Exercise: the Key to Maintaining Senior Mobility and Independence

Greetings from AlterG HQ! We hope everyone stateside had a fun, safely-pyrotechnic 4th of July. In honor of Independence Day, this week’s blog is all about maintaining mobility to retain independence. So blast off the last of those fireworks and let’s talk senior health!

A recent U.S. Census Bureau report found that “39 percent of people over age 65 battle at least one disability, and the most common hurdle they face is serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.” This is certainly an unsettling statistic, and with an ever-increasing number of baby-boomers entering their senior years, these numbers could reach epidemic proportions in short order. Greater disability within our senior population means that there will be a much larger number of people who lose their independence, and in turn, must rely on costly, long-term health services. So, how do we halt this trend and take back our golden years? Research suggests that mobility is the key to maintaining independence. And the key to maintaining mobility? None other than our favorite thing, here at AlterG: exercise!

Dr. Jonathan Bean, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and a researcher at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, has concluded through his studies that the two major factors tied to maintaining mobility in seniors are:

  1. Building core strength: this includes the “abs,” of course, but also the muscles of the back, hips, glutes, and quadriceps, all of which play a crucial role in overall strength, balance, and gait.
  2. Increasing/maintaining leg speed: a program of brisk walking is perhaps the simplest and best exercise regimen for seniors looking to improve overall health and functioning.

Dr. Bean notes that core and leg speed are often neglected when designing exercise programs for seniors, but this a costly oversight. After all, “a strong core and the ability to walk quickly can mean the difference between an elder being able to walk across the street before a traffic light changes, and being homebound, relying on someone else to run errands.”

Dr. Bean isn’t alone in his findings. Indeed, one of the largest studies on the relationship between activity, mobility, and independence echoed these same sentiments. The study focused on a group of 1,600 sedentary volunteers, age 70 to 89, who were already suffering from mobility impairments. One part of the group took part in a program of regular physical activity, working towards a goal of walking for 2.5 hours per week, along with 20 minutes per day of balance, leg strength, and flexibility exercises. The other part of the group was given a program of health education and stretching. The results? “regular physical activity in older adults measurably reduced mobility problems compared with a program that offered health education and stretching.”

These findings not only support the efficacy of exercise as preventative medicine, but also as recourse against existing mobility degradation. As one researcher, Roger Fielding, senior scientist and director of Tuft’s Nutrition, Exercise Physiology, and Sarcopenia Laboratory noted, “Many of these people could not walk two, or three, or four minutes without stopping, but by the end, many could walk 20 to 30 minutes.”

Of course, for many seniors, the prospect of taking on an exercise regimen can be daunting to the point of feeling downright impossible, especially for those already battling mobility issues. The AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™ offers a pain-free, fall safe, and fun alternative to other exercise options. Instead of fretting over joint pain or worrying about falling, seniors can focus on getting the most out of their workouts, building fitness and building confidence at the same time.

Here at AlterG, we are certainly of the mindset that it’s never too late to get moving! Exercise is good for all of us, whether we are simply seeking to maintain wellness or fighting to reclaim it. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Anything that elevates the heart rate, works up a sweat, and gets those muscles firing is a step in the right direction. Of course, we are partial to a little bit of  fun, when it comes to “getting physical,” but anything from chasing the grandkids to gardening to tai chi fits the bill for mobility-enhancing exercise. So let’s make our founding fathers proud, as we pledge to take back our freedom and refuse to surrender to the tyranny of aging. We are lucky to be born into a life of liberty, but we must not remain idle. After all, the key to happiness lies in the pursuit.