Successful Aging: How to encourage exercise to keep loved ones healthy
Q. My 68-year-old husband is healthy although a bit overweight. He gets no exercise and is not interested in joining a health club or gym, which bothers me a great deal. Reasoning does not seem to work. I am becoming increasingly concerned. Do you have any suggestions? A.S.
The problem you describe is personal and national at the same time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in four U.S. adults do not engage in regular physical activity, even though we know that such activity can do the following: Reduce premature death; delay or prevent chronic conditions; help older adults to live independently, often by reducing the risk of falling and fracturing bones; improve mental health and even delay dementia and cognitive decline.
There’s more to the problem. In 2015 and 2016, 40 percent of adults were considered obese and 7.7 percent severely obese, which has health and cost implications. The CDC reports the 50-and-older population account for $860 billion in health care costs. Four in five of the most costly chronic conditions for this group can be prevented or managed with physical activity. Knowing we cannot make people do what they do not want to do, we can always try to provide some motivation.
Here are a few approaches.
Provide new information: Telomeres are caps at the end of chromosomes that protect our genetic data; they are similar to the plastic tip at the end of a shoelace preventing the shoe lace from unraveling. In the same vein, telomeres prevent the strands in chromosomes from unraveling. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. When they get too short, the cells no longer divide and eventually die. This shortening is related to aging and a higher risk of death. Exercise has been associated with longer telomeres.
We know that physical inactivity causes the loss of muscle tissue, which means we lose strength. The good news is that we can build lean muscle tissue at any age. Getting stronger requires strength-building exercise. Increased strength may not mean we necessarily will live long, but most likely will increase our chances of living independently, preventing falls and fractures.
Create a bit of fear: If reasoning doesn’t work, think about using fear. You might contact his physician and suggest a message such as, “Mr. Smith, if you want to attend the marriage of your beautiful daughter Sally, here is what you need to do. Suggest the doctor write some type of physical activity on a prescription pad, such as joining Silver Sneakers, a fitness program often covered by Medicare in 14,000 locations in the U.S. See www.silversneakers.com.
Set an example: I recently moderated a panel for a conference in San Francisco entitled “Motivating Change to Live Well in Old Age” presented by the “What’s Next” conference that focuses on boomers and business. One of my panelists was Chris Downie, founder and CEO of SparkPeople, one of the largest digital health companies in the world with about eight to 10 million visitors each month. Its mission is to “spark” millions of people to reach their goals using health and fitness as a springboard to success in all areas of life.
Downie described himself in school as the “shyest kid in the class,” always walking around with his head down. Getting fit conquered his shyness. After college, he worked for Proctor & Gamble working long hours, grabbing fast foods and becoming sedentary. Realizing he was not taking care of himself, he committed 10 minutes a day to exercise and began to feel energized. He shared this 10-minute commitment with the woman in the next cubicle who was overweight. His commitment motivated her to change.
Chris became aware that his behavior motivated others, which was the impetus for him to launch SparkPeople, designed to help millions of people to reach their goals using health and fitness as a springboard to success in all areas of life. See www.sparkpeople.com.
Perhaps your fitness activities might motivate your husband.
These are just a few suggestions in addition to resources such as walking groups, local gyms and fitness resources in your community.
A.S., thank you for your good question and good luck in your quest. Don’t give up.