A number of structured exercise programs are available to seniors who want to improve their physical fitness. All are designed to help older persons gain and maintain a state of physical and mental well-being.
One of the most expensive programs was initiated by the National Association for Human Development (NAHD) and is called "Active People Over 60." Supported by a grant from the Administration on Aging, it included pilot programs in Maryland, Delaware, Ohio and Texas.
One local NAHD program is run by Dr. Richard Mance and his colleagues at Prince George's Community College. Three years ago 18 senior citizens were enrolled in a fitness course which included exercise, health, discussion, leisure and social activities. The program became so popular that enrollment had to be limited to 200 members each semester.
The staff feels especially good about working with older persons, according to Mance, because "progress is so immediately noticeable."
In addition to this on-campus program, the college conducts off-campus leader training workshops in cooperation with the Department of Aging. Workshop participants serve as leaders of exercise programs for seniors at various centers in Prince George's County, including nursing homes.
Maryland is one of the states where statewide programs are being promoted. The State Office on Aging in cooperation with the Maryland Commission on Physical Fitness supports programs or program possibilities in every county in the state and in Baltimore. The state office also provides a leaflet illustrating 12 basic exercises that can be done at home, even by chairbound persons. The exercises, called "the daily dozen" include stretching, turning, bending and rhythmic breathing.
The leaflet includes questions and answers about the need, benefits and effects of exercise programs for the elderly.
A final section in the brochure gives numbers to call throughout the state to obtain further information about organized local programs. The Montgomery County number is 279-4900; for Prince George's County it is 925-4477. The brochure is available from the Office on Aging, 301 W. Preston St., Baltimore.
A special exercise course is conducted in the pool at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville. The combination of buoyancy and resistance makes water exercise ideal for older persons, including those who have severe arthritis or other handicaps, according to Kay Schweizer, who has published a report on the subject. Even a walk in waist-or chest-high water is beneficial exercise, and without the risk of a bone shattering fall, she said.
Another program, modeled after one in operation in Grenoble, France, is coming to this area through the efforts of the city of Rockville. The Grenoble program enabled participants aged 65 to 80 to enjoy such sports as cross-country skiing, tennis, cycling and swimming.
In one form or another, most fitness programs for seniors have been influenced by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. A booklet entitled The Fitness Challenge is available from the Council's Washington office or from the Administration on Aging.
The book describes three program sequences at three levels of difficulty so even beginners have a place to start and more advanced goals to keep in view. Exercises include walking, bending, stretching and jogging.
None of the programs claims that exercise is the only or the entire road to physical fitness. Normal daily activities can also provide physical conditioning. For example, one can emphasize a bend, a stretch or a turn while laundering, gardening or doing other work around the house.
Anne Radd, project director for Active People Over 60, says, "You're not helping an older person when you take the broom from him and say 'Let me do it,' or advise him to 'take it easy.' That person will soon be suffering from the effects of the atrophy of disease, a disease that can be prevented by not taking it so easy."
A similar recommendation is made by the President Council: "Older people should be encouraged to bend, move and stretch in order-to-keep joints flexible, muscles spring and the heart feeling young."
It is virtually an axiom among physiologists that when systems of the body are not used they tend to deteriorate. Conversely, when proper exercise and activity are a regular part of a person's life he or she can expect to look and feel better, move with more grace and ease and retain that degree of independence which physical fitness affords.
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