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  • Writer's pictureMeg Pemberton

Don't Underestimate the Y

As a 57 year old, somewhat retired, completely out of shape, overweight, registered nurse (yes, an overweight nurse), I know I need to start taking better care of myself. This is particularly important if I wish to move from “semi-retired” to “really retired.” Being out of shape, I need to start slow. Additionally, in retirement (semi or otherwise) opportunities to socialize change. For seniors, these opportunities can shrink considerably. After some investigating, I chose the local “Y” as my gym. The YMCA is affordable, close to home, and many offer exercise classes specifically for the elderly. Turns out marrying exercise and socialization at the YMCA is just what many of our seniors need. Don’t underestimate the “Y!”

We Like to Move It, Move It

King Julien got his fellow lemurs moving in the animated movie “Madagascar.” However silly the song may be, the notion that we should keep moving is not. Exercise is very important. Research supports the new adage, “sitting is the new smoking.”  We have to keep moving. Simply put, seniors who exercise regularly are more likely to live longer than those who do not exercise. A Harvard study found that even modest increases in longevity were likely when seniors started exercising late in life. This is one instance when it truly is never too late to start.

Increased Exercise Reduces Risks

Those who start exercise regimens later in life can expect improvements with their current health. For example, people with hypertension will likely lower their blood pressure. Exercise is important for heart health. Regular exercise can increase HDL, the “good” cholesterol, and lower LDL, the “bad” cholesterol. Additionally, functional independence can be improved though aerobic activity.

Pump It Up

We watched our parents and grandparents slow down and move less as they aged. Perhaps you’ve noted that your parents can’t walk without becoming short of breath. Unfortunately, being less active leads to deconditioning. Aerobic capacity refers to our heart health. The heart is a muscle that pumps blood. In order to pump effectively, the heart needs exercise too. Walking is perhaps the simplest most effective exercise. Maintaining an increased heart rate for specific periods of time on a regular basis will improve blood flow and oxygenation. An active adult is more likely to maintain his or her stamina with a regular exercise routine.

Just Keep Swimming

Dory, of “Finding Nemo” fame, reminds us all to keep moving by swimming. Swimming can be a low intensity exercise benefiting the heart. In fact, this may be a good choice for a senior just starting an exercise routine. Joint pain can be eased when exercise is performed in a pool. The Arthritis Foundation ( endorses aquatic exercise. You don’t need to be good swimmer though. Water walking combined with a variety of simple exercises works just as well. Exercising in water, without the force of gravity, is soothing to the joints and allows for increased flexibility. Seniors with arthritis taking advantage of water exercises can experience improved cardiovascular fitness and balance.

Exercise and Socialization

The lack of socialization in seniors can have profound effects on aging. Isolated seniors are at increased risk for cognitive impairment and decreased mortality. Disease processes can be exacerbated and worsened. As you and your parents journey through this thing called aging, be sure to put exercise and socialization together. The benefits may lead to you and your parents living longer. Perhaps one day after an exercise class you can watch Madagascar and/or Finding Nemo. You know what they say about the power of laughter.

The Power of the Y

I wasn’t the youngest in my first water exercise class at the local Y. However, I was outnumbered by those who were older than I. One gentleman was celebrating his birthday on that particular day; his 93rd ! I was warmly welcomed by the instructor and attendees. What I discovered at the Y was a community of seniors who had befriended one another, look out for one another, and spend time together outside of the Y. They chatter while exercising; making plans to help other seniors in the area. Here is a group of seniors that are likely prolonging their lives through exercise and socialization. I hope to be among them for many years to come.

Indeed, do not underestimate the power of the Y!


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