Stupid, Venal, Crackpot Politics

The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Live the Active Life

category_bug_journal2.gif Did you know the human body contains 68 joints?

That is not particularly germane to the sixth chapter of Dr. Robert Butler's book we are reading together; I mention it because it surprised me. I mean, after ankle, knee, hip and the corresponding arm joints, I'm at a loss to name any. I suppose it's all the little ones in feet and hands that add up.

This is the longest and most tutorial of the chapters in Dr. Robert Butler's The Longevity Prescription, packed with specific information on how to maintain physical functionality throughout our late years of life.

You've heard it before and the need for regular, continuing exercise in old age is obvious, as the doctor explains:

”Our muscles diminish with age, losing not only strength but actually getting smaller, with the result that our ability to do physical work decreases...

“Your maximum heart rate also declines over time...Lung capacity decreases with age, meaning less blood flow and oxygen delivery to the cells of the brain and other organs.

“As we age, our sense of balance becomes more precarious.”

The good news, says Butler is that we can, to a large degree, counteract those normal losses and significant benefit can be the result of modest exercise.

The minimum Butler prescribes for the aerobic health we need is three, 30-minute, vigorous walks per week. But for maximum benefit we should also include exercises to enhance balance, strength and flexibility.

The remarkable thing about this prescription is that the exercises are not hard, not time-consuming and don't cost money. Here are some of his recommendations:

Aerobic – for heart and lungs: In addition to walking, says Butler, you could choose jogging if you are up to it, swimming, water aerobics which is especially good for people with joint problems, bicycle riding, bowling, rowing and canoeing. Or mix them up to avoid boredom.

Strength Training – for bones and muscles: Butler says the results of these exercises are surprisingly immediate. You could try weight machines at a local gym or buy your own dumbbells or resistance bands.

Although you cannot go wrong with aerobic training, strength training is more complex, should not be done on consecutive days and as with all exercise at late age and particularly if you have been sedentary, consult your physician before beginning.

There are many good and simple instructions in this section, but proceed with caution and instruction.

Balance Training: About one-third of people 65 and older are injured in falls each year – often for no apparent medical reason. They are the leading cause of death in this age group. Our ability to balance ourselves declines with age, says Dr. Butler, due to slower processing of signals in the brain. But there are simple exercises that can help.

There is not the space in a blog post to quote the assessment test for balance, which can be done at home, but suggestions for exercises include heel-to-toe walking, one-leg stands (do it while brushing your teeth, washing dishes, waiting for the bus or subway), most kinds of dancing and tai chi.

Staying Flexible: There are many reasons our flexibility declines with age. Tendons become stiffer over the years, ligaments lose elasticity, cartilage in our joints breaks down but,

”Many studies,” writes Butler, “have shown that a sedentary lifestyle is the biggest single factor in lost flexibility.”

Aerobic, strength and balance training all help maintain flexibility, but stretching only a few minutes each day will also help to preserve range of motion, help keep joints supple and reduce the risk of injury. Several suggestions:

• Before getting out of bed, stretch every muscle from your toes upwards tensing and relaxing those muscles to get blood flowing.

• During the day, gently rotate your limbs and joints. Stay within their allotted range of motion. Pain means that's enough.

• Before a walk or other exercise, do some stretches holding a full extension for 10 or 15 seconds. No bouncing; it's an unnecessary strain.

• Yoga or Pilates is good.

• Practice good posture – it helps with back pain.

There is way too much in this chapter to cover it all in a blog post. There are good, long sections on osteoporosis, arthritis with explanations of various kinds of treatment.

Like all the literature on the importance of exercise, Dr. Butler repeats the oft-heard, “It's never too late,” and reminds us that exercise is essential to keep our minds and bodies healthy as we get older.

“Exercise plays a role in enabling our bodies to handle everyday stress. Exercise has been found to be as effective as selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (a class of prescription antidepressants) in treating depression.

“Exercise can lower cholesterol levels and, in some people, eliminate the need for cholesterol-lowering drugs. People who raise their heart rate and get the blood pumping vigorously through their bodies – and brains – have been cognitive function, too.”

Next week is all about food.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcia Mayo: Mama's Last Cat


Ronni, I attend an exercise class three days a week that follows these guidelines, and I'm SO impressed with the seventy and eighty-somethings who participate. Our leader incorporates Tai Chi and Yoga, aerobics, balance and strength training, and resistance work into a 45 to 50 minute class, and I always feel like I could whip the world when we are done. The older people in our class have clearly improved the quality of their lives because they have made a commitment to incorporate exercise into their weekly routine.

Great stuff....thank you so much.

Clearly I am not living the active life. Flunked the balance test. BMI is improving so its not all bad. This is such straight forward practical advice; it's inspiring, much of it, walking and weights can be done at home with no $. Find a buddy to walk with you, there are walking clubs forming all over our small town, even one for those as slow as I am. I did go sign up for my 1 month free at the Y. I will just keep chanting "it's never too late."

It's ironic that this is the morning that I made a solemn commitment to change my lifestyle and follow Dr. Butler's advice. For several weeks I had been feeling - well- old. My legs didn't want to carry me and I was weak.

I decided that if I am to live an active and enjoyable life I needed to change that. This morning I got dressed and walked. I will do so every morning from now on because I feel more alert.

I had become lazy and my pattern had been to go straight to the computer upon rising. Hours later found me still reading stuff on the Internet and still in my nightgown. I acknowledged that a sedentary life was certainly not going to keep me independent.

My physical therapist had already given me most of the exercises mentioned in this chapter, but I had become lax about doing them. No more. I will spend more time on my body and less time on the computer. My lifestyle balance had gotten out of whack and I am turning over a new leaf. I want to stay independent until I depart this world. I know it's up to me.

I wish I could give Dr. Butler credit for motivating me, but it was an awareness of physical decline that actually did it. No matter what the reason, I am fully engaged in a healthier lifestyle from now on.

Now it's up to my blogging friends to remind me to not slip back. I do tend to do that; if you don't mind I would appreciate it if you prod me from time to time.

The balance thing is something I work on as I recognize the difference and I don't think I had great balance when I was young. Heights bother me and with using monovision for my contact lenses, I might make it worse. I do the one leg stand though and try to make myself walk places I know are uneven when it's not going to be dangerous if I fall. The more familiar I get with them, the better I do.

I'm a walker & am fortunate enough to have a great place to do so at least 3 times a week. Also just opened is the exercise room in the new club house & it is really wonderful. I'm with Darlene since I find it sooooo easy to not exercise, however like her, I'm committed. Dee

No matter what you do, there's more you're supposed to do. Sigh. We walk 3 miles a day with our collie. We should be doing weights. We used to but...
Now we have to balance. I can do it well on one leg(either one) but when I close my eyes I look like a drunk driver who just failed the test! More to do, more to do.
Where does Kitty live? Sounds like a great class.

I've just got to get off on a bit of a rant here. Back when I was putting in 60+ hour workweeks, I so looked forward to semi-retirement, which I've finally reached at 73. But now that I'm here, where's all that wonderful free time I dreamed I'd have to read, think or just do nothing? Actually, there isn't much!

Besides a part-time job (which I'm very grateful to have!), there's cleaning and laundry to be done, groceries to shop for, a checkbook to balance, bills to pay and appointments of various kinds to keep. Our 3 much-loved feline companions (one has a serious medical condition) need to be fed and cleaned up after. Sometimes I wonder how I managed life at all during my working years!

Then, on top of what has to be done, there are all the things we're told we SHOULD be doing: preparing nutritious meals from scratch, exercising like crazy, clipping coupons, volunteering, being social, keeping up with all the latest political, medical and financial information. WHEW!!

Guess what? I do the best I can. I try to build activity into my life and add to that by walking 2+ miles most days. My hat's off to Dr. Butler--he must have been a real dynamo, but I'm no Super-Elder. I'm just an ordinary person who, even now, can't do it all!

Does walking your butt off at a convention wagging 30 pounds of techie crapola count as double points?

I could have hiked the Serengeti and not felt more tired than tonight!

But I am a happy camper...

I am looking forward to going to a NIA dance gathering tomorrow night. I walk some distance most every day, but really love dancing and swimming, too. I have got to return to using weights. For me, focusing on the enjoyment and pleasure aspects of movement and exercise really make it work. One of my friends asked if I wanted to walk to the "fairy ponds" this weekend.Hey I've lived here over 30 years and this is the first time I heard of them. Life is full of surprises.

Yeah, exercise is really vital and even those who can't be on their feet need to exercise and there are really good programs for them, too.

I do agree--exercise is the elixir of youth--and life!

I highly recommend water aerobics classes. Great fun and you can do great exercise without getting sweaty! Plus there's the reward of a hot tub or steam afterwards--this is at my local Y. Many seniors in these classes. Some come pushing their walkers, but keep up with the class in the water.

I believe stretching before exercising is the wrong way around. One should walk or do some jogging in place to warm up the muscles before stretching.

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