By Drs. Michael and Jaime Bohlman of Madera Family and Pediatrics Medical Group
Who said that the “golden” years had to be lived out on the back porch sipping on a glass of lemonade, locked in an air conditioned room, or just traveling around? In fact, physical activity is just as important in the golden years of life as in the younger stages of life. Take the life of Hulda Crooks, for example.
Perhaps one of the better-known U.S. centenarians, Crooks was definitely not one to just sit around. By 1997, when she died at age 101, Crooks had accumulated many achievements to her life’s resume.
She climbed to the top of Mt. Whitney’s 14,505-foot peak a total of 23 times (for which she was nicknamed “Grandma Whitney”), with the last trek being when she was a young 91 years old.
In 1990, Congress acted to rename Day Needle Peak (just south of Mt. Whitney) as Crooks Peak in her honor. In addition to Whitney, she climbed 98 other peaks, including Japan’s Mt. Fuji.
However, her Los Angeles Times obituary revealed something not too well-known about Mrs. Crooks — her active lifestyle did not start until she was in her mid-60s. Congressman Jerry Lewis, one of her hiking companions, said this of Crooks: “No mountain was ever too high for this gentle giant. With a twinkle in her eye, and purpose in her step, ‘Grandma Whitney’ showed the world that mental, physical and spiritual health is attainable at any age.”
So let’s now take a look at the importance of physical activity in these special years. Not only is regular physical exercise essential for heart health, but by stressing the bones, it is an important part of good bone health as well. Medical literature shows that weight bearing exercise helps reverse osteoporosis, increase bone strength, and improves balance, coordination and muscle strength — all of which play an important part in preventing hip fractures.
Regular exercise can also help improve mood and boost brain power, preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
So what can you do? If you are inactive, it is not too late to start an exercise program after checking with your doctor. A few practical points to remember:
- Start slowly and gradually increase activity, especially if you have several medical conditions; being too aggressive can be just as harmful as not doing anything at all. A good rule of thumb is to be able to breathe comfortably (but not comfortably enough to sing) while doing the activity.
- If possible, choose a regimen that includes both aerobic exercise and strength training.
- When lifting weights, use lighter weights and do more repetitions rather straining with too heavy of a weight.
- Stay hydrated.
- Be consistent; choose something that you enjoy doing. It is recommended that activity should be at least 30 to 45 minutes per day, most days of the week. Activities can be as simple as going for a walk or working in the garden.
Even though you may not have a peak named after you, it is important to just get out there and move. It will do a mountain of good for your health.