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Stay active to stay healthy and independent

There's no dispute: regular exercise contributes to good health and longevity. So, get active!
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A prescription from your doctor can get you started on an exercise program at the gym--it's an aid to keep you healthy longer. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

The benefits of exercise are hard to ignore--health, mobility and increased cognition, to name a few. Exercise also creates ‘feel good chemicals’ that help with depression and mood and can stave off chronic disease, stroke, heart disease and early death.

"Regular exercise and strength training not only helps, but is a treatment for arthritis, can prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s and is essential to ward off osteoporosis,"

 said Sara Hodson, CEO of LIVE WELL Exercise Clinics, and president of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada.

“Exercise adds quality to the days we have. We want our Freedom 55 dream years to be filled with energy and good health, so we can travel and spend time with our grandchildren…not be years filled with health appointments, poor mobility and depression.”

Physical activity was once organically part of daily living, through physically demanding work, walking to the store or working in the garden. But society has become less active partly due to a reliance on computers and other automations.

Hodson points to a 2021 survey which found six of ten Canadians would consider an exercise program if it was recommended by their doctor in an official manner, like in the form of a prescription. Enter the Prescription to Get Active Program, which provides 30 days of free exercise in fitness facilities across the country for anyone with a doctor's prescription.

 See prescriptiontogetactive.com for more information on the free 'get started' program.

Hodson, a board member for the program, says the prescription provides the mostly older clients with the guidance and support they need to start to exercise. Seniors want to know they are moving safely and not at risk of injuring themselves, so having someone there to support them, especially when first starting an exercise program with unfamiliar equipment at a gym, is key. And because each person has a variety of strengths and needs, a customized approach can provide the needed encouragement to someone just starting their exercise journey.

The challenge, says Hodson, is making that first step towards building activity into a person’s day. Once a commitment is made towards exercising, then a person can begin building strength and balance, along with cognition.

“With light to moderate activity we can slowly and safely change our health. And the side effects are joy, connection, confidence and fulfillment," said Hodson. "Exercise is an incredible form of medicine. We don’t talk about exercise that way, and we have to.”

Hodson says even a little bit of activity can make a difference. Movement is just plain good for your body--you don’t need to train for a marathon or spend three hours at the gym. Just move. As well, regular physical activity also helps maintain balance, strength, flexibility and coordination, which reduces the risk of falls. Physical activity also prolongs good health and contributes to independence.

Hodson encourages people to have preventive conversations to recognize that exercising in our 50s and 60s, and then continuing to move in our 70s will lead to more independence in our 80s and 90s.

Andy Dragt has been making an effort to stay active for years. Now in his 60s, he has no plans to slow down.

“I try and walk daily, or do some form of exercise,” said Dragt, whose varied activities include hiking in the mountains. “Exercise relaxes me, especially mentally. If I don’t exercise, I start feeling tired and drained. I’m usually physically tired after a good walk or hike, yet invigorated.”

The Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine recommends 150 minutes per week of exercise. Hodson says it’s okay if we are starting from little or no activity; a person needs to start from where they’re at and build from there.

“All chronic health conditions can benefit from exercise. Exercise is that magic pill. It’s the one ‘medication’ that can contribute to curing all illness,” said Hodson.

See www.livewellclinic.ca for more information about how you can stay healthy as you age.