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Sedentary living puts many older Canadians at risk

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Call it one of life’s greatest ironies. After six or seven decades of early mornings, physical labour, child care and all the other elements of a full life, haven’t you earned some down time? It makes sense to just put your feet up and enjoy retirement.

Sixty per cent of Canadian seniors are doing just that; the only problem is they are doing too much of it. Older adults spend more than two-thirds of their waking hours watching TV, engaging with other types of screens or sitting in a vehicle.

With physical activity having been identified as the single most important factor that enables seniors to maintain their independence, that level of sedentary living puts many older Canadians at risk. The fallout from physical inactivity hits our pocketbooks too: the estimated direct, indirect and total health care costs of physical inactivity in Canada in 2009 were $2.4 billion, $4.3 billion and $6.8 billion, respectively.

So, does that mean every senior needs to join a gym and hire a personal trainer?

Everyone’s metabolism and base conditioning are different, so individual seniors may need differing amounts of physical activity to stay healthy. In general, physical activity is any intentional action that requires an expenditure of energy. It might be brisk walking, bicycling or swimming, or it might be a directed recreational hobby like gardening. The goal is to move. For older seniors with diminished ranges of movement or mobility challenges, it might be seated tai chi practice or gentle yoga — whatever allows the individual to maintain what is termed functional fitness.

For all seniors, physical activity is an important part of a fall-prevention strategy. Exercise programs that promote balance training combined with strength and flexibility have been shown to be effective in significantly reducing falls and the injuries resulting from falls.

At any age, the hardest part is taking the first step toward becoming more active.

For seniors who are living in extended care facilities or other types of institutional settings, the answer to the fitness challenge is close at hand.

For those still living independently, a good starting point might be to visit the website of the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides tips to help Canadian seniors improve and maintain their health by being physically active every day.

The Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging at Western University publishes a brochure called Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Older Adults that can be downloaded from its website.

Active Aging Canada is a partnership of Canadian organizations and individuals interested in the field of aging. It encourages older Canadians to maintain and enhance their well-being and independence through a lifestyle that embraces daily physical activities. Among the organization’s resources are research results, written in plain language, for older adults.

Whatever your path to physical activity, the result will always be positive.