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‘It’s too late, I’m too old’: Myths about exercise as an older adult

Busting some myths about aging and exercise reveals the truth about fitness for seniors
Heather Larmour (l) and Carol Flannery enjoy the morning sun as they walk around the 100 Mile Marsh. The duo enjoys meeting up three times a week to make the one-kilometre loop three times. (Photo credit: Patrick Davies/100 Mile Free Press)

Patricia Thom

In this article, we will be exposing some of the myths around aging and exercise.

Myth: Decline in old age is inevitable and unavoidable

Not true. As a matter of fact, symptoms often associated with old age such as weakness and poor balance are symptoms of inactivity. Exercise not only improves your physical but also your mental health.

Myth: Exercise isn’t safe for someone my age, I don’t want to fall and break a hip

The fact is that regular exercise can improve your balance, strength, and agility, thereby reducing your risk of falls.

Myth: I’m sick, so I shouldn’t exercise

Quite the contrary. The symptoms and severity of many health problems such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease can be greatly improved with regular exercise.

Myth: I’m afraid I will have a heart attack

Although there is a small possibility of that happening, the benefits exceed the risk. As a matter of fact, most hospitals now host and/or “sponsor” cardiac rehab exercise programs. Exercise is a component of a healthy heart.

Myth: It’s too late, I’m too old

Not true. A modified version of the Osteofit program known as Carefit is now being taught in care homes. Benefits include improved mobility and cognitive processing.

Myth: Exercise will hurt my joints

The opposite is true. Studies show exercising helps with arthritis pain. A study of people over 60 with knee arthritis found those who exercised more had less pain and better joint function.

Myth: I don’t have time

Experts recommend 150 minutes per week. While that sounds like a lot, it’s only about 20 minutes a day. And it doesn’t have to be done all at once. You could break it up.

Myth: I’m too weak to start exercising

Everyone can start where they are. A prime example of this is when I teach the sit-to-stand. If you can stand up, great. Every time you get up out of your chair, repeat sitting and standing without using your arms; four times before you leave the chair. If you can’t get out of the chair without assistance, then practice leaning forward, tightening up your abs and quads like you are going to stand, and pressing your heels into the floor. The ab and quad muscles are largely responsible for that movement. You will be surprised how quickly you will improve.

Myth: I’m disabled, so I can’t exercise

Nope. That’s not true either. I have taught many classes where participants have participated from a wheelchair. I can also teach you how to exercise if you are bedridden. You need to find the right instructor and the right class for you.

Myth: I can’t afford it

That really isn’t an excuse. Walking costs nothing. Dollar stores now sell yoga mats, weights, Thera bands, etc. You can watch video workouts on the Vintage Athletics page for free, and there are many online classes to choose from that are free.

Myth: Sitting down and working a puzzle is the best exercise for the brain

Studies show that reading, music, crafts, and puzzles build connections in the brain that stimulate thinking and memory, but physical exercise is most likely the top factor in maintaining brain health. In my classes, I introduce what I call brain challenges where I ask the body to do things in a way that challenges our brain. For instance, ask one arm to move the ball out to the side while the other arm moves in an upward motion. That’s not how our brain-body connection usually works. The benefit doesn’t just come in perfecting the challenge, but in attempting it.

Myth: Going for my brisk walk every day takes care of my exercise needs

While brisk walking is a great way to get the aerobic part of your exercise, there is more to a “complete” exercise program. Most of my classes have a “falls prevention” focus, which includes balance, strength, agility, and flexibility as the other components. Balance could be a part of a structured class, or it could look like tai chi. Strength will include resistance such as weights or Thera bands. Flexibility can include a stretching routine or a yoga class. And remember: gardening, dancing, and even house cleaning provide you with exercise as well. The key is to live an active life.

Myth: I exercise for half an hour each day, so it’s okay to be a “couch potato” the rest of the time

While that was once believed to be true, recent studies show that even if we get the recommended amount of exercise every day, our health can still suffer from sitting around the rest of the time. Change your mindset to remain a body in motion. Lift some small hand weights while you are watching TV. Walk around while talking on the phone. Save your money and your health by cleaning your own house. The American Heart Association lists house cleaning as a recognized form of moderate exercise.

Myth: Avoiding activity is the best way to prevent falling

Inactivity increases the risk of falling. We see this a lot. Whether it’s a recent diagnosis of osteoporosis or an onset of falling, people allow fear of falling to render them sedentary. Reduced level of activity reduces your energy reserve, muscle tone, and alertness, which all puts you at higher risk of falling.

Myth: I’m not fit enough to attend an exercise class

Exercising at home is fine and certainly better than nothing. That said, there are added benefits to attending a group fitness class, not the least of which is accountability. While exercising at home, no one is going to know if you choose not to work out or if you cut it short, or if you don’t do the hard part. Socialization is also a huge benefit to regularly attending a fitness class. I taught one class that the core group had been attending for 15 years.

Patricia Thom is the owner of Vintage Athletics.

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