Stepping It Up!

May 3, 2009

How hard are you working? New studies reveal perhaps not nearly enough.

by Shannon Melnyk

StretchingLife used to be a full contact sport: plowing fields, gardening our greens, milking our breakfast, kneading dough, shoveling snow, cutting grass. Physical labour awaited us around every corner and we were up to the task. In the age of convenience, however, we shop for our food, break out the lawnmower if we can’t pay the neighbour’s son and make our way to the drive-thru should the idea of shopping be too taxing. We now have machines to plow, mow, shovel, clean, cook and even pay our bills.

The truth is, we may be celebrating how far technology has taken us – but our bodies are not. The bad news is that 91% of us over the age of 65 live with chronic disease and 40% with a disability. The good news is that these statistics are preventable with the appropriate amount of exercise. An active lifestyle prevents chronic disease, has proven to be as effective as medication and reduces the risk of becoming dependent in senior years by up to 50%.

Gareth Jones, a Human kinetics Professor at UBC Okanagan delivered a call to action in a recent SFU Gerontology conference in Vancouver that focused on aging well in a contemporary society. In a message entitled Exercise like an Olympian, Jones revealed recent studies that showed a mental shift of priorities need to take effect in our quest for good health.

“55 to 70% do not meet the minimal physical activity requirements”, he says. “We are losing active opportunities as a result of household conveniences and sedentary pop culture that includes videos, television and computers.”

“Aging is an Olympic event”, Jones continues. “It has become more important than ever that we see physical activity as being just as important as brushing our teeth”.

His call for stepping up our routines comes with relative urgency, as recent studies by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology have prompted new recommendations for the amount and intensity of exercise required to avoid dependant lifestyles.

“The old adage is true”, says Jones. “Use it or lose it has never been more relevant. We now believe intensity and frequency must change. It used to be the recommendation that light to moderate aerobic activity for 30 minutes per day was enough; but opposed to our earlier thoughts, these new studies are now showing us we need moderate to vigorous activity 30 to 60 minutes a day in order for us to prevent disease and decline.”

Jones sites the importance of brisk walking, resistance training, balance, flexibility and cross-training and encourages us to think beyond disease prevention and cognitive preservation and see an active lifestyle as a way to thrive and live our best lives, much like the ageless athletes that continue to tear down barriers in the Olympics and competitions all over the world. Inspiration is everywhere in icons like 79 year- old triathlete Sister Madonna Buder, otherwise known as “The Iron Nun”, 94 year-old Fauja Singh, the world’s oldest marathoner, and 61 year-old Olympic equestrian, Ian Miller.

George Bernard Shaw once said “man does not cease to play because he grows old. He grows old because he ceases to play”. Armed with knowledge and our will to make changes, now is the time to heed this message that is so relevant to our lives today. Moving, is now officially mandatory.

About the Author: Shannon Melnyk is a freelance journalist and copywriter based in Vancouver. Dividing her time between newspapers, magazines, television and the world wide web, her latest adventures in word slinging can be seen at

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