Fit forever

A RECENT WHO report says that exercise is the most effective means for the elderly to positively affect their own health and functional skills and maintain a good quality of life in old age. But most elderly people in India get very little exercise, and our tradition of not letting an elder do a task when a younger person is around to do it may be to blame in some measure.

That's a pity, because the benefits of exercise are similar for both the young and the old, but they are more important for the elderly. The physical benefits of exercise include improved sleep and cardiovascular function, increased muscle strength and flexibility and enhanced balance.

The short-term psychological benefits include better relaxation and improved mood; long term benefits include increased self-confidence and improved cognition. But many elderly people do not exercise even though they have the time and the inclination for it, and it is time to take apart the reasons they give for not exercising.

"I'm too old". No, you aren't. Even the very old - we are talking about nonagenarians and centenarians here - can benefit substantially by beginning to exercise. Although common sense and your doctor's advice should dictate what exercises are not for you, no age is too dangerous for exercise.

"I have too many chronic ailments." Exercise improves quality of life in people with chronic ailments like arthritis, heart disease and diabetes. Painful joints are no bar for moderate exercise: in fact, increased muscle strength takes the load off painful joints to some extent and decreases pain in the long term. Exercise improves blood glucose control and, unless your doctor advises to the contrary, it improves cardiovascular functioning.

"I cannot exercise hard enough to work up a sweat." You don't have to. Moderate exercise that does not get you all out of breath is just as good. Significant health benefits arise from just half an hour of walking every day.

"No money." You don't need any, not even a gym membership or fancy shoes. All you need are loose fitting cottons, and walking shoes that are 1/4th the price of running shoes. And exercise works best when you slip it in unobtrusively during the day — like working in the garden, running errands on foot, playing with the grandchildren and doing more household work. So, the next time you feel like asking your grandchild to get you a glass of water, don't. `Do it yourself' is the secret of good health in old age.