Senior Fitness: The Secret to Healthy Aging

EL PASO, Texas -- You may be over 50, but that doesn't mean that you can't be as healthy as you were at 20. There are millions of seniors across America who have embraced senior exercise and achieved a level of senior fitness that we've never seen in previous generations. These inspiring people can teach us all a thing or two about healthy aging.

Ignacio Cano is one of them. He runs between 20 to 25 miles a week and works out three or four days in the gym.

He has participated in more than 170 races including the Race for the Cure and the TransMountain Challenge 20K Run.

Cano doesn't run just recreationally; he runs to win, and he does it well. A roomful of medals is a testament to his success.

By the way, Cano is 78 years old and didn't start running until he was 66.

From the Los Angeles Marathon to road races in Chihuahua City, Texas, Cano has worn out a lot of running shoes.

"After working all my life, I retired and I had nothing to do," Cano said. "Sitting home not doing anything made me go crazy. I worked around the house, but you can only do so much, so I took up running and it's been very, very good for me."

Cano, who has participated in the El Paso Senior Games for the past 10 years, will be inducted into the Senior Games Hall of Fame in April, along with Irene Araiza.

The games have been organized by the city of El Paso Parks and Recreation Department for the past 27 years. The Senior Games promote an active lifestyle for seniors 50 and older and provide a chance to qualify for the Texas State Senior Games and National Senior Games later in the year. Josue Lopez, coordinator for the senior division of the Parks and Recreation Department, said it is important for seniors to live an active life. "With age, you develop hypokinetic diseases," he said. "You are losing the muscle, the bone density and your cardiovascular capacity diminishes, which is why seniors need to keep fit, and the only way to keep fit is through exercise." Examples of hypokinetic diseases and conditions, which are associated with inactivity and poor fitness, include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, low back pain and Type 2 diabetes. A lack of exercise can also be associated with fatigue, weakness, decrease in physical and mental health and well-being, loss of self-esteem and an increase of depression and anxiety. "This happens naturally with aging," Lopez said. "That's why it's important to keep on exercising and keeping active." Seniors who have not been active should not jump into action right away. They first need to develop a fitness level and maintain it. "In order to develop a fitness level you have to have good cardiovascular fitness," Lopez said. "You have to walk before you start to run. Body composition, flexibility, strength and muscle endurance are the other four components. Without these components you can't develop a strong fitness routine." Lopez recommends starting slowly to reintroduce your body to working out. "You start with your body weight and then you get a little resistance either with elastic bands, weights, or dumbbells, and that will take you progressively to lifting weights," he said. Another important aspect in keeping seniors fit is a strong cardiovascular workout. In the cardiovascular system, there is a 20 to 30 percent decrease in cardiac output by the age of 65.
"We want to make sure your heart is compatible to the type of workout you do," Lopez said. "We need to find out what type of engine you have. With a person who is not used to exercising, you can't have them run right away." Getting into shape must be progressive. "If you walk every day, you are going to develop cardiovascular capacity and little by little increase your resistance," he said. Jan Borschtnik works out three times a week -- 15 minutes on an elliptical trainer and 20 minutes on a stationary bike. It's a routine she has been doing for two and half years, since she broke her hip. "I've always tried to keep myself in reasonable shape," Borschtnik said while working out at the Eastside Senior Citizen Center, 3200 Fierro. "You want to stay active as long as you can. As you get older, it's important to eat right and do your exercises. It's truly a necessity." Maria Castillo, a certified yoga instructor for seven years, said yoga has been shown to help alleviate or reduce many of the health challenges facing adults. "Yoga helps seniors with their breathing and breathing helps the oxygen and the oxygen helps to detox the body," Castillo. "The detox helps a lot with stress, high blood pressure, diabetes, and to prevent strokes, cancer and heart problems." Castillo said up to 70 percent of the body's toxins are eliminated through breathing. Many people have developed unhealthful breathing habits that prevent their respiratory system from working at its best. To counteract this, Castillo recommends learning good breathing practices such as taking deep breaths that fill your belly and then releasing slowly. Yoga also helps seniors with their flexibility and coordination. "Flexibility and proper coordination helps prevent seniors from losing their balance and falling," she said. "Yoga helps relax the mind and body, spirit and soul."
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