Healthy retirement will require an exercise strategy

The United States is behind 25 other developed countries in terms of healthy life expectancy. Our healthy life expectancy is 68 years.

Japan leads the developed world in longevity with a life expectancy of 82.6 years, and it is also first in “healthy life expectancy” at 73 — the number of years one can expect to live healthily.

Despite spending more on health care than any other country, the U.S. still lags behind in overall health. Many experts believe that this is due to American attitudes toward exercise. Most health experts agree that exercise is the most important health behavior.

The benefits of exercise, especially for people over the age of 50, have a financial pay off because overweight, inactive people spend more on medical care than active, appropriately weighted people do. In fact, Medicare is likely to spend about $38,000 over the lifetime of an obese 70 year old than on someone of similar age and healthy weight. This is the federal government’s share, but the overweight person also incurs more personal costs as well.

Dr. Edward Schneider, a professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, promotes the idea that regular exercise improves the quality of life, and that if a regular regime is established before middle age, exercise can help one avoid diabetes and heart conditions, chronic knee and back discomfort, and falls. Research suggests that regular exercise can help reduce depression and boost brain function, as well as promote restful sleep.

People who are basically healthy but sedentary lose approximately 15 percent of their aerobic capacity and muscle strength per decade starting around the age of 35, according to Dr. Michael Joyner at the Mayo Clinic. He notes that people who exercise at least 2.5 hours a week and maintain a healthy weight can delay these losses by five to 10 years and reduce the rate of loss overall.

The World Health Organization recommends people get at least 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise and at least several sessions a week of full body resistance exercise in order to stay fit. This strategy will keep the cardiovascular system functioning well and keep the bones and muscles strong in order to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and muscle loss. Other aspects of training that are especially important for older people are flexibility training and balance training for falls prevention.

Regular exercise can mean the difference between independent living at home, or living in a senior home because of medical conditions. The Genworth cost of care survey determined that the current average cost of a private room in a nursing home is $83,950 per year. Prevention is always less costly than the aftermath — “a stitch in time saves nine.”

It is imperative that we individually, and as a nation, become healthier. Being sick, old and dependent is not economically or physically comfortable. Exercise is an enjoyable pursuit when done with like-minded people  and under the guidance of an experienced and educated trainer. The benefits of exercise far outweigh the disadvantages.

Any program should be initiated after a thorough medical evaluation to determine any underlying conditions, and after a consultation with a certified personal trainer to determine the best course of action. My analogy is, “Protect your health as you would your grandmother’s precious antique teapot. Keep it safe, because once it is broken, although you can try to glue it back together, it is never quite the same.”

You can call me for a complimentary consultation at the Kauai Athletic Club in order to determine a strategy for you to get and stay healthy.

• Jane Riley, M.S., B.A., C.P.T., Certified Nutritional Adviser, can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, 212-1451 or www.janerileyfitness.com.

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