something called passive movement which someone else does for them. The person would be lying down [and] either a physiotherapist or family member would move the limb for them. The person can’t move, but they still need blood to be flowing.”

Throughout her decades of experience in the field of fitness, Francis has realised that there is a particular combination which yields the best results. “Good exercise for older people should also stimulate them mentally. When elderly people get in a group and you do exercises with them, we find that it helps with coordination and other important areas.,” she observed.

While Francis emphasises the myriad of health benefits associated with exercise, she notes that each person’s case is different, and as such, a doctor should be consulted before beginning any exercise regimen.

Active Ageing Benefits

  1. Improved circulation
  2. Reduced joint pain
  3. Improves sleep quality
  4. Improves mental health
  5. Management of chronic conditions (diabetes, hypertension)

This article is brought to you by Better Health Magazine.