Saturday, 23 March 2019

Graying, not decaying: Exercise helps improve seniors’ ability to perform simple tasks

Jerry Jones goes to the gym five days per week, a routine that includes a litany of high-intensity weight training. He is 75 years old.

Jones, who is a Sanger resident and does not own the Dallas Cowboys, has led a fairly active life by his reckoning. Many of his jobs included some form of manual labor outside, which he supplemented with regular exercise. This trend ended nearly 10 years ago.

Jones said he entered a deep depression that lasted five years. His health deteriorated, he was forced to use a walker to get around his house and his wife was considering selling their house because of his ailing health.

“I don’t think there’s anything much worse than depression when it gets real bad like that,” Jones said.

Doctors and his wife recommended he start exercising again nearly five years ago, and he’s stuck to it. He said the exercise has greatly improved his health; he no longer uses a walker to get around, and his wife no longer talks about selling their home in Sanger.

He even claims he has treated “99 percent” of his arthritis by eliminating caffeine and regularly massaging his joints. Beyond these improvements, Jones said his active lifestyle saved his life this past February, when a heart attack put him in the hospital.

“The cardiologist said my prognoses was practically a death sentence,” Jones wrote in an essay to the Denton Record-Chronicle. “I know it was both God and exercise that created this miracle.”

Jones’ doctor was not available for comment.

A 2013 article, published in Population Health Management, a peer-reviewed journal, looked into the impact of regular exercise for seniors enrolled in SilverSneakers.

SilverSneakers is one of many programs that works with insurance companies to provide gym memberships, classes and nutrition information for senior citizens.

The article gets dense pretty quickly, but the gist is simple: most seniors (91 percent) have at least one chronic illness, and about a quarter of people with a chronic illness are detrimentally affected in at least one aspect of their daily lives, but exercise helps improve seniors’ ability to perform simple tasks, such as bathing, walking and dressing themselves.

Throw in the understanding that, as baby boomers reach age 65, Medicare programs are increasingly stressed, and the incentive for insurance companies to provide access to gyms becomes apparent.

Alicia McDaniel, 43, is Fitness Recreation Supervisor for Denton Parks and Recreation Department. According to her, the city has been in partnership with SilverSneakers for about 15 years and estimates the program has around 1,000 members enrolled with parks and rec.

McDaniel sees a remarkably high retention rate for SilverSneakers members when compared to other programs, “Some of the people who signed up 15 years ago, if they’re alive and mobile, [are] still coming.

“People are often surprised by the number of [90-or-older] members that utilize SilverSneakers,” McDaniel said. “They stick around ’til death do us part, pretty much.”

Aunie Quinn, 28, co-owns and operates Denton Fitness Center with her husband, Adam. Their gym is one of more than 10 facilities that host SilverSneakers members in Denton County.

Quinn estimates slightly more than one-third of her members are enrolled through the program. She has noticed seniors see a significant increase in health and mobility after regular gym attendance.

“Even if they don’t feel like they look good or they’re in the best physical shape, their labs and everything are really really good,” Quinn said, referring to routine laboratory reports performed by doctors.

She said she believes many seniors have access to some form of gym membership or reimbursement through their insurance but just aren’t aware of it.

What does senior exercise look like?

Not everybody needs to engage in the hundreds of pounds of weight training or incline running Jones engages in.

Fitness classes at the Denton Senior Center include the use of little or no extra weight at all and include many exercises that can be done from a seated position.

Authors of the 2013 study documented a significant improvement among SilverSneakers participants in both physical and emotional well-being when compared to non-members.

The authors conclude: “Senior fitness programs should continue to be explored and invested in as a means to improve the health and well-being of seniors, thereby creating the potential for reducing overall health care costs and the burden on an increasingly strained health care delivery system.”

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