Editorial: 'It's never too late to exercise'

When I was younger, I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career until I went on a mission trip with my church. We were serving some elderly ladies and I noticed they were having a hard time pouring a half gallon of milk. That was my ‘Aha!’ moment. I knew there had to be some way to help keep seniors healthy, active and independent.

I’ve been the wellness director at Parkway Place for five years. The biggest thing I’ve learned from my job is that it is never too late to start exercising. I have seen residents who had trouble with balance gain confidence. I have seen residents who have never used a weight machine in their life start (and enjoy!) a weight lifting program. I have seen residents who are prone to falls gain the strength to get themselves off the floor without calling for help.

September 21-29 is Active Aging Week, created by the International Council on Active Aging. The weeklong observance celebrates adults 50 and older as active, vibrant members of society and encourages them to lead healthy lives as they grow older. At Parkway Place, we will celebrate with healthy cooking classes, nature walks, brain teaser games and more, but we also emphasize that it’s not just about an active aging week – it’s about an actively aging life.

According to the Administration on Aging, people are living longer and because of that, there is a huge demographic shift happening in our country as the Baby Boomers hit retirement age. The population of senior adults is expected to double over the next 10 years. In Houston alone, adults over 55 make up almost 19 percent of the population (from The City of Houston website).

Senior adults face some health challenges younger people don’t often think about. According to the Centers for Disease Control, falling is a huge risk to someone over the age of 65 and one in three fall each year. Not only are falls the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries but they’re also the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.

One of the most significant ways to prevent falls is to exercise regularly to increase leg strength and to improve balance. Not only does it help to prevent falls but exercising also improves heart health and helps stave off weight gain and obesity.

I spend most of my days encouraging Parkway Place residents to visit the wellness center or to get involved in something on campus. But it’s not just the physical benefits of exercise that I get to witness. I see seniors reclaim independence they once thought was lost. I see their confidence grow because they can continue to take care of themselves. I see community and relationships form between residents, just because they’re in the same Tai Chi class or they’re in the gym at the same time. There is nothing more valuable than improving the quality of life through wellness activities and relationships.

Gone are the days of institution-like nursing facilities with elders lining the halls in wheelchairs and walkers. Every day I see seniors competing in Wii bowling competitions, taking Tai Chi classes or learning to zumba. It’s a new era in senior living and in order to be fruitful, it has to be active.

Rachel Ramirez is the wellness director at Parkway Place, a Buckner senior living community in Houston. She earned a bachelor of science in exercise and sports science with an emphasis in health and wellness from BYU-Hawaii.

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