Aging: Active Aging Tips (cont.)

Moderator: How much does Japan's attitude about fitness differ from that of America's, considering both countries are in a similar class technologically?

Dr. Chodzko-Zajko: In the journal that I edit, we just issued a special edition on successful aging and activity in Japan. I would say one of the major differences is in the reason, or purpose, for being physically active in the two cultures. In the West, I think many people choose to be active for specific extrinsic reasons, such as improve your health, lower your blood pressure, reduce cholesterol. I think many people in Asia exercise for more holistic reasons to do with harmony, or balance, or simply for a sense of Chi or wholeness. Having said that, there are many similarities between Japan and Western cultures, but there are also significant philosophical differences. If you go to China, Korea, and many other Asian countries, you can see thousands of older adults exercising very early in the morning, doing Tai Chi, or Asian martial arts types of exercises, and it is very inspiring to see. One of our challenges in the West is to learn what motivates older adults in these cultures, and to see if we can learn from the cultures in trying to motivate our own populations.

Moderator: What kind of difference has that exercise made for the Asian population?

Dr. Chodzko-Zajko: I think that you can't generalize to all Asian countries, but there are highly developed Asian countries, as well as developing countries. The population is aging throughout Asia in much the same way as in the rest of the world. The presence of chronic disease is just as much a public health concern in Asia as the West, and there's a significant interest in promoting healthful living just as much as in the U.S. So I know that, for example, the Japanese government recently issued guidelines for physical activity in their country. The Chinese government in the People's Republic of China is also very interested in national initiatives to promote physical activity and aging. Really there are similarities across all cultures across the world.

Moderator: How important is it to remain mentally active? Is it "use it or lose it" for the brain?

Dr. Chodzko-Zajko: It's very important to remain mentally active and stimulated. In much the same way as your physical body needs activity to prevent decline, your cognitive functioning can benefit from regular activity. And a number of researchers study the impact of cognitive training on cognitive functioning, and with clear evidence that older adults can continue to learn new skills, knowledge and strategies, as they grow older.

Moderator: What can you tell us about flexibility and balance exercises for seniors?

Dr. Chodzko-Zajko: There's a belief that flexibility and balance inevitably decrease as we grow older. There's some truth to that, that connective tissue, elasticity does decrease, and that sensory function responsible for balance also changes as we grow older. But there's now strong evidence that individuals who participate in stretching exercises, in balance activities, can significantly reduce that decline. In my exercise program at Kent State, we do many flexibility and balance exercises, and I have seen huge improvements in seniors clinically as a result of simply starting to do exercises they'd never done for the previous 20 to 30 years. Often, we do a lot of exercises with shoulder and head, rotation exercises, and many seniors tell me that after joining my program, they can reverse their car easier because they can turn their heads to see behind them when they're backing up. Those kinds of self-reported anecdotal observations are very common when older people join an exercise program. There've been recent studies looking at Tai Chi, which is an eastern form of martial art that utilizes balance as a major component. There's good evidence that people who do Tai Chi can significantly improve both static and dynamic balance. Static balance is your ability to balance in one place, and dynamic would be more being able to stay in control while moving, walking or some action, both of which are very important for everyday functioning. I think that a key goal of physical activity is not to be physically fit, or to be able to perform sports or activities, but rather to maintain what we call functional fitness, or the ability to function in everyday life. As we grow older, physical challenges threaten our independence, and our ability to perform activities of daily living. The goal of physical activity for older adults is not to become better athletes, or jocks, or other traditional PE (physical education) goals. Rather, the goal is just to maintain independence in everyday activities, to preserve function. That's why it's so important for the older adult population in particular.

Moderator: Well, it's certainly been a pleasure having you by today. Do you have any closing thoughts?

Dr. Chodzko-Zajko: I would close by saying for many years we have treated physical activity in the medical model, as if it were a bitter pill we have to swallow. You won't enjoy exercise, but you should do it because it's good for you. I think it's more appropriate to view physical activity as something fun and enjoyable. The challenge is for people to find activity they enjoy. It could be dancing, walking the dog, going for a swim, and stop thinking of exercise as something prescribed, but rather as a lifestyle choice that you will enjoy. Almost all older persons can find some form of physical activity which they can enjoy, which is realistic, and which will benefit them physically, psychologically and socially.

Moderator: Your guest today has been Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, PhD. Dr. Chodzko-Zajko serves on the American College of Sports Medicine Strategic Health Initiative on Aging and Exercise, and is a professor of exercise science in the School of Exercise, Leisure, and Sport at Kent State University. Chodzko-Zajko is editor of the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity and president of the International Society on Aging and Physical Activity. He served on the scientific advisory committee of the World Health Organization, which recently issued its guidelines for physical activity in older adults, and as chairperson of the Fifth World Congress on Physical Activity, Aging, and Sports.

The opinions expressed by Dr. Chodzko-Zajko are his and his alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

©1996-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors